Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Romance  ➡  General

Whatfor

 

 

Whatfor

 

 

 

David Hockey

 

 

Shakespir Edition

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 David Hockey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

Thank you for downloading this free eBook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form.

 

 

 

Also by David Hockey:

 

Developing a Universal Religion

 

Bob of Small End

 

The Round Loaf

 

Sam’s Dream

 

Quickies

 

 

Table of Contents

Chapter One. March, 2005

Chapter Two. Spring and Summer. 1999

Chapter Three. Fall and Winter. 1999-2000

Chapter Four. Spring and Summer, 2000

Chapter Five. October, 2000

Chapter Six. Winter and Spring. 2001

Chapter Seven. Spring. 2001

Chapter Eight. Summer, 2001

Chapter Nine. Fall. 2001

Chapter Ten. Winter. 2002

Chapter Eleven. Spring. 2002

Chapter Twelve. Summer. 2002

Chapter Thirteen. Fall. 2002

Chapter Fourteen. Winter and Spring. 2003

Chapter Fifteen. Summer. 2003

Chapter Sixteen. Fall. 2003

Chapter Seventeen. Winter. 2004

Chapter Eighteen. Spring. 2004

Chapter Nineteen. Summer. 2004

Chapter Twenty. Summer. 2004

Chapter Twenty One. School Year. 2004-2005

Chapter Twenty Two. 2005.

Chapter Twenty Three. 2005.

Chapter Twenty Four. 2005.

Chapter Twenty Five. 2005.

Chapter Twenty Six. 2005.

Chapter Twenty Seven. 2005.

Chapter Twenty Eight. 2005.

Chapter Twenty Nine. 2005.

Chapter Thirty. 2005.

Chapter Thirty One. 2006.

Chapter Thirty Two. 2006

Chapter Thirty Three. 2006

Chapter Thirty Four. 2006

Chapter Thirty Five. 2006

Chapter Thirty Six. 2006

Chapter Thirty Seven. 2007

Epilogue

 

 

 

Whatfor

 

 

Chapter One. March, 2005

“Are you ready, dad?”

“Yes. It went well, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I think so. They’ve given me two boxes of leftovers, mostly sandwiches and cookies. You won’t have to cook tomorrow.”

“What about the flowers and the photographs?”

“Stella took some of the flowers. Do you want any?”

“Oh, I’ll take the vase of roses. That’s all I want. I’ll collect the photos then we can leave.”

“I told them we’d get them tomorrow, dad. It’s past five and I think they want to close up.”

“All right. I’ll just take the flowers,” said Tom, as he picked up the vase. “We’ll bring the vase back tomorrow,” he told the lady who was hovering at the side of the large memorial hall.

“Don’t forget Granny’s ashes, dad,” said Steven.

“Oh, yes,” and Tom walked over to the small, cloth-covered table that stood in the bow window. He picked up the velvet bag that held his mother’s remains and walked back to Steven.

“We’ll collect the photographs first thing tomorrow morning. There’ll be someone here at nine?” Steven asked the lady.

“The receptionist will have them ready for you. Good night, Mr. Alwen.”

“Goodnight. And thank you.”

Once in the car Tom asked Steven if he’d seen his mother recently.

“Not since the New Year. We spent the weekend with them, remember?”

“Oh, yes, of course.”

“She was all right then, looking forward to a big party they would be attending at the embassy.”

“Yes, that’s your mom. I never enjoyed all those events.”

“You’re introspective, dad. Mom’s just the opposite.”

“Yes, I know. That’s why we were attracted to each other, at least for the first few years. It changed when she started working at Foreign Affairs.”

Steven, not wanting to talk about what happened after that, changed the subject.

“Can we stay with you at the bungalow this summer dad?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Good. Lilly’s really looking forward to it. Can we go on her birthday week?”

“Of course.”

“Great.”

Arriving at his condo Tom opened the garage door with the remote, drove in and parked. Stella was giving Lilly a bath when they entered his unit. Steven cleared one of the shelves in the refrigerator and slid in the two boxes of food. Tom used the kitchen scissors to shorten the rose stems and put them in one of his own vases, finally placing them on the table underneath the television. He placed the bag containing his mother’s ashes next to the flower vase.

“I’m having a scotch, Steven. Want one?”

“Yes please, dad,” he called from the bathroom where he was helping to dry Lilly.

“Gin and tonic for me,” said Stella.

Once Lilly was in her pyjamas they sat in the living room. Tom took a story book from the pocket that hung on the arm of his easy chair. Lilly left her mother and ran over to her grandfather and climbed onto his lap.

“Which one should I read?” he asked. “How about Little Red Riding Hood?”

“No, grandpa, mom read that one to me last week.”

“Jack and the Beanstalk? Have you heard that?”

“No.”

“All right. We’ll read it together,” and they gradually worked their way through the story, Tom sounding out the more complicated words and waiting for Lilly to guess words he thought she would know it.

“Time for bed now, Lilly,” said Stella. “Kiss grandpa goodnight.”

They ate breakfast early on Sunday morning for Steven and his family had to return to Toronto. While eating Tom told them he was going to sell his mother’s house.

“There’s no point in keeping it. Do you want to look through your Gran’s home Steven? There might be some things you’d like to keep.”

“What do you think, Stella?”

“Yes, okay. Let’s pack the car first.”

“In that case you take the keys to her home and I’ll meet you there. I have to return the vase and collect the photos.”

Hilda Alwen’s home was on Pleasant Park Road, a pleasant road in the Alta Vista area of Ottawa, a house that was likely to fetch between three and four hundred thousand dollars when Tom sold it. Her husband, Peter Alwen, died in 1999 and Tom had been looking after the maintenance of the house and garden ever since. Hilda had had a bad bout of flu in November, then pneumonia. She had moved to a retirement home in January to get the care she needed and the house had been empty ever since.

Lilly was wandering in the back garden when Tom arrived at his mother’s house.

“Hi, grandpa. Mom and dad are inside, looking at things. Will you give me a swing?”

“Of course, get on and hold tight.”

Lilly climbed onto the seat of a swing that hung from the arm of an old tree, one that Steven had swung from some twenty five years ago. Tom gave the swing a few pushes.

“Higher, grandpa, higher!”

“That’s high enough,” shouted Stella, who had just come out of the kitchen door. “You’ll fall off if you go any higher. Anyway, we’re leaving now. Get into the car.”

“Did you find anything you want?” asked Tom.

“Just this, dad,” said Steven who joined Stella and he held out the old clock that had stood on the sideboard for fifty or more years.

“Can I have it?”

“Yes, of course. There’s nothing else you’d like? Any of the paintings?”

“No, thanks dad. We prefer something more modern.”

“All right.”

“Here’s the keys to the house, dad. We’ll be off now.”

He hugged his dad and climbed into the driving seat. Tom kissed Stella and Lilly then watched as they drove away. He wouldn’t see them until July, when they would spend a week on the lake. ‘Well,’ he told himself, consolingly, ‘that’s less than four months away.’

Tom took the bag holding the box in which his mother’s ashes lay and carried it to the tiny garden patch at the base of the tree from which the swing hung, a space where daffodils would grow each spring. Standing still for a moment he thought of his dad then spread his mother’s ashes carefully over the ground. They lay where he, his mother, Steven and Stella had scattered his father’s ashes six years ago. ‘United again,’ he thought. That’s where they both wished their ashes to lie although everyone knew that no one could visit them once the house had been sold. There was no grave stone or marker, of course, and eventually nobody would know where their ashes had been placed.

He entered the house and walked slowly through the rooms. He had to decide what he would keep soon then arrange for the rest and the house to be sold. ‘I might as well start now,’ he told himself and he collected a pad of paper from his father’s old desk, a hard-backed book from the nearby shelves to rest the paper on and a pen. ‘I’ll start upstairs and check each room.’

Half-an-hour later he had completed the bedrooms, bathroom, closets and poked his head into the attic. He didn’t need anything for his condominium but listed things like sheets, pillows, blankets and towels that he would take to the bungalow.

Tom made himself a mug of coffee before looking through the downstairs rooms. Without milk it wasn’t the way he liked it but two cream cookies, stale and soft, eased it down.

He didn’t finish listing what he’d keep until twelve thirty, deciding to take several of the paintings, the family albums and photographs of course, most of the kitchen cutlery, the good chinaware and some of the small appliances. The microwave would be useful. It was a small one and he could use it in the caravan. Things like vases and the lean-back swivel arm chair his father bought a year before he died he’d also take. That would go to his study in the bungalow basement. A few garden tools from the garage and his dad’s tool box finished his list.

Buying the cottage lot had been a stroke of genius, he thought, although it must have been another mark against him when Patricia learned what he’d done. He told her he wanted to build a cottage there and they would spend their summers by the lake. Pat loved Ottawa and the thought of spending months beside Big Rideau Lake appalled her. “You can go, but I’m not going to spend my summers in the wilderness,” she said.

Tom bought the lot because he wanted to live in the country when he retired. He liked Ottawa, enjoyed going to the theatre and concerts, going to new exhibitions in the museums and loved its many restaurants. That’s where he and Patricia met, when one year they had season tickets in adjacent seats at one of the NAC’s symphony series, but he missed the quietness, peace and solitude the countryside offered.

He had lived all his early life in the country, close to Westport, a small town on the west end of Upper Rideau Lake until he went to Carleton to take a mathematics degree. His parents, fearing that his mother’s cancer would reoccur, sold their Westport home and bought the Pleasant Park house. That way, they would be close to the hospitals and it wouldn’t cost so much to send Tom to university for he could continue living with them.

He had found the cottage lot by accident. Jim, a club member, told him when they were having a beer after a game of tennis early August, 1998, that one of his friends had recently died and his wife was selling the cottage lot they bought several years ago.

“Do you know anyone that wants one?” he asked Tom. “She’d like to sell it without going through a real estate agent if she could. To save fees, of course. I think she’s rather short of money.”

“Where is it?” Tom asked.

“About twenty minutes from Portland. It’s off of the Old Kingston Road.”

“Portland? That’s more than an hour from here.”

“Yes, but that’s not too far to drive if you’re going to a cottage.”

“What’s she want for it?”

“Seventy five thousand. It’s just over two acres. It’s already got hydro and a well. They put those in about four years ago because they have a motor home which they park there in the summer. It also has an old, restored boathouse.”

All this greatly interested Tom. His dream of owning a country place could be a lot closer than he thought.

“How do I get there? Do you know the way?”

“No, never seen it, but you can have one of these,” and he pulled several pages out of his jacket pocket. “She’s handed these out to most of her friends, hoping we would find someone who might buy the place. It’s described on here and there’s a map of how to find it on the back.”

“Thanks.” Tom read quickly over both pages underneath the map were some instructions; ‘Follow the Old Kingston Road to Baker Road, follow that then turn on Ironwood Lane or R29. Take the right fork where R29 divides and look for K54.’

“Ah, I know where it’ll be and I’m interested. I’ll go there right now. When did she give you these?”

“Last weekend.”

“I hope nobody has bought it already, it sounds just like the place for me. Thanks for telling me about it, Jim. I’ll let you know what I find out.”

“Okay. Good luck Tom.”

Tom knew where Portland was of course, for Westport and his early home were less than half-an-hour’s drive from there. A friend, who could use his father’s boat, had taken him there several times, to buy ice cream and, later, beer, in the marina’s small pub. They also passed Portland when they drove from Westport to Ottawa and he’d driven past it several times since then, when Steven was young to see Fort Henry in Kingston and when he and Pat went to Toronto for weekend getaways. He’d never taken the Old Kingston Road but he knew where it was; it joined highway sixteen just before one entered Portland.

It took him just under an hour and a half to get where the road began and he followed it, driving past the garbage dump and occasional house until he came to the wide turn-off where Baker’s Road began. Following Baker’s, which shortly became R29, he followed that then took the right branch towards the lake and looked for K54. Trees were abundant and hid most of the houses and cottages but posts with K-numbers marked each entrance.

The K54 post marked a gap between the bushes and trees. He entered slowly, not sure if his Volkswagen would clear the stones that he saw pushing their way through the track in various places. He continued for fifty yards or so, through trees and bushes, up the rising ground, until he came to the top. There he stopped and got out of the car. A large patch of grass lay before him.

The track he was on continued down the slope on the left side of the clearing and ended at the rear doors of a large boathouse. It was made of barn board, stood on a tapering wall of cemented stones and it had a green-coloured metal roof.

One third of the way towards the boathouse another track, wider this time, turned to the right and led to a large level space cut into the clearing. A hydro pole stood ten yards above the cutting and a box was fastened to the pole about six feet above the ground. A capped metal pipe stood close to the hydro pole. ‘That must be the top of the well,’ Tom guessed, ‘and the hydro outlets must be in the box.’ Trees and bushes covered much of the space above and to the far side of the cutting. The land had been cleared towards the lake in front of the cutting. ‘That must give a good view of the water,’ he assumed.

‘What a lovely place,’ Tom thought. ‘It’s just what I want.’ He walked down the track to where the road towards the cutting began and walked along it, looking towards the lake. An arm of land prevented him from seeing far across the water and trees hid the view to the right but he could see that the water on the left opened on the Big Rideau lake. A small boat moved slowly past one of the small islands that lay in front of him. A man was steering and holding a fishing rod, and another was standing and casting. ‘That’s something I’ll do if I buy this place, I’ll start fishing again.’

Wondering where the property began Tom continued, past the clearing where the motor home must have stood, through some bushes and small trees and found an old barbed wire fence running directly towards the water. He checked the sketch drawn on the paper Jim had given him. ‘This must be the northern boundary. The lake marks the west, the track to the boathouse must be close to the south side and R29’s on the east. Well, I want to buy it but there’s no point in doing anything more until I find out if it’s still for sale.’ He walked quickly back to his car and drove to Portland to use the telephone that stood next to the Post Office. Inserting some money he dialled the number listed on the page. He let the phone ring for several seconds but no one answered. When a voice asked if he wanted to leave a message he said, “Mrs. Derwent, my name’s Tom Alwen. James Symonds gave me a copy of the description you made of your cottage lot and I’ve just been there. I’m very interested in the place. I’m driving back to Ottawa now and I’ll call later to ask if it’s still for sale.”

He spotted a phone box when passing a gas station where Hwy 16 joined Hwy 7, parked his car and phoned Mrs. Derwent again. This time the phone was picked up.

“Hello, Mrs. Derwent. This is Tom Alwen.”

“Hello, Mr. Alwen. You called me about the cottage lot just now, right?”

“Yes, I did. I’m very interested in the lot. Have you sold it yet?”

“Not quite. I was offered seventy two thousand yesterday and I said I’d think about it. I’m going to call him back tonight.”

‘Damn,’ thought Tom, ‘looks like I’ve lost it.’

“Are you open to other offers? I would pay seventy five thousand and I could give you a cheque for five thousands immediately, or at least as soon as I get to Ottawa. You live there?”

“Yes, I do. All right, I’ll accept that if you can get here by six o’clock. That’s when I said I’d call him.”

“Where do you live exactly?”

“In the Hillside apartments off Montreal Road. Do you know where they are?”

“Yes. I’ll drive straight there.” Tom told her where he was now and added, “I should be at your place by five thirty. I just hope the traffic along the Queensway isn’t too bad.”

It was rush-hour and there were several places where the traffic slowed to a crawl. It was just after six when he turned off the 417 and joined St. Laurent Boulevard. He thought about stopping and calling Mrs. Derwent but feared that would make him even later. He pressed the buzzer to her apartment at six fifteen, hoping she had given him a little more time.

“It was worth my waiting,” Mrs. Derwent said as Tom entered her apartment. “As soon as you said where you were I decided to give you until six thirty before calling about the other offer. Three thousand is nothing to sneeze about. Do you have a cheque?”

“I can give you a bank draft, Mrs. Derwent. That’s safer than a cheque and you’ll get the money quicker, but we’ll have to go to a branch of my bank to do that. Isn’t there something we should sign before I do that?”

“Oh, yes, there is. Sit down Mr. Alwen and I’ll get it.” She left him in the kitchen while she went to her bedroom and returned with some legal-sized papers.

“These are Agreements of Purchase and Sale. A friend, a lawyer, gave them to me. It describes the property. Have a look at it and sign it if you think it’s okay.”

Tom took the form and read it carefully. It looked okay to him although he wished he could take it to his own lawyer before signing.

“It looks fine, Mrs. Derwent. We should fill in the details then sign, I suppose.”

“That’s right. You agree to pay the full price on closing and you’ll give me a deposit of five thousand. How soon can we close the sale?”

“Hmm, how about in two, no, three weeks. I want my lawyer to look at this first. He’ll have to check that you do actually own the property.”

“Well I do. Just a minute, I’ll get the deeds.”

She left the room then returned with an envelope. The deed to the land was inside.

“Can I borrow this, Mrs. Derwent?” Tom asked, thinking his lawyer would certainly need to see it.

“It’s the only one I’ve got. You can’t have this.”

‘I can’t just sign these papers without more checking,’ Tom thought, ‘though this must be genuine and she is James’ friend.’

“Ah, my bank would make a copy,” Tom exclaimed.

“All right. Then let’s go. I should be calling the man about his offer soon.”

Tom knew that the nearest branch of his bank, TD Canada Trust, was in the St. Laurent Centre and, like most of their branches, would be open until eight.

“My car’s outside,” Tom said.

Tom used his Access Card to buy the bank draft and paid cash for a copy of the deed remembering as they walked back to the car to ask Mrs. Derwent for the name and address of her lawyer. They wrote each lawyer’s name on paper Tom had in the car then drove back to her apartment.

“Come in again, Mr. Alwen. Let’s have a drink to celebrate.”

“All right,” he said, although he was beginning to regret how quickly the agreement had been reached and the fact that he hadn’t first discussed it with Pat. ‘Oh, well, if I’d done that it would have been sold to someone else,’ he told himself.

“Have a seat, I’ll just phone the man about his offer.” She called him and said she’d just sold the place, ending, “I got the full amount for it.”

His reply upset her a little for she replied, “Then why didn’t you offer that in the first place? If you had, you’d have bought it. Don’t blame me, I told you I’d accept yours if nothing better came in. Goodbye,” and she rammed the phone into it’s holder.

“It’s his fault so let’s forget him. Now, what do you drink? I’ve beer, rye and gin.”

“A beer would be fine, thanks.”

Mrs. Derwent took two Carlings out of the fridge and opened them. “Glasses are in the cupboard behind you. If you have any questions about the place now is a good time to ask. We’ve had it about ten years and so I know many of the people who live there and where to get things.”

“Jim told me your husband just died. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you. We thought it might happen and it did. Bob had a stroke two years ago and was partly paralysed afterwards. That changed all our plans. When we first bought the place we were going to build a cottage to live in when he retired. He sold insurance. For the first two years we stayed in a tent. You’ll see the place where we pitched it if you go past the motor home clearing. It’s the level spot within the trees and bushes. There’s an outhouse to the side of the clump of trees above it, that’s what we used when camping. We can’t use the place in the winter so we bought a used RV, a small one, a twenty-three footer, but perfect for us. We used that as soon as Bob retired five years ago and found a contractor to build the cottage. He cleared the site but then we had a disagreement. He said he’d underestimated how much it would cost and wanted another fifty thousand. We said no and started looking for another builder. We later learned that he’d done the same thing to another couple. They paid the extra and their place was built but they had many problems with it later—a leaking roof, their basement floor cracked, wind blowing through holes around the windows. His name’s Jamison, don’t use him. Well, after Bob’s stroke we sold the RV and stayed here, close to Montfort. He died, quickly, the next time he had a stroke. Three months ago. I’ve no use for the cottage lot now that he’s gone.”

“Yes, I understand. Are you still working?”

“No, I retired when Bob did. I worked at Montfort, in administration. I’m moving to Sherbrooke next month. My daughter lives there. She’s got two children, both girls. There’s a photo of them on the fridge.” She stood up, took it off and handed it to Tom.

“They’re very pretty,” he said.

“Seven and nine. It’ll be nice to be with them as they grow up. Would you like another beer?”

“No, thanks, Mrs. Derwent. I’ll have to go, it’s nearly eight. My wife will be wondering what’s happened to me. Thanks for the beer. If we don’t meet again I hope everything goes well for you.”

“Thanks. Well, goodbye Mr. Alwen. Good luck to you, too.”

As anticipated, Pat wasn’t at all pleased with what he had done. She also told Tom that he’d have to pay for everything out of his own money. “I don’t want any part of it.”

Paying for it himself wasn’t hard, they’d had separate bank accounts ever since she’d started working at Foreign Affairs in 1987. She enjoyed her job, worked hard and was promoted several times. For the past four years, when her salary became more than Tom’s, they had shared all expenses. Tom bought mutual funds with most of his savings and would have to sell some to buy the cottage lot. He decided to wait until his lawyer told him everything was okay before selling any.

Approval didn’t take long, the survey was recent, the property was clear of all liens and Tom sold enough funds to buy it without taking out a mortgage. It became his on August 31st, 1998.

He drove there the following Saturday to take a more careful look at the place and to take some photographs. He hoped that once Pat had seen the pictures she’d become more interested. That didn’t happen although she did look at them. “I’m sure you’ll be very happy there,” she said, “but I don’t want to drive all that way to look at it.” His mother was more excited, she knew that Tom loved the countryside. He took her there two Sundays later and she loved the place.

 

Chapter Two. Spring and Summer. 1999

Tom visited the lot twice more in 1998 but school work, tennis club commitments, rain and then snow stopped him from going more often. Over the winter he dreamed about living there. He bought a tent, large enough for two, even though he knew that Pat would never sleep there, a propane stove and lamp, and a ground sheet and sleeping bag when Canadian Tire had a sale in the spring. One glorious Saturday in May he stuffed them all into the back of his Volks, drove to the lot, found where Mrs. Derwent and her husband had camped and pitched the tent. After a sandwich lunch and water from a bottle, for he had forgotten to bring a saucepan or a kettle and couldn’t make tea, he found the outhouse then strolled around the lot taking photographs.

When he reached the boathouse he unlocked the side door using one of the two keys he was given when taking possession; the other key opened the padlock that fastened the chain across the entrance. Mrs. Derwent had not used the chain after deciding to sell the place and it was curled up next to the post to which it was fastened. The boathouse was big enough to hold a twenty or twenty-four foot boat. There was nothing inside it except a few shelves that ran along the wall facing the side door. A levelled ten-foot-wide space lay between him and the shelves. ‘Plenty of room to hold a lawnmower and garden tools,’ he thought.

He drove to Portland that evening to have supper at the water-side pub, the one he went to so many years ago. It had been enlarged since then and he enjoyed two pints of beer with his hamburger and chips. It was dark when he returned to his tent and he used the sidelights of the car to unroll the sleeping bag and undress to his underclothes. Before lying down he added a few more things to the list of things to bring next time he came; a flashlight, saucepan, kettle, mugs, cutlery, pyjamas, toothbrush and two large garbage bins. He’d store everything that mice might chew in the bins and keep them in the boathouse.

One sunny Sunday in June Tom took his mother to the cottage lot for another visit. He wanted to show her where he stayed when he slept over. They had a coffee at the new Tim Hortons in Smiths Falls and arrived at the lot about eleven. He showed his mother where he pitched his tent and the outhouse, the robin’s nest in the bushes just next to it and the inside of the boathouse.

“Are you going to buy a boat?” Tom she asked.

“I think so mom. I’ll probably take up fishing again.”

“Remember the big bass you caught at the dock when you were ten?”

“Yes. I loved living near Westport. Want to have lunch there?”

“Yes, that would be nice.”

After lunch they drove slowly along the road to where their old home stood and stopped the car by the side of the road opposite it. A big tree and bushes in the front yard hid most of the front of the house.

“I wonder who planted the tree,” Tom commented.

“It must have been the Evertons,” his mother replied. “It’s at least thirty years old. Hardly recognise the place with that in front.”

“I wonder if Lenny’s parents still live next-door.”

“Why not knock and find out.”

“I will. It’d be nice to see him again. If he’s not there they might know where he lives now.”

Tom got out and went to the front door. A lady answered his knock but she wasn’t Lenny’s mother.

“They moved to the Perth retirement home four years ago,” she told him/

“Do you know if Lenny, their son, still lives around here?”

“No, sorry.”

“Too bad, Tom,” said his mother as they drove away. “He was your best friend.”

“Yes, he was. I’m going to call at the post office. They’d know if he lives here.”

“You could look at the phone directory too.”

“Yes. I’ll do that, too.”

Tom learnt that a Mr. L. Jackson did live near Westport, on the road they had just driven along so he got his phone number and address from the telephone directory and they drove to his house. No one was in when Tom knocked on the door so he wrote a note and left it in the mail box.

“I’ll call him tonight and tell him about the place I’ve bought. I’d be nice to see him again.”

Tom phoned after supper and found out that it wasn’t Lenny, his friend. A Mr. Leopard Jackson owned the house. He’d never heard of Lenny.

Tom spent two more weekends at the cottage lot and was about to drive there one Saturday morning in late July when his mother phoned him. She told him his father had had a severe heart attack and that she was now with him at the General Hospital. She didn’t know if he’d recover and could he come immediately. He drove straight there and arrived just after his father had died.

An hour later Tom drove his mother home and stayed with her until noon when he left so she could have a nap, promising to return at supper time. Pat wasn’t at the condo when he arrived and she didn’t return until three o’clock.

“Where have you been, Pat?” Tom asked. “I didn’t know how to reach you. My dad has just died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Tom. I spent the night with a friend, with Mary. We went to a show then a club and drank for a while so she said I should stay with her.”

Two weeks later he saw Mary in the library and told her that his father had died the night that Pat had stayed with her. “When?” she asked. “Oh, yes. That was, um, three weeks ago, wasn’t it?”

Tom said it was actually just two weeks ago and wondered why she didn’t remember how recent it was. Walking home he wondered if Pat really had stayed with Mary for she had been very quiet for several months and they never talked together as they formerly did.

Pat wasn’t home when he returned from Portland the following weekend. Her clothes and belongings were gone and there was a letter on the kitchen table.

 

Tom,

I’m leaving you. Our marriage is not what it used to be. You spend most of your weekends at your Portland place, we seldom go to the theatre or to concerts and we haven’t eaten out for over a month. I don’t want to live like that.

Over the past few months I’ve realised I don’t love you any more and have fallen in love with someone else and I am going to live with him.

You should know his name. It’s Harry Taltson. He works at Foreign Affairs and you met him two or three times. He’s been posted to the United Nations and is shortly moving to New York. I’ll send you our address when we have moved there and you can tell Steven where we live.

I hope we can still be friends and I’m sure you’ll find someone else, perhaps someone who enjoys the countryside as much as you do.

Pat.

P.S. you can have my interest in the condo. I don’t want any money (Harry has millions) but I do want a divorce. I will contact Harry’s lawyer and he’ll arrange everything. Please don’t make the process difficult.

 

Tom read the letter again then walked to the sideboard and poured himself a brandy. He sat and thought about what he’d just read. ‘Pat’s right, we’ve stopped doing things together. I spend evenings preparing lessons and many weekends at the cottage lot. I have been neglecting her. But I still love her, surely she knows that.’

After a second brandy and more thought, ‘I guess I’m not going to change her mind. She wouldn’t have removed everything if she thought we could stay together. She’s probably been seeing Taltson every weekend I’ve been away, maybe during the day when I’ve been working as well.’

After a third brandy, ‘What am I going to do? Fight Taltson for Pat? No, of course not. Refuse to give a divorce? I don’t think I’d want to do that, it’d be messy and upset everybody. Just let her go?’

A fourth brandy came and he stopped thinking about Pat and started wondering how his life would change from now on.

Tom phoned Foreign Affairs Monday lunchtime and discovered that they wouldn’t give him Mr. Taltson’s phone number or address. “If you tell me your name and phone number I’ll pass it on to him,” he was told. He decided not to do that, finally accepting that Pat was gone and he’d have to wait for her to contact him. She did, two weeks later. Tom listened, did not argue, copied down her address and telephone number, said he’d not contest the divorce and asked if she would be coming to Steven’s marriage. She said she would and they parted more-or-less as friends.

Tom, who had told his mother what had happened a week after Pat had left, phoned Steven that evening and told him what had happened. Steven was upset, although he had guessed his parents’ marriage wasn’t all it should have been and worried that it would spoil his marriage to Stella which was to occur the following month. It didn’t do that, although Tom and Pat were quiet and reserved throughout the whole event.

 

Chapter Three. Fall and Winter. 1999-2000

September came and Tom returned to Hillson High School where he taught mathematics. A stroke of luck fell his way the last weekend of September. He was at the cottage, mowing the grass one last time, when Jack Higgins, who owned the cottage next to him, walked over.

“Hi, Tom. Getting ready for the winter, I suppose. I did the same thing three days ago. Want to come for supper tonight?”

“Hi, Jack. I’d like to but I can’t stay long, it’ll be too cold to sleep here tonight.”

“Yes, I guess so. Hey, are you interested in buying a caravan? Bob Knowles has one he never uses. I bet he’d sell it to you. If you’re interested I’ll call him. He’s here, I saw him this morning when I was walking.”

“A caravan, that’d be useful. What’s it like?”

“Don’t really know, I’ve just seen it parked on his lot. I’ll call him then?”

“Yes, please.”

Ten minutes later Jack was back. “He said he’d sell it. He didn’t know what to ask for it though. You can go over right now to have a look if you like.”

“Okay, I will. What’s his number?”

“K62. I’ll come with you. Oh, I told Betty you’d come for supper. Six o’clock.”

Bob was pulling weeds from the side of the caravan when they arrived. Jack introduced Tom.

“Hi, Tom. This is it. Not much but it should be all right if you just want to sleep in it. As you can see, the tires are flat. They’d probably hold up long enough to tow it to your place. Let’s look inside. We haven’t used it for six or seven years so I don’t know what it’s like in there.”

He pulled a ring of keys from his trouser pocket, unlocked and opened the caravan door.

“There’s a step you can pull down but we’ll not need it today. I’ll go in first to be sure it’s okay.”

He entered then said, “Ah, the roof leaked,” and he pointed to the front corner besides the door. Light brown stains ran from the ceiling’s edge to the top of a small cupboard and disappeared inside.

“Ah, that’s bad. Be careful where you walk, the floor might be rotten around the cupboard. The rest of the roof seems okay. I’ll get out so you can come in and take a look, Tom.”

The bed, covered with a dusty cover lay across the back of the caravan. A closet and a tiny washroom stood next to it. A table and two bench seats were besides that. On the other side of the caravan was a cupboard, shelves, a stove and a sink. Everything was dusty and Tom knew that everything in the place would be damp and probably mouldy.

“I know, it doesn’t look like much,” said Bob. “It needs a good clean and, if I was going to use it I’d change the mattress. Water pipes will be okay, I drain all of them each fall after using it. There might be propane in the tanks, but I don’t know. You can buy it at the garage in Portland. What do you think? Interested?”

“I don’t know. How much do you want for it?”

“How about a thousand? It’s probably worth more, a lot more if it’s cleaned up.”

“Do you think the floor will have rotted? And how would I stop the roof from leaking?”

“We can check the floor and find out. As for the roof, there’s a special sealant for that. You can buy it from the caravan and motor home company in Kingston or at the crossroads, where sixteen joins highway seven. I used to seal the roof every couple of years and that’s where I bought it. Let’s have a look at the floor.”

Tom stepped out and Bob opened the door to the cupboard and took a knife from one of the drawers by the sink and started jabbing the lino.

“It’s soft,” he said. “We’ll have to look at it from underneath to find out how bad it is. It’s hard to do that here. How about I say nine hundred, as is. Want to buy it?”

Tom, who had already been thinking he’d pay the full thousand for it said, “All right. Yes, I’ll buy it,” and they shook hands.

“Come inside and have a coffee. Jane will be glad it’s gone, I can tell you that.”

Over coffee Bob told Tom he’d blow up the tires and pull the caravan to his cottage next time he came down. “You’ll have a cheque for me then?”

“Yes. And you’ll have the ownership papers?”

“Right. But if you’re not using it on the roads you won’t have to licence it.”

“What about when you bring it to me, won’t you need to licence for that trip?”

“I’ll not bother. The police don’t come around here very often.”

They arranged to move the caravan the next Saturday, if it wasn’t raining or snowing. If it was, Tom would call and they’d set up another date.

The following Saturday was clear and Tom arrived early at his cottage lot so he could check that the place where he’d been pitching his tent was large enough for the caravan. It was, almost, but it would be better if he widened the patch but he didn’t want to put gas in the mower just to do that so he trod the grass down and left it like that. He parked his car next to the boathouse then walked to Bob’s place. The caravan was already hitched to the back of Bob’s station wagon. It looked cleaner than before, ‘He must have washed it,’ Tom thought. He knocked on the cottage door.

“Hi, Tom. Looks better now, right? Jane has tidied the inside and she says you should change the mattress. If you want I’ll take it to the dump for you. It’ll be easier for me to do it than you with your Volks. I’ll just tie it to the top of my wagon. Come in and we’ll do the paperwork.”

They exchanged cheque for ownership papers and drank a mug of coffee with Jane who said, “I’m sorry about the cutlery, plates and mugs. They’re not very good, chipped and bent. We should have got new ones but never bothered.”

“No problem, Jane. I can get new ones if needed.”

“Are you going to come in the winter now?” asked Bob. “The propane tanks are half full. There’s a heater in it too, I forgot to mention that. It’ll keep you warm. But don’t put water in the tank, it’ll freeze and the water pipes will burst. Oh, there’s antifreeze in the toilet and sink drains. You’ll have to replace that if you run water through them but if you use the toilet it’ll be a problem emptying the soil tank. It’d be better to use your outhouse.”

“Ah, yes, of course. I will, and no, I’ll not be staying there until next year. I want to fix the floor and the roof first.”

“Oh, I’ve an old tarpaulin you can borrow. We’ll cover the roof with it and it’ll keep the water out this winter. And I’ve got some two-by-sixes to put underneath the jacks. That’ll take the weight off the tires, raise the floor and you’ll have more room underneath to work on it.”

“Ah, thanks, Bob.”

“Okay, then let’s move it.”

They climbed into the station wagon and slowly drove to Toms cottage. Once there they followed the track to the cleared land where the cottage would be eventually built. There they reversed and pushed the caravan into the level patch where Tom had put his tent.

“You’ll have a good view when you’re washing the dishes,” chuckled Bob. “Now, lets put the boards under the jacks and cover the roof. I’ve got lots of rope.”

An hour later the caravan stood, ready for the winter. They eased the mattress out the door and tied it onto the top of Bob’s station wagon.

“I think I should buy a car like this, Bob. It’s very handy. How’s it been for you?”

“The Subaru? It’s a very good car. It’s all wheel drive so you never get stuck and that’s very useful around here, or anywhere else, in the winter. It’s an Outback, plenty of room inside as you can see. How old’s your Volks?”

“Seven years. I’ve been thinking it’s time to buy a new one but now I think I should get a station wagon next time.”

“Lots of people use Subaru wagons. This is my third and I’ve never had any trouble with them.”

Tom spent the afternoon checking around the caravan. There were several manuals inside one of the drawers; how to light the heater, how to drain the water pipes, instructions for the stove. He lay on his back and eased under the caravan beside the door and found that water coming from the roof had emerged from the floor in the same corner. ‘The caravan must have sloped this way, so, maybe the rot won’t have spread very far. I’ll check first thing next spring.’

He took the cutlery, china, saucepans and frying pan and the manuals home and stopped at the motor home lot on his way. They knew exactly what he wanted and sold him a can and a brush. “Don’t put it on now, it’s too cold,” the man said. “Wait until it’s warm and dry. Read the directions and follow them.”

Tom had been thinking about going to Florida over Christmas. He knew that Steven wouldn’t mind because they would be staying with Stella’s parents. Stella was pregnant and, although not due until July, there were many things she wanted to discuss with her mother. However, he needed to save money if he was going to buy a wagon instead of another Volks. Another ten thousand, he guessed, if he bought a Subaru wagon. So he helped his mother cook the Christmas turkey and ate at her place several times during the school holidays.

He had many things to think about, the first being how he should repair the caravan. He knew he’d have to remove some of the floor and added a jig saw to the things he’d have to buy. He read the manuals, discovering how to light the furnace and how to drain the water pipes. He made a list of the pans, saucepans, dishes and cutlery he should buy, for he had thrown out the old pans, china and knives and forks. He also visited several car dealers, saw and collected brochures on the various station wagons they had and found out how much they cost. Finally, after trying three kinds, he decided to buy the same as Bob, a Subaru Outback. He chose the colour and options, going for automatic, which would be nice to have, adding a trailer hitch, thinking he might have to tow the caravan one day, found out that they’d give him four thousand for his Volks and placed an order. It arrived at the end of January.

 

Chapter Four. Spring and Summer, 2000

Tom went to the cottage lot twice over the school’s March break, choosing days when the clouds were few. The first time he cleaned the inside of the caravan, washing the walls, cupboards, washroom, shower, windows and door with warm, bleach-laced, soapy water wearing rubber gloves. He took the water from a five gallon container at first, then switched to melting icicles in a big pot when he only had enough water left to make a pot of tea. It was cold doing this, for he kept the door open but the place smelt much better when he’d finished. He ate his sandwich sitting on a lawn chair near to the door, watching a few small birds pecking at seeds or insects in the bushes.

After lunch he unscrewed the corner cabinet that water from the roof had drained into, flattened a large cardboard box and put it on the plywood the bed mattress lay on then laid the cupboard on top. Then he removed the quarter round from either side of the cupboard and removed the linoleum that lay in the cabinet’s corner. A pointed knife quickly showed him where the floor was soft. Thankfully the caravan walls seemed to be solid. He used his new jigsaw to cut around the soft area and a flat crowbar to force the plywood floor away from the frost-covered wooden joists. The thin layer of insulating fibreglass that lay between the wooden floor and the caravan’s outside was frozen and he pulled out all he could move. The metal floor underneath had a thin layer of ice over it. ‘No point in doing any more now. I’ll do the rest when the snow’s gone and the ice has melted.’

He used the knife to find where the floor joists became hard then measured the size of the replacement pieces he’d need, writing the details in a notebook. He’d buy the wood in Ottawa and cut or plane it to size in his condo locker, his normal workplace. That way it’d be ready to install when he removed the floor in the spring.

His new station wagon with its all-season tires was marvellous. He loved the way its all wheel drive allowed it to climb icy inclines that caused other drivers to slip and slide. The snow was only a few inches high the next time he went to the cottage lot and he drove along the track to the cleared opening because two weeks earlier he had bought a mattress, two sets of sheets, blankets and pillows. The mattress was roped tightly onto the car’s roof rack.

After moving it onto the bed frame and storing the sheets, blankets and pillows in three of the caravan’s cupboards he stamped his way through the snow to the propane tanks and turned them on. Then he went to the far side of the caravan and opened the metal door to the furnace controls. Having re-read the manual over breakfast that morning he knew exactly what to do and, after pulling the gas valve backwards and forwards a few times to loosen it, he left it open and lit the burner. He left the door open and went inside. After a little while a fan began and a current of warm air blew out of the nearest heater outlet. ‘Ah, perfect! That’s great.’

Tom checked that the replacement joists he had brought with him were the correct size and long enough to fasten to the solid part of the existing joists. ‘It’ll be tricky to fasten them together. I can’t use the electric screwdriver until I get some kind of attachment that will let me screw sideways. I hope there is such a thing.’

Bob Knowles was sitting on a stool ice-fishing when Tom looked out of the window as he ate his sandwiches. After drinking the last of his hot chocolate, he made his way through the snow and joined him.

He was holding a fishing rod about two feet long and moving it up and down. The line disappeared into the water through a six-inch wide hole in the ice.

“Hi Tom. It’s not too bad today. I’ve already got five,” and he pointed to the plastic bag which lay at the side of the stool.

“What are you catching?” asked Tom.

“Perch. There’s usually some around here. Ever eaten them?”

“A few times. I prefer bass or trout.”

“Well I want another one then you can have a go. Six is enough for Jane and me. Oh! There’s another,” and he pulled the line up, through the thin layer of ice that had already formed over the top of the water in the hole. A seven inch perch wiggled for a short time then lay still on the ice. Bob opened the bag and put the fish inside then baited the hook with what looked like a small piece of bread dough.

“Is that just bread you’re using?” asked Tom.

“Bread with a little bit of bacon fat. They seem to like that. You could use almost anything in the winter.”

Bob stood up and gave Tom a metal scoop. “Use this to skim off the ice coat. No, it’s easier if you sit down first. Yes, that’s good. Okay, here’s the rod. Let the bait hit the floor then raise it about six inches and jog it slowly up and down. That’s right. Hey! You’ve already got one. Quick pull it up, right up and out of the water, fast. Yes, a beaut. Must be eight inches. Well, that’s yours, Tom. Put it on the ice and have another go.”

“Wow,” exclaimed Tom. “There must be a lot of them around here!”

“It’s not always this good. In the summer I’ve spent two or three hours sitting in a boat and not caught a thing. But I enjoy it and Jane likes me to get out of the house now and again. Here’s the bait, catch another.”

It took a quarter of an hour before Tom caught the next fish. Five minutes later he caught a third. Bob placed it besides the other two then said, “That should be enough for a good meal Tom. I’ll have to go now, we’re going back to Perth tonight. Are you staying the night?”

“No, it’s time I left too. I’ll have them for supper when I get home. Thanks, Bob.”

“If you want to try trolling or casting with me let me know. No, I’ll come and see you after the season’s open. You’re not sixty-five are you?”

“Not yet,” said Tom. “Why do you ask?”

“You don’t need a fishing licence if you’re sixty-five. Well, there’s a store in Portland where you can get one, the bait shop. It’s by the lake, on the Smiths Falls side of the village.”

“Okay, I’ll buy one. Thanks. Safe trip home.”

“Same to you. Bye.”

Tom carried the frozen fish to the caravan and put them in a plastic bag which he laid on the snow. He pulled several icicles from the caravan’s window and put them in the small ice box and added the bag of fish. Finally, he turned off the heater and closed the valve on the propane tank and locked the caravan’s door. He drove the wagon back to the road, dragged the chain across the entrance, locked it in place then headed home. The perch would make a great supper; it would be nice to eat fish he’d caught and that were so fresh.

Teaching maths, preparing and marking tests, playing tennis and the June exams filled Tom’s days and many of his evenings. He cut his mother’s grass and the grass at the cottage, took his mother to dinner two or three times each month and usually went to her place for lunch on the Sunday’s he stayed in Ottawa. He went to the National Arts Centre twice and the National Gallery once, to see a special exhibition of European Modernists. In what spare time he had he drew, then redrew, plans for the cottage, drafting a guideline to show an architect what he wanted and how big it should be. Two bedrooms. A big lounge which had to face the water and a kitchen, also facing the lake. ‘It’s a pity the bedrooms can’t also face that way.’

During the summer he played tennis three or four times each week and often went to the cottage lot, staying three or four nights each time. He continued using the outhouse but dug a dry well to take water from the caravan’s sink. Bob came over the first time he was there in July and asked him if he wanted to go fishing.

“Sure. When?”

“Tomorrow morning, for lake trout. Have you done that before? Have you got the rod and tackle to do that?”

“No. you need a strong one, don’t you?”

“Yes. Well you can use Jane’s. Did you get your licence?”

“Not yet. I’ll get one this afternoon.”

“Get a dozen minnows from the shop too. About four inches long is best, I find. Come over and I’ll give you the pail.”

They trolled along the north shore of Big Rideau, where parts of the lake were over two hundred feet deep. Bob’s fish finder showed trout about fifty feet down. The heavy ball weight quickly pulled the gang troll and it’s minnow down to that depth and they cruised slowly along the areas where the fish were.

It was slow going but Bob caught one after about an hour on the water. They fished for another hour then Bob said they’d have to stop for he and Jane had to go to Kingston that afternoon.

“You’ll get one next time Tom. In fact, you can have this one if you like.”

“No, thanks. I’ll wait until I catch one. Thanks for taking me, Bob.”

“Are you going to buy a rod and equipment?”

“Don’t know. Not yet, I think. I’ll wait until I’ve tasted the fish. I might not like them.”

“Oh, I think you will, especially the wild ones. This one started in the hatchery. See, this fin has been removed. I don’t think these taste as good as those bred in the lake.”

The forecast was for a week or more of dry weather so that afternoon Tom removed the tarpaulin from the roof to let it dry and warm. He then crawled underneath the front end of the caravan and unfastened the metal skin in the corner where the rain had rotted the floor joists. Removing the parts of the joists that were rotten was fairly easy but it took over two hours to fit the new ones, he had to run long screws slightly sideways to fasten the new ones to the solid part of the old ones and his new, angled driver worked well when he was driving them in. He fastened the metal covering back in place, went inside the caravan, replaced the dried Styrofoam insulation, screwed a new piece of plywood flooring into place, added the lino he had removed earlier and replaced the cupboard. It was six o’clock when he finished, tired but happy that the job was done.

The next weekend he coated the roof with the sealant compound and returned the tarpaulin to Bob, giving him a bottle of Chardonnay and telling him he’d fixed both the roof and the floor.

“I don’t know if the roof’s okay yet, Bob. I’ll have to wait for the next rain to find out.”

“It’ll work,” said Bob. “Always did for me.”

Two weeks later it rained for three days. ‘Well that’ll certainly test the roof,’ thought Tom as he drove out the following weekend.

He opened the door hoping for the best. Not a drop of water was to be seen inside the caravan. No stains and no puddles. He checked the ceiling and the corner cupboard carefully then breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Well, it worked. Thank goodness. I’ll seal it each fall in future.’

Tom was sitting in a deck chair and finishing a mug of coffee the next morning when Bob dropped by.

“Hi Tom. How goes it?”

“Not bad, Bob. I sealed the roof three weeks ago and it worked, there’s not a drop of water inside. I also fixed the floor under the cabinet. That seems okay too. Hey, want some coffee?”

“No, thanks, just had some. I’m going fishing this afternoon. After lake trout again. Want to come?”

“Sure. What time?”

“How about two thirty? We’re going to Smiths Falls for lunch and have to do a bit of shopping first. Jane says you should come for supper.”

“Oh, thanks. I’d like that.”

“Okay. Don’t forget to bring a hat and sun glasses, it’s going to be hot.”

Once again Bob caught a trout, a nice four pound one and Tom caught nothing.

“Jane said we’ll eat the fish tonight if I caught one and you’re in luck, it’s not a stocked one.”

“Good.”

Tom walked to Bob’s cottage carrying two bottles of cold Chardonnay. He had bought six from Ottawa and gave them to Bob or Jack whenever he was invited for supper because it wasn’t easy to reciprocate. The propane fridge kept them cold. He told himself several times that the caravan was a very good bargain.

“The trout was excellent, Jane,” said Tom, as they sat outside, finishing the second bottle of wine and looking at all the stars in the sky. “I’m going to buy my own rod and tackle now.”

“Get a good reel,” said Bob. “One like we have. It’s got to do a lot of work.”

“Yes, I will.”

“You’re going to build a cottage on your lot, aren’t you?” Jane asked.

“Yes, but not until I retire. I’d thought of building it myself but decided it’d be too difficult. There’s so much I don’t know about building. I’ll be looking for a contractor sometime.”

“We built this place nine years ago and went through an architect. He drew the plans, got the permits, hired the contractor and oversaw everything. I’d recommend you use him, Tom. Contractors can be tricky sometimes.”

“Yes, I heard that. Mrs. Derwent told me about her experience.”

“Ah, yes, poor lady. We know about that. What happened to her?”

“She’s gone to live near her daughter, in Sherbrooke. Wants to see her granddaughters grow up. So you had no trouble with the architect and the people who built this place?”

“None at all,” answered Jane.

“Well, we had a few delays,” said Bob. “Weather, for one, and waiting for supplies to be delivered. We thought we’d be in by September but the place wasn’t finished until after Christmas.”

“It didn’t matter though,” added Jane. “It was the drywall contractor. He took on too much work and couldn’t do us until October. That delayed all the others, the kitchen counters and plumbing connections, electrical covers and final inspection, etc.”

“We don’t use it often during the winter,” said Bob, “so we didn’t really mind.”

“It stopped us from having Christmas here though.”

“So, apart from the delay you’re happy with the people you used?” said Tom.

“Oh, yes. Start with Harry Gregory, the architect. He’ll look after everything for you. I’ll get you his phone number, just a minute.”

Bob returned and gave Tom a piece of paper. “His office is in Perth.”

“Thanks. I’ll go see him when I’m ready to build.”

“Ah, see him before then, maybe a year before. He’ll be busy.”

“Okay.”

Tom also explored the roads and neighbouring villages and towns during the summer. He told a man who managed a shop selling fishing gear that he was interested in fishing for lake trout and learned that it was more fun to use a lighter line and a two or three ounce weight, not a heavy ball. He told Bob about it the next time they went fishing.

“Yes, I’ve heard about it but haven’t bothered to try it. Why don’t you try it and see how it goes.”

Three days later Tom returned to the store and bought the light rod, a good reel, some three-way swivels, a spool of line and a few lures.

Tom learned how to use his new gear early one morning as he fished with Bob. After that they went out several times and both caught fish. Tom stored his rod and tackle in the old boathouse and thought about buying a boat. ‘A sixteen-foot one would be all I need, with a twenty five horsepower outboard and an electric trolling motor, that’d be just fine. Maybe when I retire.’ He took Bob and Jane out for dinner twice and made supper for them once in his caravan that summer, serving a lasagne and an apple pie, bought from an Ottawa supermarket.

He tidied the caravan on Labour weekend and drained the water lines. Since he hadn’t used the toilet he left it as it was, the old antifreeze would still be okay. He filled a five gallon container with water and left it in the boathouse for future visits before draining the water pipe that led from the well to the tap that stood by the hydro pole. When it neared freezing he’d take the container home and refill it in Ottawa when he wanted to go back for the day.

 

Chapter Five. October, 2000

Returning to school in September, 2000, was similar to all the other thirty six years he’d been teaching. New faces and names to learn, some happy and eager members returning to his grades eleven and twelve and quite a few sad students, sad because they had to take mathematics if they wanted to follow the career path they or their parents had chosen, a course they’d only pass if they did hours and hours of extra study.

In October, after Maths 10 had finished on a Wednesday morning, two students stayed behind and told him they wanted to run a philosophy club and they asked him if he would oversee it.

“I don’t know much about philosophy or philosophers,” Tom said. “I’d not be able to teach you anything.”

“That’s not what we want,” the boy, Jim, said, “we just want to see if there are enough students interested in forming a club to discuss philosophical topics. We asked Mr. Brandon about it and he said there’d have to be a teacher in charge and he suggested you. He said you often presented points philosophically in staff meetings.”

“Oh, he did? I didn’t know I did that. Well, I’ll help. How do you want to organise it?”

“We’ll put up a poster and arrange a lunch hour meeting first, to see how many are interested. If there are enough we’d form a club.”

“What will you do in your philosophical club?”

“Discuss things. I want to know how many others don’t believe in God,” said Susan.

“I’m not happy with my parents’ religion, Christianity,” Jim said, “and I want to find out about other religions. I hope some Jews or Muslims join the club.”

“So you don’t expect me to teach anything?”

“No, not at all. All we want to do is discuss things, religion, God, morals, and so on, with other students.”

“Mr. Brandon knows all this, what you want to do?”

“Oh, yes, we told him.”

“Okay, if he says it’s all right I’ll do it. What day? Any day for me is okay except Friday,” said Tom, who liked Fridays to be as easy as possible after a week of lesson preparation, teaching and marking tests.

“How about Tuesdays, sir. Would that be okay?”

“Yes. You’ll have to find a free classroom and get permission to use it.”

“Yes, we know,” said Susan. “Okay if we ask Mrs. Jackson if we can use this one?”

“Sure, it might be one of the best, nothing much to get in the way.”

Mrs. Jackson, who was head of the mathematics department, agreed and a poster announcing the proposed formation of a Philosophical Club was pinned to each student notice board the next morning.

Fifteen students came to the first meeting. Susan explained what she and Jim wanted to do in the club and then answered questions.

“If it’s a discussion club what’s Mr. Alwen doing here?”

“There has to be a teacher in charge,” said Jim.

“Then he’s not going to teach us anything?”

“No, I’m not,” said Tom. “I’m just going to sit at the back. Don’t wake me if I fall asleep.”

There were a few laughs then two students got up saying, that’s not what we wanted, we wanted to learn about philosophy. “This isn’t for us,” and they left the room.

“Any more questions?” asked Susan.

“How are we going to run it?” asked a girl.

“Today we thought we’d list the kind of things you’d like to discuss,” said Jim. “I want to discuss the difference between various religions.” He then wrote that on the blackboard.

“I want to know if anyone else doesn’t believe in God,” said Susan and wrote ‘God?’ on the blackboard.

“I’m interested in how different cultures treat criminals in different ways,” said a boy.

“Yes,” said another boy. “Is the death penalty wrong or right.”

“Ah,” said a girl, “I want to know how one decides what is wrong and what is right.”

“That’s right, morality,” said another.

“And what’s true? What is the truth?” asked a boy.

Susan and Jim hurriedly copied each topic on the blackboard then Susan said, “Okay, that’s enough for now. Let’s choose one and have a discussion about it.”

“We’d need a moderator, don’t we? To keep us on topic and make sure only one person speaks at a time. How about you doing it, Susan?”

“Okay, for today. We should rotate the job. Then what shall we begin with?”

“Is there a God,” said a boy. “That seems to be central to the topics we have suggested.”

“Hands up those who agree,” said Susan.

Nearly everybody raised their hands and Jim began the discussion.

“Yes, there is,” he said. “Billions of people think so, believe so, and have done so for hundreds of years.”

“Thousands of years,” someone added.

Tom, sitting quietly at the back of the room didn’t fall asleep during the discussion for he found it very interesting. Half way through he thought he should take notes because Mr. Brandon was sure to ask him what they were talking about.

Discussions ended five minutes before the afternoon bell went. The students left in groups of two or three, continuing to talk. Tom noted that there was no consensus, there may be or may not be a God seemed to be the general opinion. ‘I guess that we’ll never know the answer to that question,’ he thought, as he rushed to the washroom before taking Maths 9.

The number of students coming to the club varied each week. Sometimes it dropped to eight but, more often, there were over twenty present. When there were more than ten they decided to form two discussion groups. Each group discussed the same topic and fifteen minutes before the afternoon bell was sounded a member from each gave a summary of what they had said or what they had decided and why they had made that decision. Tom was impressed by the way they handled themselves and the discussions he overheard, thinking that they must be some of the brightest students the school had.

Mr. Brandon was equally impressed. Tom dropped by his office after school most Tuesdays and related what the club had discussed that day.

“I think we, or rather, they, are on to something, Tom. It seems clear that certain students want to discuss these things. It’s a pity it’s not a designated course they could take.”

“Yes, I think so too. Bye the way, Susan Chambers has been elected president of the club. Jim Lowell, who seems to be her boy friend, was made vice president. Susan’s a natural leader, I wouldn’t be surprised if she joined the students’ council or became valedictorian.”

“Yes, I know about her. She’s an honour student.”

The philosophy club became one of Tom’s most enjoyable events during each week, enjoyable yet provoking, the students pondered questions that he, himself, didn’t know how to answer. He considered taking courses in philosophy at the University of Ottawa or Carleton University but didn’t like the idea of ploughing through all the great philosophers of the past. He wasn’t interested in finding out what they thought, he was more interested in finding out what he thought. He gave Mr. Brandon, Charles, to Tom by now, a summary after the last club meeting before the Christmas holiday.

“This is what they’ve covered this term Charles:

1. They don’t know if there’s a God or not. Some believe there is, some believe there isn’t but they can find no proof either way.

2. Most want a God to explain why the universe is here. Some know about the ‘Big Bang’ theory, others don’t.

3. Religions started a long time ago to explain why the universe is here and the universal answer has been that a god built it.

4. There are thousands of religions, so, which one is the ‘right’ one?

5. People usually follow the religion of their parents. Is this the best way, they ask.

6. If you don’t follow a religion then how do you decide what is the ‘right’ way to behave.

They’ve raised and discussed many other problems but these, I think, were their key ones. Next term they want to discuss how we know what is the ‘right’ and what is the ‘wrong’ way to behave to be a ‘good’ person.”

“You know, Tom,” said Charles, “I think we might ask Susan to talk about their club during one of the school assemblies. These topics are important to everyone.”

“I’d be careful about doing that, all the other clubs might want to present their club’s activities to the school.”

“Yes, you’re right. Yet what the Philosopher’s club is doing is so relevant to our times other students might want to join the club if they knew about it.”

“Yes, I agree,” said Tom. “I know, Susan could write a summary for the student newspaper. What do you think? Should I suggest it?”

“That might work, but not just yet. Let’s see how it goes during the next term.”

That Christmas Tom’s mother cooked a ham for their Christmas dinner and he took her to the Chateau Laurier’s brunch on Boxing Day. It was expensive but enjoyable, there were so many things to choose from and an excellent Xmas pudding was hidden under a cover in a tray on the dessert table. They each had a nap in the easy chairs when he drove her back home and a cup of tea was all they wanted for supper.

He visited the caravan once on a clear day three days after a snow storm had dropped a foot of snow, being sure the country side roads would have been cleared by then. He took his water container, only half filled, with ham and cheese sandwiches and an apple for lunch. He eased his station wagon close to the entrance to his lot, leaving the road clear for other traffic to pass, and didn’t attempt to drive it further in.

It was difficult to make his way to the caravan and he reminded himself to buy a pair of snowshoes. Jack and Betty weren’t there and he had a quiet three or four hours to himself. It wasn’t cold enough to light the caravan’s heater although he kept his overcoat on. He made a mug of hot chocolate twice, once on arrival and once after he had eaten his lunch. The rest of the water in the container he used to rinse the plate and mug, doing this outside the caravan because he didn’t want to flush out the antifreeze in the sink-trap. Without snowshoes he couldn’t easily walk to the lake or boathouse so sat for half an hour outside on an aluminium chair just enjoying the few birds that searched the bushes for berries and watching the occasional cloud drift across the sky.

 

Chapter Six. Winter and Spring. 2001

At the first meeting of the Philosophers’ Club in January they discussed morality, in particular, how does one know what is the ‘right’ thing to do. About a third thought abortion was ‘wrong,’ although more than half thought euthanasia was ‘right.’ Both of these actions resulted in killing a living being and several used the Ten Commandments to justify their opinion. Others said a child fathered by a rapist to a girl whose family would kick her out of the house would have a miserable future and probably might even die of neglect or starvation. “Surely,” they said, “it would be better for the mother if the foetus was aborted?”

Euthanasia was less difficult to resolve, at least for the majority. Most felt that a person, racked with tremendous pain and doomed to shortly die should be helped to do so. Churches were ‘wrong’ to state otherwise.

Religious doctrine was drawn upon frequently, even by those who said they didn’t believe in God or didn’t go to church.

“Why do we do that?” asked Susan. “Why do we use what our religions have taught us when we try to answer moral questions?”

“I don’t,” said Jason. “Since I’m an atheist I simply do what society will approve. For instance, I don’t steal ‘cos I don’t want to be put in jail, not because it’s one of the Ten Commandments.”

“Would you steal if you wouldn’t be caught?” asked Jennifer.

“If I was certain I wouldn’t be caught and there was something I wanted, yes, I guess I would.”

“Then don’t ask me to go out with you,” she replied.

“So ones morality affects how others think about you,” Jim noted.

Several nodded their heads.

“But if you didn’t know what they did then it’d be okay?” he asked.

“Well, it is. Think of that big con man in New York, Bernie, Bernie Madoff. People loved him, wanted to go to his parties and gave him tons of money to invest. All the time he was stealing it. So, if no one knows about it, it seems okay to steal.”

“Okay to him, but not ‘right,’” said Jennifer.

“It’s okay, I guess, but you’re probably ‘right’ that it’s ‘wrong.’”

“Well,” said Susan, “times nearly up. We’ll have to continue next week. How about some homework, everybody try to find a way of making a moral decision without drawing upon a religious decree or by relying on what one can get away with in society. Okay?”

“Homework from a lunch hour club, that’s a first,” said Betty, “but I’ll have a go.”

‘So will I,’ thought Tom. ‘Is there a way to find out what is the ‘right’ way to behave under those conditions?’

The club continued discussing how to distinguish ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ for weeks and it continued to do so until the end of term. They never found a satisfactory way to resolve the question. Tom summarised the club’s activities and presented them to Charles, who he now met monthly, for the principal was less worried about the proprietary of what they were doing. In the last week of the Winter term they met over lunch in the cafeteria.

“They’re stuck, Charles. They keep trying to find a way to decide what is the ‘right’ and what is the ‘wrong’ way to behave to be a ‘good’ person. They say it’s easy to do this if you follow a religion but it’s impossible to come to a unified way if you have none. The group has finally come to believe that following one’s gut feeling was the best answer yet none, I think, fully believe this was the best way to make such decisions.”

It had taken Tom several weeks to find what he thought would be an appropriate way to help the club move forward, but he didn’t know how to present the results of his research for he had only entered the discussions once, near the beginning of the club, when things became rowdy and Susan was not able to handle it. Offering a solution to the groups problem wasn’t what he was supposed to do. He outlined what he had been thinking to Charles.

“What should I do?” asked Tom. “I’m sure none of the students thinks that ‘following one’s gut feelings’ is the best way. I hate to leave them believing that.”

“You think your idea will help them find a better way?”

“Well, I think so.”

“You would have to teach them about problem solving then. Give them a lecture. However, I don’t think you should do that at one of their meetings. It’s a discussion group, not a classroom. They probably would resent it if you tried that.”

“Yes, I expect they would, but relying on their gut isn’t a good way for them to leave the topic.”

“Then find another way to help them move forward.”

Tom wondered what he should or could do and eventually thought of a way to handle the topic. He organised his thoughts during the March break, ready to discuss with the principal when school began.

Deciding to see how warm the caravan would be when a cold spell was forecast, Tom decided to sleep there one night of the break. He knew there was plenty of propane for he’d filled one of the tanks last September but he took two extra blankets just in case the furnace couldn’t cope with the predicted minus fifteen Celsius.

He arrived at the lot about four o’clock in the afternoon and drove the car right to the chain across his entrance, leaving the road clear. All the roads, including R 29, had been cleared but the track that led from the road to the caravan was covered with snow nearly two feet deep. He had anticipated that and had fashioned a toboggan out of a large piece of heavy cardboard and a rope. He put the ice box and a box of food and wine on the cardboard and tied the blankets on top.

It was hard work pulling the cardboard. ‘I really must buy some snowshoes and a toboggan,’ he told himself as he dragged it along. ‘They’ll make carrying things in so much easier.’

He lit the furnace and unpacked the boxes. He decided not to turn on the refrigerator and left the milk behind the curtain, leaning against the window.

The furnace quickly heated up the caravan although the soup and hamburger he cooked for supper must have helped warm the place too. The remains of a bottle of Shiraz washed the meal down and he made himself comfortable and read a Clancey novel afterwards.

He was making his way towards the outhouse, thinking how beautiful the stars looked, when a burst of laughter made him turn his head towards the Higgins’ cottage. ‘Oh, I didn’t know they were here. Sounds like they have visitors too.’

He slept well and had to turn the furnace down when he woke up an hour after falling asleep, the caravan became too hot. As he was settling back into bed he heard another round of laughter. ‘They must be having a good time.’

There was a knock on the caravan door as Tom was putting his dirty breakfast dishes into a bag ready to take home to wash.

“Come in,” he shouted, expecting to see Jack, “it’s not locked.”

The door opened and a voice said, “Hello. You must be Mr. Alwen. I’m Ann Higgins. Can I come in?”

“Yes, of course,”

Ann knocked off the snow from her boots and entered, standing on the mat by the door, which she then closed.

“Did we disturb you last night?” she asked. “You must have heard us.”

“Well, I heard some laughter. It didn’t disturb me. Come in and sit down. don’t worry about the snow, it’ll melt and it’s easy to clean up.”

“Okay, thanks. Here’s a peace offering,” and she put a box on the table. “It’s a cake, or at least, half a cake, from the party last night.”

“Oh, thanks. Did your mother make it?”

“No, Susan bought it. It was a book-club outing and we all bought things to eat and drink.”

“I see. Do you live around here then?”

“Oh, no. We all live in Kingston. Twice a year we have a night out, here sometimes, at Betty’s cottage or at the homes of the others. That’s where we have our monthly discussions. You like action books, I see,” pointing to the half-open Cussler novel that lay on his pillow.

“I like all kinds of books. What’s the club reading now?”

Teacher Man. It’s a memoir of an English teacher in New York. Frank McCourt. Tough life being a high school teacher.”

“That’s what I am, a high school teacher, though I teach maths. I don’t find it that hard, but it keeps me very busy.”

“I’m sure it does. I’m a nurse. At Kingston General. So are all the book club members. You won’t see any of them this time, they’ve already left. Some are on duty later today. I’m just cleaning up before driving back.”

She stood up and said, “I’d better be going. Nice to meet you Mr. Alwen. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”

“Call me Tom,” he replied. “I hope we do, with or without your club members. Do you stay here during the summer?”

“Yes, usually for two weeks. Don’t know when it’ll be this summer. We might meet then. Bye for now.”

“Bye, Ann. Drive safely.”

‘Nice lady,’ thought Tom, as he opened the box that held the cake. ‘This looks good, I’ll have a piece now with some more coffee. And I’d better make a list of things I need to buy, starting with snowshoes and a toboggan.’

The first week following the break Tom met with Charles and obtained his approval to try his idea. He asked Susan to stay behind after her Grade eleven maths class and told her what he’d like to do.

“You see, Susan, I think most club members don’t like solving a moral problem by relying on their gut.”

“I agree, gut answers vary from one gut to another and morality can’t be like that. I think your suggestion might help us. When would you do it?”

“Yes, next week, if you like.”

“Yes, good. Jim and I’ll make a poster.”

“You know I can’t limit it to just club members, it’d have to be open to everybody.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose so. Then we’ll make a poster for each notice board.”

 

How to solve problems.

 

A lecture by Mr. Alwen will be presented

at four o’clock on Thursday, April 12th,

in the school assembly hall.

 

“Does this look okay?” asked Susan the next day as Jim held up one of the four posters they’d made.

“Yes, that’s fine. You’ve got permission to use the hall?”

“Yes, we have it for an hour.”

‘I hope that’s enough,’ thought Tom as he entered the staff room.

“Mind if I attend?” asked Len Peters, another mathematics teacher, the following day. “Might learn something.”

There were more than fifty students in the hall when Tom began the lecture and three teachers. Mr. Brandon entered just as the lights were lowered and sat in the back row.

“Thank you for coming,” Tom began. “I’m giving this talk because the philosophy club has been tackling this issue for over two months and because I think others might be interested in problem solving methodology. The talk is in two parts, the first is How to solve Practical Problems and the second is How to solve Moral Problems.

“We all know how to solve practical problems for we do it many times each day, when we decide what to wear, for instance, what to eat for breakfast, whether or not to do our homework, what singer do we like best. All these questions are also problems. A decision has to be made, that is, a problem has to be solved.

“How do we make the decision? By knowing what we want. By our feelings, if there’s no better way. We feel like eating corn flakes, so that’s what we choose for breakfast.

“However, using ones feelings is often not the best way to make a decision. Should I do my homework or go to the movies tonight has much a bigger impact than deciding what to eat at breakfast. It is likely to affect your future, especially if one always chooses to go to the movies. And that’s the key part of solving problems. One has to look long-term, not short term, and decide what one wants to achieve. It’s only when that’s decided that one can solve a problem.

“Let me give you a couple of examples.

“President Kennedy said we have to go to the moon. Ten years later NASA astronauts did go to the moon. How did they do that? By knowing what they wanted to achieve and by breaking the gigantic problem of how to get there and get back into small pieces, and solving each one of them. Each piece had to achieve something, what fuel is best, how to seal the entry port, how to survive re-entry into the atmosphere. So many problems, so many things to achieve, no wonder it took ten years.

“We’re not likely to encounter problems that big but we will be always solving problems as long as we live.

“So, what’s the trick to solving a practical problem? Knowing what you want to achieve. That’s what I’ll call the ‘target’ or the ‘goal.’ And to achieve your target you have to know where you are ‘now’ and what lays between where you are now and where you want to be. That’s what I call the environment.

“Why do you have to know the ‘environment’? Because it’s where the difficulties are that you have to conquer.

“As an example, let’s say you want to attend Queen’s University. That’s the target.

“Then, how do you get there? What do you do? You examine the environment between where you are now and getting into Queen’s. First there are your school grades, they have to be high. That tells you to do your homework. However, Queen’s, like most universities, looks for other things than marks before granting admission. Things like sports, school and public activities, what you have done in your holidays, were you a leader in any way, many kind of things. The students they want must fit the environment they want to maintain at Queen’s. You have to find out what that is and learn how to satisfy it. It sets many kinds of other targets for you. Life isn’t easy, is it?

“Lastly, once you know where you want to go, where you are now, what the environment is between you and your target and what are the many smaller targets between now and the final target, you have to search for solutions.

“Some examples; How do you move from where you are now on the social environment? Do you join a club? Do you volunteer at the hospital? Do you lead a garbage-picking-up group each Saturday?

“Then the grades’ level. Do you do all your homework? Do you get help whenever you need it? Do you help those who are having difficulty in your class, for teaching is the best way to learn anything.

“So, solving practical problems really is quite simple. You all know how to do it, for you do it many times every day. You decide or know the target you want to achieve and you solve the problems between where you are now to get to the target.

“I’ll have to move on now or there won’t be any time for questions. Let’s look at moral problem solving.

“How do you solve moral problems?

“Well, it’s easy. You solve them exactly the way you solve practical problems. You have to know what you want to achieve. You have to know what your target is. Once you know that the rest is easy. You learn what the environment’s like between you and the target, what are all the smaller problems you have to solve on your way, then you can start thinking about how you would solve them. You handle moral problem solving exactly the way you handle practical problem solving; you treat them both the same way.

“Let’s take an example. Many people’s ‘target’ is, or used to be, to get into heaven or paradise or have a good reincarnation after they die. That’s their target. That’s what they want to achieve. And that’s what they use when trying to solve moral problems.

“I’ll give you an example. Bert, who is a Christian, wants to go to Heaven when he dies. The environment that mostly relates to achieving this target is outlined by the church he attends. The church’s minister tells Bert and others how to behave. In his sermons he might explore a problem one might encounter and, drawing upon the churches doctrine, the minister explains the correct way to behave. Bert, believing what the church teaches, follows the minister’s suggestions, drawn, most probably, from the Ten Commandments, and he firmly believes he will go to heaven when he dies.

“All religions are similar. They all offer desirable targets and they all show how one can achieve their targets.

“Now you, especially those of you who don’t necessarily agree with what churches offer, have to solve your own moral problems. You do that just the same way you solve all problems, problems of any kind, by setting yourself a target and behaving in a way that allows you to reach that target.

“It is not easy to set yourself such a target in solving your own moral problems. A target that you will use to guide your moral behaviour is often difficult to find. Think of all the qualities it must possess. It must be a significant target. It can’t be something like to be a nice person, surely that’s trivial. I suggest that a target to guide your moral behaviour should be significant and universal, universal in that it could be used by anyone, anywhere, even entities living on other planets, and timeless, a target that is good today and will be good in thousands of years. It must be as significant, universal and timeless as the ones used by the big religions of today.

“I do not think that the members of our philosophy club should try to set their own target. Thus, I do not think they will be able to resolve their current difficulty which is how to determine what is the ‘right’ way to behave. Determining that, I suggest, is a life-long goal, one many people ponder all their lives. Thus, to those club members who are present, I suggest you move to a different topic, for your current concern is too large to be resolved while you are at Hillson High School.

“Right. I’m stopping now. Are there any questions?”

Two hands rose slowly into the air.

“Yes, Jason?” Tom pointed to the boy sitting towards the back of the hall. “Your hand was up first, I think.”

“You’re saying we have to find our own way to behave. My parents won’t like that. They tell me what to do and if I don’t do what they say I’m in trouble.”

“I’m not saying you should not obey your parents, Jason, I’m saying your moral behaviour should be determined by desiring to achieve some significant target and that such a target is difficult to find. Your parents have already thought about those things I expect, and they want to guide you to behave as they think fit.”

The girl who also had her hand up jumped up and said, “That’s my problem. My parents tell me to do this and I think what they tell me to do is wrong. I don’t think I should behave like that. There must be a better way to stop the guy from staring at me all the time than slapping his face. I just don’t know what to do though.”

There were a few titters in the audience and one or two people laughed.

“Well,” said Tom, “that wasn’t the kind of question I was expecting but have you tried talking to him? He might just want to get to know you better.”

“No I haven’t and I don’t want to know him so I won’t do that.”

“I’d suggest talking to your friends and asking for their suggestions then. Or to your home room teacher. Sorry, I can’t think of anything else. Yes, Lenny, isn’t it? You have a question?”

“Yes, sir. Did you have these problems when you were growing up? Did you have to find your own target and use it to solve your own moral problems?”

“I did, and I still have that kind of problem occasionally. As I said, it can be a life-long task to find out how to behave morally. I’m still working one it.”

Questions continued for another ten minutes then died out. Susan, who was sitting with Jim in the front row, stood up and thanked Mr. Alwen for his talk then reminded the audience that the philosophy club met every Tuesday lunch hour in room 113 and new members were welcome. The audience clapped and drifted out of the hall.

Tom descended the few stairs from the stage to the hall and spoke to Susan.

“Well, I’m glad that’s over. I’m not sure if what I said was any help.”

“Well it helped me,” Susan said.

“And it’ll help the club, I think,” said Jim, as he joined them. “We weren’t getting anywhere and it is time we moved to another topic. You’ve helped us realise that. Thank you.”

Mr. Brandon walked up and shook Tom’s hand.

“Well done, Tom. I was a bit worried about what you might have said but it was fine. I don’t think anyone would find trouble with it. Not even Jason’s parents. How’s the club going, Susan, Jim?”

“It’s fine, Mr. Brandon. We’ve around twenty members who come regularly.”

“Hmm. You may have a few more in future,” he replied.

 

Chapter Seven. Spring. 2001

The philosophy club members agreed to stop discussing what was ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ following Tom’s lecture, and began discussing religions, how many there were and what behaviours believers in those religions should emulate to reach ‘their target,’ using Mr. Alwen’s terminology.

By this time membership had increased to thirty-two and Susan split them into groups of eight, larger if more showed up as happened occasionally. They followed this routine most of the meetings; four of the weeks were discussions about Christianity, two about Catholicism, two about Islam and one about the Jewish religion. Each group summarised what they had covered near the end of each meeting, relating beliefs, main ‘target,’ teachings and behaviours, trying to covey all the key points in five minutes.

“It’s not long enough,” said one boy as the afternoon bell rang. “Maybe we should meet after school.”

“No,” said Tom, his evenings never long enough for him, “I can’t do that. We could meet twice a week if you like.”

“Not me,” said Susan, “I’m in other clubs. You’d have to have someone else to lead you if you want to do that.”

“Ah, no,” said one of the new members. “Once a week is best. It doesn’t matter if we’ve still got things to say, we can do that next week.”

“Okay. It’s once a week then,” summarised Susan. “See you all next week.”

Towards the end of the term, just before the club ceased and exams started the topic shifted to why there were so many religions.

“There’s over a million,” said Kirk, “according to Wikipedia.”

“That’s because members don’t all think the same,” said Jim. “Some want to go back to the original way of behaving, the traditional beliefs, others want to change as conditions change, as the understanding of what’s true and what’s myth becomes clearer. The reformists and the traditionalists. That causes splits.”

“We should talk about all the modern myths people believe. My mom’s very superstitious. I tell her it’s all nonsense but she just ignores me.”

“My dad won’t walk under a ladder,” said Kyle.

“Does he throw salt over his left shoulder if he spills some?”

“Forget the superstitions, what about the stories that are in the bible, like Moses and the bulrushes or the Good Samaritan. Are these just stories or did they really happen?”

“I guess we’ll never know,” said Leslie, “most of what we read in the bible was written centuries after it was supposed to have happened so it can’t all be accurate.”

“You know,” said Lenny, “it’s clear how religions grow. There are more people now than a hundred years ago. And just about every child follows their parents religion.”

“Yes, that’s true. I had to go to church with my mother and father so I became an Anglican.”

“So your children will be Anglican too,” said Lenny.

“Probably, unless I marry a Jew or a Catholic and convert.”

“Makes no difference to the discussion, the children will follow the families religion.”

“Not me,” said Susan. “I don’t have a religion and I’ll let my children choose whatever religion they want, if they want one, that is.”

“You’re an exception.”

“I wonder what Canada would be like if everyone was an atheist.”

“Don’t see how that could come about. Everyone, if you go back far enough, is an immigrant and they all brought their religion here.”

“Then they modified it as they assimilated as the years passed, I guess.”

“Our laws are based on our religions I think.”

“And modified by parliament over the years.”

“And the Supreme Court.”

“I guess the laws of most countries are based on the dominant religion of that country.”

“Then we’d have a big problem if everyone was an atheist like Susan.”

“Not necessarily,” Susan said. “I bet I could make up a reasonable set of laws.”

“That’d take you ages. You wouldn’t have enough time to do that.”

“No, but I’d ask for help. There are lots of atheists around though most keep their beliefs to themselves. There are a few societies for atheists, the American Humanist Association, for instance. I could get help from them. Oh, damn. There’s the bell. We’ll have to come back to this next year.”

“Do you want to be president next year, Susan?”

“If you vote for me, yes. Cheers, everybody. Hope you do well in the exams and have a good summer.”

“Bye, Susan. Same to you.”

It was easy for Tom to summarise the clubs activities this term. “They mostly discussed four major religions, Charles, skipping Buddhism and Hindu. I suppose there wasn’t a member of either in the club.”

“Are you still willing to run the club Tom?”

“Oh yes,. It’s most interesting. And it makes me think, too.”

“Good.”

 

Chapter Eight. Summer, 2001

Lilly, ever since she started to talk, wanted to be called Lilly, not Elizabeth, as she was named, was born at 10:55 p.m., on July 19th, 2001. Tom wasn’t present although Stella’s mother and father were. Steven phoned him shortly after she was born.

“She’s beautiful,” he exclaimed. “Weighs eight pounds seven ounces. Has just a trace of light brown hair.”

“I’ll be there tomorrow Steven. How’s Stella?”

“She’s fine. Tired and sleepy though.”

“Her parents were there at delivery?”

“Yes. Not mom though. I’ll call her next.”

“Okay. I’ll be with you before noon. Love and hugs, Steven.”

“Love and hugs, dad. Bye.”

Stella was sitting up in the hospital bed when Tom arrived about ten-thirty the next morning. She held Lilly out for him to hold and cuddle. “Mom and dad will be here soon. They didn’t leave until one-thirty last night. Steven’s getting a cup of coffee. If you want one the cafeteria’s on the first floor.”

“No, I’m all right. Has Patricia arrived yet?”

“She’ll be here this afternoon. Her flight arrives at two.”

“Hello, dad. She’s lovely, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she certainly is. You must both be very proud. Do you have her bedroom ready?”

Steven and Stella had been decorating a small room in their apartment and had bought a crib and baby bath, for they only had a shower where they lived, a tiny two-bed unit a mile up Yonge Street. It was small, the rent was not too high for a place in Toronto and it was an easy commute for Steven to get to work.

“The room’s ready, pink trim, of course. We have to buy a stroller though.”

“I’ll pay for that, just let me have the bill the next time you see me.”

“Hi mom, dad. Did you manage to sleep?” asked Stella.

“Hi, dear. Yes, after a while. Hello Tom. Can I hold Elizabeth now?”

“Of course, Jane. Hi Jack. How does it feel to be a grandfather?”

“Well you should know. I guess we both feel a bit older but happy.”

They had lunch in the cafeteria and Tom stayed at the hospital until Pat arrived. They talked a little in the corridor after half an hour with Stella, just before Tom drove back to Ottawa, telling each other what they had been doing. Pat seemed happy but her happiness tipped Tom into felling sad, sad that they hadn’t stayed together and worked things out.

Saturday afternoon two weeks later Tom was straightening the large black plastic sheet he’d laid on the ground a month earlier when Ann called out.

“Hello Tom. Mind if I come over? Remember the book we were reading in my book club? The one by Frank McCourt? I thought you might be here this week so I’ve brought it with me. Here, you can borrow it.”

“That’s the one about an English teacher?”

“Yes. I thought you might like to see what it’s like to teach in New York. Oh, what are you doing?” she asked, pointing to the plastic.

“It’s to kill the grass and weeds. It’s black so no sun gets through and the weeds should all be dead by fall when I’ll dig it over. I’ll have a garden here next year.”

“I see. What are you going to plant?”

“Vegetables. Just a few, to see how they grow. That’ll do, though the plastic needs a few more rocks to hold it down. I’ll get them later. Thanks for the book. Like a cup of coffee?”

They drank the coffee on a picnic table that Tom had put together in May, sitting side by side, facing the lake.

“Sorry about the cookies, they’re a bit soft.”

“They’re all right. I’ve had worse at the hospital. It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. Have you just arrived? I didn’t hear the car.”

“No, I’ve been here all week with mom and dad. I’m just about to go home, I’m on nights from now on. Do you just come at weekends then?”

“Mostly. There’s not much to do here except fish and read. I’m thinking I might buy a boat but Bob’s usually here, Bob Knowles that is. His cottage is at K58 and he’s always willing to take me out. We usually fish for lake trout.”

“Dad fishes, but not very often. He took me with him once or twice when I was young. I like to eat fish but don’t like fishing. Most of the time you don’t catch anything. It gets boring.”

“Yes, it can do. I feel the same after a couple of hours.”

“What do you do in Ottawa then, during the summer when you’re not teaching?”

“Play a lot of tennis. I’m in one of the club’s competitions. Will probably come near the top in the sixties to seventies group in the tournament. I also walk, read, go to an occasional concert, things like that. How about you? Do you play tennis?”

“No, too tired when I’m working and just want to rest when I’m on holiday. We don’t have the summer off, not that I’d want to teach. That’s not for me. Hey, look at the time. I must be going. Thanks for the coffee. Enjoy the book, Tom. Cheers.”

“Bye, Ann.”

‘Yes, she’s a nice girl, no, a nice woman,’ thought Tom, as Ann walked carefully through the patch of poison ivy that lay beside the fence on her way to her parents’ cottage. ‘I’m glad she noticed that. I’d better get some herbicide and spray them.’

He finished Ann’s book that weekend and left it on a shelf in the caravan, ready to give to her next time she came. That wasn’t until the beginning of September. It was Labour weekend, when many cottagers drain the water from the pipes, cut the grass for the last time and make the place ready for winter. Tom was doing the same, knowing he wouldn’t be back very often after school started. He had his head under the bed opening the valve to drain the water tank when Ann knocked on the door.

“Hello Tom. How are you?”

“Hello Ann. All the better for seeing you. Up for the weekend?”

“Yes. We’ll be doing the same as you, draining water from the pipes. I’ve come to collect the book, my friend wants to read it. Did you enjoy it?”

“Yes, thanks. I’m glad I don’t teach in New York, the kids are much rougher there.”

“I guess they have to be. It’s a big city, lots going on and they have to be tough to survive.”

“Well, here’s the book. How about us having supper tonight? In the water-front pub in Portland? We could discuss the book there.”

“If I could bring Peter too, yes, I’d like that.”

“Who’s Peter?”

“My boyfriend. He’s with me, helping to tidy the cottage. Mom and dad are tidying their home and making dinner for friends so we said we’d fix the cottage.”

“Oh, okay, both of you come. I’ll drive. Pick you up about six, okay?”

“Sure. It’ll be fun.”

Peter Leroy was also a teacher though he taught Geology at Queen’s University.

“Ann gave me the book to read before she gave it to you. Did you like it?” he asked Tom.

“Mostly. What I had difficulty with was when he was teaching English he seldom gave the students writing assignments, or that’s how it seems to me. There were several places he could have asked them to write about their reaction to what had happened in class but he didn’t.”

“Yes,” said Ann. “Judy said the same thing when we reviewed it in the book club.”

“Teaching’s not like that for you is it, Tom?”

“No. It was hard when I began but I always prepared myself very well. I had lesson plans, kept asking questions and giving them problems to solve so things worked out well enough. It must be fairly easy too, at Queen’s?”

“Mostly. The keen ones are a delight. Discipline isn’t a problem and I enjoy what I’m doing. Right, I’m going to get another beer. Who else wants one?”

“I’ll have one,” answered Tom, whose hamburger, even after adding lots of ketchup, was hard to swallow.

“How did you two meet?” Tom asked Ann while Peter was at the bar.

“Walking. Queen’s and the hospital are close together and we often walked the same route at lunchtime. You’re divorced, aren’t you? Mom told me that.”

“Yes, partly because I bought the cottage lot. I want to spend the summers in the country after I retire and Pat, my former wife, doesn’t want to do that.” Tom left it at that, not wanting to say anything about her falling in love with another person.

“You miss her?”

“Yes, I do. But it’s getting easier.”

“Want me to look for a girlfriend for you?”

“Err, no, thanks, Ann. I’m okay.”

“What excitements do you have then, Tom?”

“Well, I’ve told you about tennis, reading and music, but there’s also the philosophy club.”

“What’s that?” asked Peter, as he put the mugs of beer on the table.

“It’s a club I monitor at school. Meets once a week during the lunch time. Between twenty and thirty members. They choose what to discuss then just talk.”

“What kind of things?”

“Whether there is a god, how do you know what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ how to solve moral problems, questions like that.”

“Their religion gives them most of those answers, doesn’t it?”

“They’re teenagers, Peter, and are trying to make up their own mind. Quite a few don’t want to just follow their parents’ beliefs. You know, they question what their parents say and expect. You must have done the same thing when you were young.”

“Oh yes,” said Peter, “I did. I still have trouble knowing what’s ‘right,’ when it comes to things like abortion.”

“It’s often the best thing to do,” said Ann, “especially when the girl is young or has run away from home and has no support. It’ll be very difficult for the child and her. It often makes a terrible life for both of them.”

“How did your students solve that kind of question Tom?”

“They couldn’t, unless they abided by what their religion taught them. Eventually I gave a talk, open to anyone not just the club members, about how one solves problems, both practical and moral problems. I explained that you solve them by wanting to achieve a target. You solve all problems by wanting that.”

“What do you mean, ‘wanting to achieve a target’?”

“That’s what everyone does when solving a problem, no matter what kind. They want to achieve a target and work towards doing that by solving all the little problems that lie between where you are now and where you want to be.”

“You mean they have to have a goal?” asked Peter. “And having a goal tells them what’s right.”

“Yes, that’s right. Once you have that it tells you how to behave if you want to achieve that goal.”

“I see. Then what’s my goal if I want to know if abortion is right?” asked Peter.

“I don’t know. Ones goals are personal; you have to decide what goal you want to achieve for yourself.”

“The goal I have,” said Ann, “is that the child and it’s mother should have a healthy life, not a miserable and dreadful one.”

“Then sometimes abortion is ‘right’ and sometimes it is ‘wrong,’” said Peter.

“Yes. Of course.”

“So there’s no universal ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ then,” said Peter.

“No, there’s not,” answered Ann.

“Not for people,” said Tom. “Everyone, as they grow up, adopts their own goal. Mostly it’s the goal of the religion their parents have. But, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this, I think there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ for communities or for nations. Actually for the world’s civilisation. Maybe not a permanent ‘right’ but a long-lasting one. For example, ‘genocide is wrong.’ It is a universal goal for civilisations I think. Surely, genocide must not be allowed.”

“Ah, I see. Yes,” said Peter. “That’s one of the things the United Nations has to control.”

“If only it could,” said Tom. “Remember the Rwandan genocide?”

“To enforce that kind of global law would require a global police force, an army, that can act quickly and decisively,” said Peter.

“Bit tricky to set up,” said Tom.

“Yes. And not all nations would allow an outside police force to control them.”

“Likely none.”

“Anyone want dessert?” asked Ann, who thought the conversation was getting a little too serious and a bit depressing. “I’d like apple pie and ice cream.”

“Not for me,” said Tom. “Just coffee.”

“Coffee for me too,” both Peter and Ann said, but she added, “and the pie and ice cream.”

Tom, after a little argument, paid for the dinner and was invited to have lunch with them at the cottage.

“I want to think about what you said about having a target to solve moral problems,” said Peter. “Maybe we could continue the discussion then.”

“Don’t make it too serious,” said Ann. “Though I’m interested in what you think, Peter. And you, too, Tom.”

“We’ll try not to,” said Tom. “What time should I come?”

“Is one o’clock too late? We’ve still a lot to do.”

“Okay.”

Lunch was two pork chops each and lots of vegetables, things from the refrigerator that had to be eaten or taken home. Three kinds of ice cream for dessert, followed by coffee. They talked as they ate.

“I don’t think there can be one universal ‘right’ behaviour that a civilisation could adopt,” said Peter.

“Why not?” asked Tom.

“Because there can’t be a universal purpose. The universe was not designed to accomplish a ‘purpose.’ If the universe doesn’t have a ‘purpose’ then nothing inside of it can have one. It’s a bit like what you said in your talk, there’s no universal target. There’s nothing everyone wants to achieve.”

“In short, you’re not a creationist.”

“Right.”

“Also you don’t believe that a god created the universe with some intent in mind.”

“No, I don’t. If you say a god started the universe then I’ll have to ask you who or what created the god.”

“I don’t know enough about how the universe began,” said Tom. “It started with a Big Bang, didn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s what we think,” said Peter.

“And what started the Big Bang?”

“Ah, we’ll never know enough to answer that question,” said Peter. “Do you know Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Tom?”

“Vaguely, it was touched on in one of the maths classes I took at Carleton. Something like ‘every system contains questions that can’t be answered if you are a member of that system.’”

“Yes, that’s right. It’s true for any system. The universe can’t fully be understood because we can’t get outside of the universe to see what caused it, so we can never solve the problem of how it was created.”

“That means we’ll never know if there’s a god then,” said Ann.

“Yes, that’s right. We do know a great deal about how the universe evolved, from the time of the Big Bang right up to now, and much about what will happen in the future.”

“What do we know?” asked Ann.

“Oh, it’s an awful lot but, briefly, space and time began with an immense explosion about 13.8 billion years ago from what is called a ‘singularity.’ Photons, then particles, then atoms, mostly the simplest one, hydrogen, condensed into clouds which gravity then pulled into clumps. Gravity then pulled the clumps so tightly together that the centre heated up, eventually becoming so hot that atoms fused together, turning hydrogen into helium and other elements, emitting light and other electromagnetic radiation. We see these hot clumps as stars. As fusion continued the stars became smaller and many eventually exploded, scattering the elements that had been formed into space. Gravity later pulled these scattered elements and more hydrogen together and new stars were formed, as well as smaller lumps such as comets, asteroids, small and big planets. Our sun and its planetary system formed this way about four and a half billion years ago. The universe is about three times older than our star and its planets.”

“The universe is still expanding, isn’t it?” asked Tom.

“Yes. We’ve recently discovered that its outwards expansion rate is increasing. Caused by dark energy, we think. Don’t ask me about that, it’s not my field.”

“In essence, what you’re saying is that we can’t understand what happened before the Big Bang therefore we can never know if the universe was created with a purpose.”

“That’s right. Time itself, for us, was created at the initial singularity, the Big Bang, and we don’t know how to see what happened before that. We can conjecture and make hypotheses but, so far, we can’t test them so they’re just speculation.”

“We’ll have to stop now, Peter,” said Ann, “or it’ll be too dark to see where all the water valves are.”

“Pity,” said Peter. “This is most interesting. Come down to Kingston some time and let me know what your club’s talking about next term.”

“Well, perhaps,” said Tom. “I’ll push off now and leave you to finish up. Thanks for the excellent lunch, Ann. I’m glad most of my clean-up’s done, I’m too full to do much more!”

 

Chapter Nine. Fall. 2001

Tom drove back to Ottawa thinking of their lunch discussion. If the universe itself was not designed to meet some purpose then nothing inside it could have any purpose. ‘Is that true?’ he wondered. ‘If so, then nothing we do can have any purpose. We do things because we want to do them and we invent reasons for wanting them. Well, I suppose that’s right. I wanted to teach so I took courses to become a teacher. I’m just doing what I wanted and there’s no other purpose than to be satisfied, just meeting my wants. It seems a bit pointless if I put it that way. But what other way is there? I fell in love with Pat and married her because she also wanted to do that. So we met two purposes. Then she fell in love with someone else and decided to leave me. We’re all just meeting our desires, or trying to, for I didn’t want Pat to leave me. It’s depressing, when you come to think like that. Damn. I’d better think about something else.’ He drove on and slowly switched his thoughts to the work he had to do to prepare for the first week of school.

The first week was uneventful, slightly larger classes for most grades but two smaller grade twelve classes. Susan was now in grade eleven and told Tom she was looking forward to the club’s first meeting. “I wonder how many we’ll get this year.”

Tuesday, September 11th began as usual and continued that way until some parent called Mr. Brandon.

“Have you seen what’s happened?” she cried. “It’s terrible. What are you going to do? Are you closing the school?”

“What do you mean, err, Mrs. . . . Err, sorry, I don’t know who you are.”

“Mrs. Denton. You don’t know what’s happened? Planes have hit the Twin Towers in New York. Don’t you know? Switch on your television. Do you have one?”

“Just a moment, Mrs. Denton. Let me do that and then I’ll know what you’re talking about.”

He stood up, crossed the floor to the small television set that sat on the row of drawers opposite his table. A few seconds later he saw what she was talking about. An aeroplane was flying directly into one of the towers, there was fire and smoke, some narrator was describing what had happened, then another plane, seemingly shortly afterwards crashed into the other tower. He stood, horrified, watching, until he remembered that Mrs. Denton was still on the line.

“That’s terrible, Mrs. Denton. Terrible. Has it happened anywhere else? It’s not happening in Canada, is it?”

“No, it’s just in New York, as far as I know. Are you going to close the school? Do I have to come to fetch Jimmy?”

“No. I’ll not be closing the school unless I’m told to. We’ll carry on like normal. Goodbye, Mrs. Denton. Thank you for calling,” and he hung up the phone.

‘My God. Who would do such a thing? And why? They must have killed hundreds of people, hundreds or even thousands. I’d better call Ken and find out what they want us to do.’

Ken Tompkins was the superintendent to whom Charles and several other high school principals reported. His line was busy and it took several minutes before Charles could get through.

“No, Charles. Continue as usual. We think you should hold a school meeting at lunch time and explain that, in spite of all that’s happened, the school will continue. Explain that nothing has happened in Canada and that everybody is safe here. I’ll get a message to you if things change. Bye, Charles, I have to stop now. I’ve lots of calls to make.”

News of the disaster quickly made its way through the school. Teachers who had televisions in their classrooms turned them on. Many started crying, teaching stopped as word rapidly spread. A few teacher tried to teach as usual but it was clear no one was paying attention.

The lunch-time meeting in the assembly hall was short and direct; school would continue as normal. Students who were affected in one way or another could see the guidance councillor or the vice principal. “There’s nothing else we can do. We don’t know who carried out this terrible thing and there’s nothing we can do about it right now. We’ll close with a minute of silence while we think of all the people that must have been killed.”

The afternoon and week continued, slowly returning to normal. The philosophy club meet the following Tuesday with over thirty people finding seats in the maths classroom. After a short discussion Susan was asked to lead the group again.

“All right. Thank you, I will. Now, if you remember, last term we discussed different religions, how they started and what members believed, but we didn’t discuss Islam nor Hindu. Do we want to do that now? Are any of you Muslims or Hindus?”

No one put up their hands so Susan said, “then what shall we discuss this term?”

“Well didn’t the FBI say that some or all of those who flew the planes into the towers and the Pentagon last Tuesday were Muslim? I think we have to discuss if that’s what Islam is about, even if there are no Muslims present.”

“What do others think?” asked Susan.

“How can we,” asked a girl in the back of the room, “if no one knows what they believe?”

“They follow Mohammed,” said Joseph. “Their target, as Mr. Alwen mentioned, is to get into paradise.”

“Don’t they want everybody to follow their religion?”

“Well, most religions want that. I don’t think that’s related to what they might have done.”

“Hey, just a minute,” said Susan. “It looks as if you’re already discussing Islam. Then, hands up, how many want to start with that?”

“We have to, don’t we, after what happened last week?” asked Jerry.

“Let’s find out. Hands up those who are in favour of discussing that.” About twenty hands rose in the air.

“Okay, then that’s what we’ll do. Since there are so many of us we’ll have to split into groups or many won’t have a chance to say anything. Make four groups, chose someone to summarise and we’ll stop fifteen minutes before the end of the lunch break.”

Tom, in summarising what the philosophy club had discussed that day told Charles that they were worried about the nature of Islam.

“Some of them think that Muslims hate Christians, saying they wouldn’t have done what they did last Tuesday if they didn’t. Others said that you can’t judge a religion from what a few members do.”

“What do most of the group think, Tom?”

“Oh, the latter, saying it’s only fanatical members who behave like that.”

“I’m glad most think like that. Do you think they’ll continue the same topic next week?”

“I expect so though I don’t know how they’ll get a more-moderate view. Susan will probably suggest something.”

At the beginning of the next philosophy club meeting Susan began by saying, “I’m going to change the way we do things this meeting. It’s just for this meeting, though, next week we go back to the usual way. I’d like to introduce Nouri to those who don’t know her. Nouri is a Muslim and she’s agreed to answer any questions you may have about Islam. I felt we needed to know more because we now know that those flying the planes were Muslims and because we don’t know how Islam, an important religion, can teach people to do such things. Nouri.”

“Hi. I’ll do my best to answer your questions but I’m not an Imam, that is, I don’t know many of the answers.”

“Hey, Nouri, is it true you’re not allowed to drink alcohol?” called a boy from the side of the room.

“Yes, that’s right. We’re not allowed to eat pork either.”

“What?” he replied, “no bacon for breakfast?”

“Yes, that’s right. We think it’s unclean.”

“And you don’t eat for a month during, what’s it called, Rama something?”

“Ramadan. We eat, of course, but not between dawn and sunset.”

“Well I certainly don’t want to become a Muslim,” he said and laughed.

“Do you pray five times a day?” asked a girl. “I wouldn’t like to have to do that.”

“We try to but it’s not always possible.”

“Hey,” said the same boy, “is it right that men can have four wives?”

“Yes, in countries where this is allowed. Not in Canada though. However the husband must treat each of his wives equally.”

“I wouldn’t like my husband to have another wife,” said Betty. “Would you, Nouri?”

“I don’t know. It’s not likely I’ll marry and move to a country where that’s allowed but I might. My boyfriend comes from Malaysia where some men have more than one wife. If we marry and move there it might happen.”

“What’s the Koran?” asked a girl.

“It’s like your bible but it’s more accurate. It states what Allah said to Muhammad and is infallible.”

“Why do you say it’s more accurate? What’s wrong with the bible?”

“Well, the Koran was written down shortly after Muhammad’s death by scholars who memorised exactly what he said. We must obey it.”

“Were the men who flew the planes into the towers and the Pentagon obeying the Koran?” asked Jim. “They were Muslims, we’re told.”

“Most of my friends don’t think they followed Islamic teachings and we’re very upset about what happened.”

“But doesn’t the Koran say that martyrs who die in a jihad, or holy war, are assured a place in paradise?” continued Jim.

“Yes, but we don’t understand how what they did could be obeying a jihad. It must have been some kind of extremist group.”

“Do you think there are more like them?”

“I’ve no idea. I hope not.”

“Hey, Jim. Islam isn’t any worse than Christianity when you think back to the Crusades. England and Europe sent armies into the Middle East to raid, conquer and kill Muslims. They thought Muslims were a menace.”

“Not just Muslims and Christians,” said a girl, “all religions are a menace. They all think they have the right answer and everyone should ascribe to their faith. I’ve no use for religions. They stink.”

“What do your parents say Paula?”

“They think the same way. Religions just want to get your money. That’s what my dad says.”

“My mom likes going to church, she says it’s peaceful there.”

“Yes. I hope I’ll go to heaven. I’m sure my dad’s there,” said a small boy, quietly.

Susan, seeing that the discussion had veered away from Islam, stood up and said, “I’d like to thank Nouri for coming and helping us understand a little about Islam. There’s over half-an-hour left so we’ll break into four groups. You’ve got twenty minutes to talk then we’ll have a quick report from each group.”

Tom, when summarising the activities of the Philosophical Club to Charles three months later said, “The club’s wandering all over the place now. As you know they discussed Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism and since then have been wondering which one is the best. Two weeks ago one girl asked how an alien from another planet would choose one of our religions, saying it’d be very difficult to choose the best.”

“I guess it would be! Well, enough of the club. What are you doing over Christmas, Tom?”

“Taking my mother to Toronto to be with Steven, Stella and Lilly. Lilly’s six months old now.”

“Very nice. We’re going to Los Angeles for a week.”

“You’ll come back with a tan then.”

“Doubt that. Have a good holiday, Tom.”

“You too, Charles.”

 

Chapter Ten. Winter. 2002

Tom, for some reason, found he wasn’t looking forward to returning to school. He and his mother had a lovely time visiting Stephen and Stella, and cuddling and playing with Lilly. Their hotel was just a few minutes walk from Steven’s apartment, five minutes for Tom but more like ten minutes when he walked with his mother. She insisted on walking, “Got to get some exercise,” she said and Tom wondered if that was his problem; he wasn’t getting any exercise during the winter. He drove to and from school and played no tennis. He was thinking this way when he drove back home and decided to join Ottawa-N-Fitness, an exercise club that was just a few blocks from his condo.

He paid for a year’s membership, bought a good pair of shoes, appropriate shorts and two smart-looking tops and decided to attend three times a week, in the evenings, straight after school had finished, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The first time he went he began with the treadmill, starting slowly and increasing it to four then five miles an hour, raising and lowering the inclination three times during the half hour he spent on the machine. Next he tried the fixed cycle, adjusting the tension until it strained his muscles then backing off slightly. Ten minutes of that were enough for he didn’t want to overdo things. Lastly he picked up a couple of ten pound weights and raised his arms ten times sideways, forwards and upwards. That wasn’t too difficult but he saw a couple of men looking at him and wondered if he was doing something wrong. He spoke to one of them before he left to have a shower and learned that he should join a class rather than just do his own thing. “Not that you’re doing anything incorrectly but there’s a better way to use the weights than you’re doing.”

Tom asked the receptionist about classes on his way out and paid to join the Wednesday evening group for ten weeks. He felt tired as he walked home but, surprisingly, happy and more content. ‘I feel better already; guess I’m not as decrepit as I thought.’

Teaching, lesson preparation and test marking, the philosophy club and exercising filled nearly all of his thoughts each week until he was introduced to Janice Fellows, the Geography teacher who replaced Mrs. Goodner when she went on maternity leave. It happened when he walked into the staff room one Friday lunch time. All the seats were taken except one and he joined the two women who sat next to a small table drinking coffee.

“Hello Tom,” said Betty Wanders, a history teacher. “Have you met Janice? She’s replacing Mrs. Goodner. Janice, Tom Alwen, Tom, this is Janice Fellows.”

“Hello, Janice. Glad to meet you. How do you like Hillson?”

“It seems a nice school, I hope they’ll keep me on until Mrs. Goodner returns.”

“Have you always been a supply teacher?”

“Only in Ottawa. I moved here last summer from Peterborough where I taught full-time. I’m taking a few courses at U of O to get my specialist’s certificate. Then I’ll go on for a Master’s. What do you teach, Tom?”

“Maths. Good for you, Janice. I like my summers and evenings free and never got mine. It’s too late now, I’ll be retiring in three years.”

“Do you know about the 50Plus Cultural Centre at the university?”

“No. What’s that?”

“People fifty years old or more meet in a building on Laurier Avenue every weekday and do various things, like learn Spanish, play bridge or scrabble. There’s an autobiography group where members write and read what they have written. And a book club. All kinds of things. You won’t be able to go while teaching but it’s a club I’d join if I was retired. I’ll get you the pamphlet on it, if you like.”

“Thanks. It sounds interesting and it’s near home. I could walk there easily.”

The following Wednesday as Tom was brushing the snow from his car before driving home Janice walked over.

“Here’s the pamphlet for the Cultural Centre, Tom. As I said, it’s no use for you at the moment because they close in the summer but later you might find it interesting.”

“Thanks, Janice. Can I give you a lift? Betty said you come by bus. That can’t be much fun in the winter.”

“I don’t leave the school until it’s about due so it’s not too bad, but thanks, I’d like that. I rent an apartment on Bronson, near Queen. Is that much out of your way?”

“Not really, I have a condo in Sandy Hill but I’m going to Ottawa-N-Fitness now.” He removed his sports bag from the passenger seat and placed it on the back seat.

“There you are. Get in.”

“What’s it like there? Many women go?”

“Oh, yes, more women than men, I think. All ages, including some who must be in their eighties.”

“Sounds like a place I could use. I run when the sidewalks are clear. Haven’t done much this winter. Say, you look after the school’s philosophy club, don’t you? Three students were talking about it yesterday as they came to class.”

“Yes, I do.”

“What do they do? It’s a topic I’m quite interested in.”

“Mostly just discuss things like morality, religion, god, meaning, truth.”

“Oh. Wow! Can I sit in?”

“I don’t know what they’d think about that. I just monitor them, I don’t do anything else. I suppose it’d be alright. Say, would you like to run it? I found it interesting but it’s just bringing up random topics now and it’s losing members. I don’t know how to refocus them because that’s not my job. It’s something the club president should do.”

“Let me come to the next meeting and watch. I might think of something.”

“I’ll ask Susan, she’s the president, if you can.”

Next Tuesday, with Susan’s and the club’s approval, Janice joined Tom in the back of the room while three groups discussed terrorists, capital punishment and stem cells. As students left the room Tom asked Janice what she thought about what she’d seen.

“It’s got a few bright sparks and some who prefer to joke around. I know you shouldn’t say anything but Susan should do something about them.”

“You’re right. She’s been looking after it since it began but I think she’s losing interest in it now.”

“Let’s talk to her about where the club’s going.”

“Well it’s too late now. I’ll arrange a meeting when I see her in Maths 11.”

They met in Tom’s room Thursday lunch hour. Jim came with Susan and he was the first to speak.

“Hello Miss Fellows. What did you think about Tuesday’s meeting?”

“I’ve mixed feelings about it. I overheard several people speak, you for one, and most said very sensible things but there were several who just like to make jokes. They don’t help at all.”

“Yes, that’s probably Jack and Lenny. They’re always like that.”

“Why do they come to the meeting then? Philosophy can’t really interest them.”

“To befriend girls, perhaps, or they’ve nothing better to do,” said Susan. “I’m not sure how to handle it. They joke in the groups, mostly, and I think the groups should control them. Got any ideas?”

“Not about that but everybody seems to be wandering from topic to topic,” said Tom. “I think the club has lost it’s focus.”

“Well it never really had a focus, sir. It was just for those who had questions like we did,” said Jim.

“Can I suggest something?” asked Janice.

“Of course,” said Susan.

“I’m quite interested in philosophy and have read a few books about various philosophers, what they thought and how they answered the big questions, like ‘what’s the meaning of life.’ Do you think the club would be interested if I organised a few short talks about them?”

“Don’t know,” said Jim. “I don’t think they want to listen to lectures at lunch time.”

“No,” said Susan, “I’m sure they want to talk, to ask questions about things that bother them.”

“Yes, I know that,” said Janice. “That’s why I said short; short talks about ten minutes only. And the rest of the time for answering questions. You see, just about all of the philosophers sought answers to the same questions everybody’s brought up in the past. Tom, err, Mr. Alwen, told me they talked about what is ‘true,’ what is ‘right,’ what is ‘good.’ Those questions have bothered people for more than two thousand years. It saves time if you know what past thinkers have concluded, even if you don’t agree with what they thought.”

“That’s true,” said Tom. “I’ve read a little since I’ve been monitoring the club and found they have spoken or written about the same things as I and club members have been thinking about.”

“Well,” said Susan. “Let’s ask them next Tuesday. If they want that then it’ll be okay, I guess.”

Next Tuesday Susan introduced Janice, saying Miss Fellows has a suggestion. “Please listen to what she has to say because I want you to decide if you want to do what she suggests. Miss Fellows.”

“Hello everybody. As you know, I sat in last Tuesday and listened to some of the things you had to say and it struck me that you might like to hear what other great philosophers thought about the same topics you have been discussing. What I propose is that I tell you about one philosopher for ten minutes, who he was, when he lived, what he thought, and then you can react to his ideas.”

“Oh, weren’t there any women philosophers?” asked Nancy.

“Not until recently,” said Janice. “Now, what do you think? Is it worth trying?”

“Would Mr. Alwen give talks too?” asked Henry.

“No,” said Tom. “In fact, if you do decide to do what Miss Fellows suggests then I’ll not even be here. She will monitor or facilitate the club. Susan will, of course, still be the club’s president.”

“Any more questions?” said Susan.

“Would we still talk in groups?” asked Jim.

“Yes, whenever you wished to do so. It will be similar to what you already do, start with one or more topics then split up to discuss the one that interests you.”

“Okay,” said Henry, “I’m for it.”

“Right,” said Susan. “Put your hands up if you agree to Miss Fellows idea.”

“Wait, one more question,” said Judy, a newcomer to the group. “If we don’t like it can we go back to what we did before?”

“Yes, of course,” said Janice. “How about giving me until the March break then have another vote at the beginning of the spring term?”

“Good. Let’s vote for that,” said Susan. “Hands up if you want to try that.”

Tom thought that everybody put their hands up and so did Susan and everybody else.

“Well,” Susan said, “it seems everybody’s in favour. Do you have anything for us this week, Miss Fellows?”

“No, sorry. I was not sure you’d like the idea. But I’ll be ready next week. In fact I can tell you who I’ll introduce, Socrates and Plato.”

“Two guys?” asked Henry.

“They more-or-less go together. You’ll see. Okay?”

“Okay, Miss.”

Tom waited outside his math’s room door the following Tuesday, eager to hear how the session went. It didn’t take long to find out for the door opened with its usual slam and small groups of students came out saying “Plato was nuts,” and “I wish old Mr. Jenkins taught like Socrates, I might stay awake.”

As soon as the rush allowed him Tom entered the room and joined Susan, Jim and Janice at the front of the room. They were talking excitedly.

“Then do we have to move to a different person next week, Miss Fellows? I’m sure everybody wants to discuss P and S again.”

“I’m not sure, Jim. There’s many other philosophers to learn about, although P and S, as you say, were pretty important.”

“And their ideas are interesting,” said Susan.

“I guess it was a pretty good session,” said Tom.

“Yes it was,” said Susan. “I’d like to ask the club what it wants next time. Could you prepare for the next philosopher but let the club stay with P and S if they want, Miss Fellows?”

“Yes, I could, though we won’t cover all I’d hoped to before the March break.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said Susan. “I’m sure they’ll want you to continue next term.”

“Okay. We must go now, it’s nearly time for classes.”

Tom smiled at Janice after they left and said. “I’m glad things went well. Then you’ll run the club from now?”

“Yes, I’d be glad to.”

“Okay, I’ll let Mr. Brandon know.”

Tom, as he cast his mind towards Maths 11, the next class he was teaching, had conflicted feelings about handing the club to Janice. He had enjoyed listening to the discussions the first year but disliked the way it had wandered all over the place this term. He was glad he had given the talk about solving problems but sad that there seemed to be no grand target that everyone could use to solve moral problems. ‘If only there were, then maybe we’d have a better world and less fighting between religions.’

 

Chapter Eleven. Spring. 2002

The first Friday of the Winter break Tom drove his mother to Toronto to visit Steven, Stella and Lilly. They stayed in the same hotel they’d used before. His mother spent most of Saturday and Sunday with Stella and Lilly, taking short walks to the tiny park, chatting and feeding the pigeons with crumbs of bread. Steven took Tom to a ball game Saturday afternoon. Tom took him and Stella to the Royal Ontario Museum Sunday afternoon while his mother looked after Lilly. They drove back to Portland after breakfast Monday morning stopping at Tom’s caravan for a tea break where he described the cottage he planned to have built. They had lunch in Smiths Falls and were in Ottawa by four.

Once the courts were dry and tennis began Tom stopped going to Ottawa-N-Fitness and played tennis four or five times each week, one of these with a partner in a doubles group. He was determined to be at least second in the sixty to seventy singles tournament. Last year he came fourth.

Every two weeks Tom went to his cottage lot. The first thing he did was cut the grass, which, with his mower took an hour or more, each time telling himself that he must buy a ride-on one but then thinking of the exercise mowing gave him and deciding to wait until he lived there. Following that he had a break, drinking coffee and eating a cream-cheese coated sesame seed bagel, then he tackled the vegetable garden.

He had dug the plastic covered area last fall. The sheet had killed most of the grass and weeds and the digging was not too difficult. He re-dug it early May then raked it smooth. The next weekend he sowed rows of carrots, beets, radishes, lettuce and peas over a third of the patch, leaving the rest for vegetables he’d sow when it got warmer. He cut and hammered two poles into the ground at either end of the pea row and hung a stretch of plastic mesh from a wire strung between the tops of the poles ready for the peas to climb. The radish seeds were sown in the same row as the carrots for he’d read that they would grow quickly and show where the carrot row was, making hoeing easier. The radish would mature first and leave more room for the carrots.

Two weeks later he was sowing a row of bush beans when Jack climbed over the wire fence and picked his way through the bushes and out to the garden.

“Hi, Tom. Had a good winter? Any leaks in your caravan?”

“Hi, Jack. Yes, the winter was okay for me and no, the roof’s fine, no leaks. You went to Florida?”

“Yes, Miami, for a month. It’s nice to get away from the cold. We always go in February. Drive there and back so that adds another ten days. Planting vegetables I see. You know there are rabbits around? They’ll probably eat more than you do if you leave it like that. Buy some wire netting and fence it. A foot or so will have to be buried, too, or they might dig underneath it.”

“Oh, damn. That’ll be a lot of work.”

“The net doesn’t have to go down a foot, just a couple of inches then run it horizontally, so they can’t dig next to the fence without hitting the wire.”

“Oh, I see. Got any other suggestions?”

“Well, coons will eat the corn and it’s impossible to fence them out.”

“Then I’ll not grow corn. Anything else?”

“No, not really. I don’t grow vegetables but that’s what I’ve been told by someone who does. Forgotten who.”

“I’ll get a roll of netting in Smiths Falls on my way home.”

“Are you staying overnight?”

“No, taking my mother to a concert tonight and playing tennis tomorrow. You staying?”

“Yes, probably for a week. I’ve turned the well pump on, it’ll be warm enough from now on. Are you going to turn yours on?”

“No, not until I stay here in the summer.”

“Ever been to the Thousand Islands Playhouse?”

“No. Where’s that?”

“In Gananoque, near the Gananoque Inn. We get season tickets each summer. We’re going next Saturday. Want to come with us?”

“What’s on?”

“It’s a comedy. I don’t remember the name. They put on new plays each month. Professional actors. They’re very well done. Usually very crowded, residents, tourists and bus-loads from different places come.”

“Well, thanks. I’d like to go.”

“It’s cheaper if you buy a season ticket. Order your ticket when you get home, that way you’re sure to get a seat. It won’t be beside us though.”

Tom bought a big roll of four foot wide wire netting on his way home and some metal stakes. He had a shower, phoned the Playhouse theatre and bought a season ticket, then collected his mother at five thirty, early enough to go for supper in an Indian restaurant they both liked. The concert, given by a quartet and held in an Ottawa church, was well performed, but, fortunately, no longer than two forty minutes periods, for they sat on wood pews and the cushions were very thin.

The following Saturday Tom parked on the road beside Jack and Betty’s cottage and knocked at the kitchen door where he guessed they’d be finishing breakfast.

“Hi Tom, come in,” said Jack. “Want a coffee?”

“No, thanks. I’ve got lots to do before stopping for a coffee break. I want to tell you I’ve bought a season ticket to the Playhouse. Could I ride with you in your car so I know where to park and where the theatre is?”

“Sure.”

“Then what time do you leave?”

“Oh, about seven. That gives us plenty of time.”

“Okay. I’ll be here at seven then. Thanks.”

After parking his car Tom checked the pipe that carried waste water from the sink to the dry well he’d made last spring. Everything looked okay. He went to the box on the hydro pole, unlocked it and turned on a pressured-controlled hydro switch that activated the water pump. The submersible pump was seventy feet below ground and a few feet under the water. It pushed water up the pipe to a tap fastened on a metal stake near the hydro pole. He opened the tap and a second or two later a stream of water shot out. ‘One worry less, no problem with the pump,’ thought Tom. He let the water run for a few seconds then closed the tap and the increasing pressure turned off the hydro running to the pump. Unrolling the hose pipe that lay inside one of the lockers underneath the side of the caravan he connected one end to the well’s tap and fastened the other end to the caravan’s water intake opening. He checked that all the taps inside the caravan were closed, lifted the mattress and the plywood that supported it and closed the drain on the water tank. He then went outside and turned on the tap near the hydro box. Returning to the caravan he could hear water running into the tank so he opened the cold water tap on the kitchen sink to let the air out. It took five minutes for the tank to fill then water began running out of the tap. He closed it then went to the shower and turned on the cold water until it ran out. ‘Okay so far. Now for the hot. He went outside and opened the door to the water heater, screwed in the drain plug, then turned on the water tap on the heater and went inside and opened the kitchen sink hot water tap. A minute later water ran out that tap and he closed it. ‘Now to see if there are any leaks.’ He eased his way under the caravan and checked. ‘Nothing I can see, so let’s try the water heater.’ Tom did not use the toilet in the caravan, knowing it would be awkward to drain the soil tank. It was much easier to use the outhouse and move it when necessary by sliding it over a new hole.

That done and the water heater working properly Tom had a quick mug of coffee and a bagel then began working on the garden plot. Using string to keep the supports in a straight line he hammered in the short metal fence posts with the mallet he’d found in the boathouse. Then he dug a three inch deep, foot-wide trench around the outside of the string. That was hard work and he took a break half way through and had another mug of coffee. After the trench was dug he ate his cheese sandwich and drank some water before unrolling the first length of wire netting. He straightened the netting then bent a foot-wide strip along it’s length. He attached the netting to the posts with short wires leaving the bent strip in the trench, cutting it at each corner. The three feet of netting that stood above ground could easily be crossed by Tom. He fastened another wire between the several posts to hold the top of the netting taunt. ‘One side done. It looks good and I’m sure it’ll keep the rabbits out.’ The other three sides were similarly wired into place and he cut triangles of netting to fill the gap at each corner, although it was unlikely that a rabbit would start digging there. Once that was finished he knelt on the ground and re-laid the turf, stamping it all into place. Once finished, he watered all of the replaced turf using another hose attached to a lead-off from the pipe from the well. Everything was finished by three thirty.

He sat in his lawn chair, tired, and looked at the garden then the lake. ‘Well, the hard part is done, for this year. Next year it’ll be easier, unless I want to make the garden larger. Wish I’d bought some beer, could do with one now.’ He sat and slowly drifted off to sleep, waking an hour later.

He showered, finding there was plenty of hot water, put on the good clothes he had brought then opened a tin of salmon and boiled some potatoes. Supper was finished by six so he read one of his library books until seven when he walked over to Jack and Betty’s cottage.

They arrived in Gananoque early enough to find a parking spot just one block from the theatre. After picking up their tickets at the desk they looked at the pictures hung on the walls then climbed the steps and crossed the upper deck to enter the theatre by the back door. Tom’s seat was four rows behind Jack and Betty’s. During the break he bought a round of drinks which they drank standing on the upper deck watching the boats pass between them and the American shore. The show was a comedy and Tom found it very enjoyable.

The following Monday Tom phoned the architect, Harry Gregory, and arranged to see him the following Saturday, June 8th, in his Perth office. He played three sets of tennis and took his mother to dinner Wednesday evening, once again going to their favourite Indian restaurant.

At ten o’clock Saturday morning Tom, walking into an empty reception area, was welcomed by a call from an inner office where the door was open. “I’m in here,” came a voice. Tom walked over, looked into the office and saw a man who he presumed must be Mr. Gregory, sitting behind his desk looking at a map.

“Hello. You must be Mr. Alwen. Welcome.” He stood up and shook Tom’s hand. “Pleased to meet you. Take a seat and we’ll talk.”

Once Tom had sat down Mr. Gregory said, “You’re here because you would like my firm to design and oversee the construction of a two bedroom cottage. Is that right?”

“Yes. Here’s a sketch of how I’d like it,” and Tom handed him his frequently revised drawing.

“I see.” Mr. Gregory glancing at the drawing then putting it on his desk. “Am I allowed to suggest changes?”

“Oh,” said Tom, “Well yes, of course, if you think of a better way of arranging the rooms. This, err, this is simply the way I thought the rooms could be placed to maximise the view of the lake.”

“I see. Well, I want to see your plot before I agree to taking on the work, and, as I mentioned, we’re too busy to do anything this year.”

“Yes, I know. That’s all right. There’s no hurry.”

“When can you show me the place?” Mr. Gregory glanced at the calendar on the corner of his desk, “How about nine o’clock Saturday June 22nd? I know R29 and can easily find K54. I’ll meet you there if that time and date is okay.”

“Yes, that’d be excellent. I’ll be at the entrance waiting for you.”

“All right. Well, I’m glad we met and I hope we can work together, Mr. Alwen. You must excuse me now, I’m very busy today.”

“Right. Well, thanks, Mr. Gregory. I’ll see you in two weeks.”

As he walked back to his car Tom was somewhat upset and disappointed; it looked as if Mr. Gregory wasn’t really interested in working for him. ‘I thought he’d want to talk about what I’m looking for. I’m not sure I want him to be my architect if he’s always like that.’

The following week passed quickly, in the classrooms teachers reviewed the year’s work and most students’ studied, for the exams began next week. Tom played tennis most evenings, crammed in a quick lunch with his mother on Thursday and visited two stores in the evenings to inspect their ride-on mowers. He didn’t buy one for he’d have to do that from a store that was closer to the cottage so they could deliver it.

When he inspected his garden on Saturday morning he saw that it had survived the rabbits’ attack. He could see where they had tried digging and the rabbit pellets that lay in little patches and Tom thought about trying to snare them. He’d eaten rabbit pie several times when he lived in Westport and enjoyed it. Perhaps Jack would know where he could buy snares.

He planted two rows of bush beans, some hills of cucumbers and squash and pulled more radishes while thinning the carrots again and he ate a few peas as he twisted the latest growth through the netting. Sunday, back home at the condo, he sowed broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seeds in three plastic trays that were filled with growing mixture. He put the trays where they would receive the most sun and hoped for the best. He would transplant them to the garden when they were two or three inches high. It would be much easier to start vegetables when he was at the cottage from spring to fall.

The end-of-year examinations began Monday. Tom invigilated and marked the papers he had set as quickly as possible after they were handed in. That wasn’t very difficult; he was glad he didn’t teach English where reading a hundred or more essays took ages, essays that were often badly written and full of grammatical errors he’d been told.

During the term Tom often thought about the future of the philosophy club. He knew it continued for he often arrived at his classroom door as the last members were leaving, some chatting with Janice as they did. He hoped that she would continue to teach at Hillson next year. Although philosophy interested him he didn’t want to look after the club now. He could not do what Janice had done and his return would be disappointing to the members. He raised the topic with Charles during the exams.

“I think she’ll be coming back next year, Tom,” Charles said. “Mrs. Goodner said she wants another year with her baby so she won’t be back, but the office will decide who takes her place, not me.”

“Will you ask for her?”

“Yes, I will. She’s a good teacher and gets along with the kids well. You want her back because of the philosophy club, I suppose.”

“Yes. She’s much better at running it than I was. She’s introducing new philosophers each week and they discuss their ideas.”

“You could do that too, Tom.”

“I suppose so, but she knows much more than I do and can add much more background.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Don’t say anything to her, Tom. I’ll let her know what’s going to happen when I find out.”

“Okay, Charles. Thanks.”

 

Chapter Twelve. Summer. 2002

Tom was standing at the entrance to the cottage lot when Mr. Gregory arrived slightly before nine. He pulled his car into the entrance and locked the doors.

“A nice spot you have here, Mr. Alwen. Had it long?”

“Four years. I bought it from a lady who planned to build a cottage here but her husband died.”

“I see. And they put the hydro in?” he said, pointing to the hydro pole.

“Yes, and a well. They also cleared a spot where they wanted the cottage to be.”

“Hmm. I hope the clearing’s in the right place. Who decided where they should be put?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was the contractor they hired to build for them.”

“I see. Let’s go in a little.”

They walked up the slope to the top of the rise and stood there while Mr. Gregory slowly looked over the land towards the lake.

“Nice, and not a bad view either. I thought the facing land might block much of your view. It does, a little further up the road. Now, the hydro pole, that’s close to where you want the cottage?”

“Yes, the ground’s been levelled to the west of that and the well is close to it.”

“I see. Let’s have a closer look.”

They walked to the levelled ground and Mr. Gregory took a surveyor’s tape out of his satchel.

“Hold this touching the hydro pole, Mr. Alwen.”

Tom did that and Mr. Gregory walked to the metal pipe running out of the ground above the well. He wrote the distance at the top of a pad of paper then walked back to the pole and sketched the rough outline of the cleared ground. He then took several photographs of the site and walked back towards the road, stood at the top of the rise, and took several more.

He re-joined Tom who had been waiting by the hydro pole.

“Do you have the survey documents? I’m sure the cleared site is far enough from the lake but I’m not sure about where the septic field could go. That has to be fifty feet away from the well, to the side or downhill from it, and 100 feet from the high water mark of the lake.”

“I don’t have them here but I can send them to you.”

“Okay. Do that, please. Once I have them I’ll check how things might be done. If necessary we might have to locate the cottage in another place. I’ll let you know. But that’s all I’ll have time to do for you this year.”

“Okay, thanks Mr. Gregory.”

“Call me Harry, Mr. Alwen. I’d prefer that, especially as I think we’re going to be working together.”

“I’m Tom, Harry.”

“Okay, Tom. Send me the survey and I’ll be in touch. Here’s my card.”

“I don’t have any cards to give you. I’ll send you my address and phone number with the survey.”

They walked back to Harry’s car and Tom watched him as he headed back towards the Old Kingston road.

Tom thought about the distances needed to place a septic field on his lot. He didn’t know how big it should be so he couldn’t check if it would fit if the cottage was built on the cleared space. ‘The cottage could be moved back twenty or thirty feet I suppose. The hydro pole would have to be moved to do that. I hope he doesn’t want to move the well. That would cost a lot, I bet.’

School ended the following week with a few exams on Monday and Tuesday and a Professional Development day on Thursday. Tom asked Janice if she was coming back next year and she told him that she didn’t know.

“Mr. Brandon will phone me as soon as he hears from the board. I hope I do.”

“So do I,” replied Tom. “I don’t want to try to do what you’ve done with the philosophy club. You’ll be busy at Ottawa university this summer?”

“Oh, yes. Two more courses to take and I’ll have all I need for my specialist certificate. Next fall I’ll start on a Masters.”

“Good luck then, Janice. I hope to see you in September.”

Tom was planting a dozen tomato plants that he had bought in the ByWard Market Saturday morning when Jack climbed over the barbed wire and came over.

“Betty said I should start fishing again. I see you going with Bob Knowles sometimes so I know you fish. Interested? Do you have lures for bass fishing, Tom? There are small and large bass in the lake. And pike.”

“I don’t eat pike Jack. Too many bones. I can never get rid of the thin ones.”

“Same for me. Some guys can fillet them out but not me. It’s just that you might catch a pike when you’re hoping to catch bass. How about one o’clock?”

“No problem. I’ve nothing much to do once these are in and watered.”

“Then let’s go after lunch. All we’ve got is sandwiches. It that what you’re having?”

“Yes.”

“Bring them to our place and we’ll eat together.”

“Okay, thanks, I will. Give me fifteen minutes to plant these and clean up and I’ll be over.”

It took them just over an hour to catch two small-mouth bass, both catching one.

“Want to eat them with Betty and me tonight Tom?” asked Jack, as they motored back to his dock.

“Well I was going back to Ottawa but I’ll stay and drive back tomorrow. Thanks. About six, like last time?”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

They docked Jack’s boat and he cleaned the fish on a tray that was mounted next to a tap by the side of the dock. He began wrapping the entrails in paper, intending to put them in the fridge and take them home for disposal, when he stopped and asked Tom if he wanted them.

“You can use them for fertiliser Tom. That’s what the Indians did. Do you want to try it?”

“They used them like that? Didn’t they compost them first?”

“No, they just put them in the ground under a few corn seeds.”

“Didn’t animals dig them up?”

“I don’t know. I suppose they might have done. They might do that if you composted them too. Do you want them?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’ll stay with regular fertiliser.”

Tom returned to his caravan, washed his hands and turned the fridge on. Then he drove to Portland and bought a couple of bottles of Chardonnay, putting them in the ice box for half an hour to cool then moving them to the fridge. He took them to Jack’s cottage when he walked over for supper.

“That was a nice supper, Betty. The bass was perfect. We’ll have to go fishing for them again. It’s my turn to host next. More wine? Might as well finish the second bottle.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Not for me Tom,” Betty replied. “but Jack can’t fish for a few weeks. Didn’t he tell you we’re off to New Brunswick?”

“I forgot, Betty. Yes. We’re leaving Tuesday. It’s my brother’s sixty-fifth and he’s having a big party next weekend. He’s invited all the family.”

“How many will be there?” asked Tom.

“Probably twenty, if most of them come. My sister and her family, five. Rob’s four, Betty and me and what children can come. They’re all over the place. Ann won’t be coming. Oh she and Peter will be using our tickets to the Gananoque Playhouse. Not sure when, they might change the date they go.”

“Can you do that?”

“Oh, yes. Just phone them as soon as you know you want to change the date, tell them when you do want to go and they’ll tell you what seats they have for that date.”

“That’s convenient. I wonder if the National Arts Centre does that. How long will you be gone?”

“Probably three weeks, maybe four. No need to hurry the trip. It’s a pretty drive and we like fish fresh from the sea.”

“And the lobsters,” said Betty.

Tennis, looking after his mother’s garden, taking her to the movies on Tuesday evening, reading and tending his garden in the country filled Tom’s summer weeks. Saturday after an early supper he drove directly to Gananoque, found a parking spot and was just entering the theatre when he saw Janice and a lady walking towards the door.

“Hello Janice. I’m surprised to see you here. How are you?”

“Hi Tom. I’m fine. This is my mother, Jennifer Fellows.”

“Hello Mrs. Fellows.”

“Hello Tom, sorry I don’t know your last name.”

“It’s Alwen. I teach math at Hillson High School. That’s where I met Janice.”

“You know, mom, Tom started the philosophy club, the one I was running. Oh, Tom, Mr. Brandon phoned me, I’ll be back next year.”

“Oh, great. I am glad. Look, let’s join the queue at the counter and get our tickets. How about meeting me on the upper deck during the interval and we’ll talk more. Okay?”

“Sure.”

They stood in the corner near the stairs during the break watching the river and occasional boat pass by. They had given up the idea of buying drinks for there was a long queue by the time they got to the bar.

“This is a long way to come to go to the theatre,” said Tom. “Do you have season tickets?”

“I do,” said Mrs. Fellows. “Janice doesn’t; she’s here because she is spending the weekend with me.”

“You live in Gananoque then?”

“No, Kingston. Half-an-hour away.”

“I see. I live in Ottawa, obviously, but I have a cottage lot near Portland. I’ll be staying in a caravan I have there tonight.”

“Are you on the lake?”

“Yes. It’s a great place. I’ve had it for four years. I’m going to have a cottage built on the lot next year and spend the warm months there after I retire.”

“When’s that, Tom?” asked Janice.

“In 2005. Three years from now.”

“What are you going to do then?” asked Mrs. Fellows. “I’m retired and I know how important it is to have something to do. If you don’t you get depressed and that shortens your life.”

“Mom used to do contract work for the government and ran groups on Life Planning,” interjected Janice.

“And other topics,” Mrs. Fellows added. “So what will you do when retired, Tom? And call me Jenny, please.”

“Grow vegetables. Oh, and play tennis.”

“Tennis? That’s my game too. Where will you play? It’s a long drive to Ottawa if you’re spending your summers near Portland.”

“Well, I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe I’ll spend two or three days in my condo each week. I’m in the sixty-to-seventy tournament at the club. I’d like to win it this year. I came fourth last year.”

“You must be good. I play in Kingston. That’s a lot closer than Ottawa. Think about playing there when you’re living in Portland.”

“I will. Is it a large club?”

“Fairly big. It’s the Kingston Tennis Club, on Napier Street. Very informal, I’m sure you’ll like it. I’ll show you around if you like.”

“Well, I’d not want to join it until I’ve retired, but I’d like to see it. I don’t want to drive to Ottawa every time to play a game.”

“Okay. When?”

“Any weekend would be okay. How about next weekend?”

“Err, yes. Sunday morning, about ten, at the club? It’s 45 Napier. Just ask for me when you get there.”

“Thanks. I’ll do that.”

“We’d better get in now, the lights have flashed. Nice meeting you, Tom. See you next Sunday.”

“Yes. Bye, Janice, Jenny. Enjoy your weekend.”

Tom looked for them when the show was over but they must have been one of the first to leave and he couldn’t find them. ‘Nice woman, Jenny. I’m glad we met. I hadn’t thought about playing tennis after I’d retired. I wonder what else I should be thinking of?’ He vaguely remembered hearing about retirement seminars the school board or the OSSTF ran. He’d ask Charles about them. ‘I’m sure my pension will be okay and I don’t have to worry about that but there may be other things to consider. Ah, Jenny should certainly know that, it was part of her job, I bet. I’ll have to ask her.’

He woke early Sunday morning, ate cereal for breakfast, then watered the garden. He pulled the last of the radishes, picked peas and hoed before heading back to Ottawa in time to shower, eat lunch and have an afternoon on the tennis courts.

Tom changed his normal routine the following weekend and drove directly to Kingston Sunday morning wearing grey flannels and a sport shirt. It took him ten minutes to find a parking spot four blocks from the tennis club. As he was about to enter the club gate a hand tapped his shoulder and a man said, “Is it really you, Tom?” Tom turned around and saw Dick, a former Hillson mathematics teacher, who had retired several years earlier.

“Hello Dick! How are you? Do you live in Kingston now?”

“I do. Moved here two years after retiring. Patsy wanted to live near her daughters.”

“That’s why you stopped coming to the club. We all thought you had given it up.”

“Oh, no. I’d have told everybody but we moved in November, after our house sold, and the club was closed. I joined the Kingston club the following year. I’m not as good as I used to be though. Are you retired now, Tom?”

“No. Three more years. I’m meeting Jennifer Fellows, she’s going to show me the club. I’ll be living in Portland in the summer when I retire and she thinks I should join this club and play here.”

“You’ll like it. It’s a very friendly and informal club. There she is,” and Dick pointed to Jennifer who had just left the front door of the club house.

“I’ll join her,” said Tom. “Time for a drink later?”

“Not today. I’m in a doubles and won’t be free for two hours then I’ll have to meet Patsy for lunch. Next time, okay?”

“Sure. Have a good game.”

Dick left, going to a side door of the club house and Tom walked towards Jennifer then called, “Jenny” when he thought she hadn’t seen him. She looked his way, smiled, and joined him.

“Welcome to the Kingston Tennis club, Tom. I saw you talking to Dick. Did you know him before?”

“Oh, yes. He used to teach maths at Hillson and we played tennis together. I didn’t know he had moved here.”

“I see. Well, this is the club. As you can see it’s got seven courts and a club house. We’re very active, have many members and many tournaments throughout the year, singles, doubles, mixed and so on. Several pros and classes. Some very good players so you’ll find plenty of competition here. Everyone’s friendly and sociable; there’s a barbecue tonight, for instance.”

“It looks better than my Ottawa club already, Jenny. Only trouble is, it’s forty minutes drive from Portland. And it was hard to find a place to park.”

“Ah, yes. Parking is a problem. You’d expect that, though, we’re downtown Kingston. You found a place though?”

“Yes, a few blocks away.”

“Well, what you see around you is the club. We do most of the maintenance ourselves; cleaning up in the spring, putting up wind barriers, sweeping leaves, trimming trees and bushes. All done by volunteers.”

“I’d be glad to help.”

“Oh, this is Leslie Barton. We’re playing tennis at eleven. Leslie, this is Tom, who teaches at Hillson with Janice. He’s thinking of playing tennis here when he retires and lives in Portland.”

“Hello Tom. You’ll like it here, it’s a good club. Jenny, Gerry wants to talk to you before we play. It’s about the Mixed Doubles scheduling.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry, Tom, must go. Perhaps see you at Gananoque next time.”

“What day are you going?”

“On the last Fridays of each month, normally.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then,” and they hurried off with Tom watching them. He strolled around the edge of the courts. They looked in excellent condition and players were on each one. He thought about going inside but decided against it since he wasn’t a member. Walking back to his car he remembered Jenny saying “the last Fridays of each month, normally.” ‘Does Janice visit her mother each month then?’

He stopped at a Tim Hortons in Kingston and had a bagel and cream cheese and a medium coffee. Once at the caravan he changed into the old jeans he wore when working in the garden. As usual, there were a few horse flies around but they always went for his hair so, two weeks earlier, he had stuck a band of sticky tape taken from a fly catcher to a strip of paper and fastened it to the band of a wide-brimmed hat. The flies sooner or later got caught on the sticky tape. Earlier in the year he had to wear a bee-keepers hat and mesh to keep the black flies away from his head but that made it hard to see; this hat was much better.

He took the trays of brassica from his Subaru and the small shovel he’d use to plant them. Using a string to align the row he planted rows of cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli and watered each one and then the tomato plants. The tomatoes were growing well and he removed the side shoots that had formed and tied the stems to the stakes. He thinned the carrots one last time, pulling enough as he did so to feed him for two weeks. Those that were left would probably feed him all winter when they had finished growing. He pulled the pea vines and removed the plastic netting, rolling it up to use next year, undid the fastening wire and pulled up the metal stakes. Lastly, he dug and hoed where the peas had been then planted several patches of zucchini seeds. ‘I could have put a fish under each patch, come to think of it. Maybe I’ll do that next year. I bet they’d give me a great crop!’

He was tired when finished so he fetched a lawn chair from underneath his caravan and sat in the shade under the nearby trees. Half-an-hour later he was awakened by Ann and Peter who were both calling his name.

“Tom, Tom, are you there?”

He stood up and saw them knocking on his caravan door.

“I’m over here,” he replied. “In the shade.”

“Ah, yes. We saw your car and wondered if you’d have lunch with us.”

“Yes, please. I’ve only got tins of sardines here and planned to eat after I’d driven home. Let me get this thing off my head and change. How are you two doing?”

“Fine,” answered Peter.

“Much more than fine, Peter! We just got engaged, Tom. You’re the first to know. I haven’t told mom and dad yet. They didn’t answer the phone when we called.”

“Congratulations! So it’s a celebration. That’s great! Pity I don’t have any champagne. I’ve got a six-pack of beer I’ll bring over although it’s not cold.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said Peter. “I’ve got a bottle.”

“You have?” asked Ann. “I didn’t see it.”

“I sneaked it in last night as you were getting ready for bed.”

“Oh, did you. What if I hadn’t said ‘Yes’?”

“Well, I’d probably sneak it out again and console myself with it when I got home.”

“Ha, Ha,” said Ann. “Tom, come over as soon as you’re ready. We’re driving back to Kingston to look in the windows for an engagement ring after lunch. I’ve a good idea what I want.”

“Oh, have you?” said Peter. “Is it less than a hundred bucks?”

“You’d be lucky.”

“Give me a kiss and I’ll raise it to two hundred.”

They kissed then walked back to the gap in the fence. “Don’t be long Tom,” said Ann.

Lunch was a mixture of cold cuts, salad, pickles and current buns, something Peter loved. As he was finishing his second bun he asked Tom if he was still running the philosophy club.

“No, not now. Another teacher, who knows a lot about the philosophers, is running it now. Why do you ask?”

“Queen’s provides a number of public talks each month. Some are on philosophy. I thought you might be interested.”

“Kingston’s too far away right now. When I’m retired I might like to go to some of them. Do you go to any?”

“Not usually. I go if it’s by someone I know or if they’ve written articles about topics I’m interested in. If they’re open to the public they are advertised in the paper.”

“Okay, I’ll watch out for them.”

The following week Tom phoned the Playhouse and changed the date when he’d attend the next performance to Friday, July 26th, looking forward to meeting Jenny again. Whilst in Ottawa he played tennis as often as he could but came fourth again in the men’s singles tournament. Annoyed with himself he thought he’d better return to Ottawa-N-Fitness the rest of the summer but decided against it, he wasn’t short of energy, just unable to return some of the fast serves.

Tennis, exercise, looking after his mother’s garden and his own vegetable plot filled his summer. He was disappointed when Jenny showed up at the Gananoque Playhouse with another woman. He had thought they could have a drink and chat together during the interval but saw that they had much to say to each other and he did nothing more than wave to her. He fished with Bob three times and with Jack twice. The first time with Jack he told him he was the first to hear of Ann’s engagement.

“We were having a barbecue on the shore when she first called so we didn’t hear the phone,” said Jack.

“What do you think of Peter?”

“He’s a nice enough guy. I’m sure they’ll be happy together.”

“I like him, and Ann, of course. When they come here we often talk about philosophy.”

“Didn’t know you were interested in that.”

“Well, I’m interested in life’s meaning. You know, what’s the point of it all.”

“To have fun, if you ask me. To be happy, I guess. Ah, got another one.” Jack jerked his line but he was too late, the fish escaped. “Like now, fishing!”

“There must be more than that, Jack. I’m interested because one needs a purpose if one want’s to solve moral problems.”

“Sounds a bit complicated to me, Tom. I’m not religious but I get along alright.”

“Don’t know what I am, Jack, but I can’t help wondering what’s it all for.”

“You’re not depressed, Tom? Sounds as if you might be if you talk like that.”

“No, I don’t think so. I’ve got lots to do. I think that keeps me interested in living.”

“I think you should go fishing more often. How about tomorrow afternoon?”

“Okay.”

Being busy did keep Tom more or less happy but he began to think more about his retirement. He’d have much less to do then. Would he become depressed? He’d heard that quite a lot of people died a few years after retiring. He hoped that wouldn’t happen to him.

He watered his garden for the last time Labour Day weekend then drained the pipes after switching off the electricity to the submersible pump. The second planting of brassica was doing well and he hoped there’d be enough warm days to bring them to a good head. He picked all the tomatoes that showed some red colouring and left the rest on the plants. He’d tried eating fried green tomatoes and didn’t like them very much. He pulled all the zucchini plants; there had been so many and he’d run out of people who wanted them so he decided to grow only three plants next year and not add any fish entrails. He left the wire netting that surrounded the garden in place and trimmed the grass around it one last time. Lastly he cut the small field of grass that grew between the cleared patch and the lake, leaving the cut grass on the ground as usual. He siphoned out the gasoline that remained in the lawn mower’s tank, restarted it and left it running to empty the carburettor, then removed, sharpened and oiled the blade. ‘All ready for winter now. Oh, no. The roof. Damn, I’d forgotten that. I’ll have to buy some more sealant. And come back when it’s been dry for several days. Let’s hope the weather co-operates.’ Tom was lucky, for it was dry the following week and he bought the sealant on his way to the caravan that Saturday and painted the roof the same afternoon.

 

Chapter Thirteen. Fall. 2002

The new school year began with a staff meeting, duties being assigned and additional lesson preparation for members of the mathematics department to meet the demands of a modified curriculum. Tom was asked to walk the halls during lunchtime three days each week. This was an easy task compared to covering games after school. He renewed his subscription to Ottawa-N-Fitness and the speed and inclination of his treadmill runs gradually rose and he moved from lifting twenty pound weights to thirty pounds. ‘Pity there’s not another match this year but I’ll beat Jim next year.’ James Symonds, his frequent tennis opponent, the man who’d told him about the cottage lot and only three months younger, usually beat him by a couple of games but not recently. Tom had won more sets than Jim last month and felt good about his progress.

The philosophy club restarted with Janice running it. Susan and Jim told the club they didn’t want to be president or vice and would be dropping out because it was their final year and they needed to study. Tom was surprised when Janice told him this and thought they had more-likely left because the club was different from what they had wanted; discussions now centred around what the old philosophers thought, not about what students thought, but he didn’t tell Janice this.

Wednesday, October 9th, just after nine in the evening, the phone rang in Tom’s condo. He turned down the television and picked up the phone.

“Hello Mr. Alwen, err, Tom. It’s Harry Gregory. Do you have time to talk for a bit?”

“Hello Harry. Yes, I do. I was hoping to hear from you. You got the survey then?”

“Oh yes. I’ve just been looking at it and the sketches of the cottage you’ve drawn. I’d like to talk to you about exactly what you want before I start working on your project. Can you come to my office? I could come to Ottawa but I think we might need to visit your site after talking.”

“Sure. When?”

“The forecast is good for this weekend. Saturday or Sunday, which do you prefer?”

“Err, Saturday.”

“Okay. About ten o’clock? I’ll have coffee ready for you. Do you like donuts?”

“Why, yes, I do.”

“Donuts and coffee at ten in my office then. Thanks, Tom. See you.”

“Right, Harry. See you,” and Tom put down the phone.

‘Well I guess he now has time to talk. And he wants to know what I want? Surely he knows that from the drawing I gave him. Oh, maybe it has to be moved because of the septic field. Maybe that’s why we might have to visit the site.’

A box of Timbits and a full pot of coffee was sitting on a low table set between two easy chairs in Harry’s office when Tom arrived. Harry was looking at Tom’s drawing and he pointed to the second seat.

“Hi, Tom. Take a seat and help yourself. No trouble in getting here?”

“No, not much traffic. Is there a problem with the cottage location?”

“No, not at all. Your drawing is fine and the cottage position is okay. The septic field will fit in without trouble. No, what I wanted to discuss is how you plan to use the cottage.”

“What do you mean? I’ll live there when retired in the warm weather then move to my Ottawa condo during the winter.”

“Yes, that’s what I gathered, but is that what you’ll always do? Why I ask is because many people I’ve designed cottages for come back to me after a few years and say they want to stay in the cottage year round. In short, they no longer want a cottage they want a bungalow, more insulation, better heating, and so on. Upgrading later is costly and restrictive; what one’s built already limits what one can do later. Do you follow?”

“Yes, I see. I hadn’t thought about wanting to live there permanently.”

“Well, for one thing, you could sell your condo if you did that and reduce your expenses. That’s what some people do.”

“I don’t know about doing that. I’d be a bit lonely living in the country during the winter, although there are two or three couples along that road that stay there.”

“You’re single, aren’t you, Tom?”

“Yes. What difference does that make?”

“If there were two of you it wouldn’t be so lonely but then, that’s not your situation so forget that. Another thing people say, they want to sell their city home to raise more money so they can spend winters in Florida or travel.”

“They’d only need a cottage wouldn’t they if they did that?”

“Yes. They sell their old home to raise money, but they often need a year round place afterwards because they can’t afford to go south for more than two or three months. Follow?”

“I see. Building a bungalow would be more expensive than building a cottage though wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, it would, but cheaper to do it at the beginning than doing it later. However, it’s up to you. Think about it before deciding.”

“Okay.”

“While you’re thinking about it I’d like to show you this,” and Harry pulled a large, folded document out of the briefcase that stood besides his chair. He cleared space for it on the table then unfolded the paper.

“I built this three years ago for a couple that live on land that slopes down towards the water just like yours. It’s a bungalow with a basement. From the road side it seems to be just a bungalow but from the water side it looks like a two-story house, with extra bedrooms and storage space in the basement. The basement, as you can see, has windows facing the lake and a door out to the lawn. You could have that, I’m sure, on your site. It’ll cost about sixty thousand dollars more than a cottage, though. If you examine the drawing you’ll see that it’s next to impossible to build a bungalow like that as an addition to an existing cottage. What do you think?”

“It looks very nice. I had wondered how Steven’s family, my son—he’s married and has a baby daughter—would fit in the cottage I sketched. But they would only be with me for a week so I thought it wouldn’t matter too much.”

“They might want to stay longer if you had a bigger place, Tom.”

“Yes, they might. Can I borrow the drawing, Harry?”

“I could make you a copy if you like but your place doesn’t have to be like this. It’s just the idea I wanted you to think about.”

“I quite like the suggestion. I just hadn’t thought about what I might like to do after retiring, apart from living in the country, that is. I’d never thought about living there full-time.”

“If you think you might like to build something like this then we should take another look at the site. A bungalow would need to be further back. Want to do that now?”

“Okay, let’s do that.”

“Right. We’ll take both cars and you won’t need to come back here afterwards.”

They parked their cars on the road besides the entrance to Tom’s lot and walked along the track towards the water. Harry stopped at the top of the ridge.

“This ridge would be where the front of the bungalow would be, I think. Let’s walk along it until we get to where the land has already been levelled.”

They did that then Harry said, “If the bungalow did start up here the land would be excavated and, depending on the bungalow’s size, the lake side of the bungalow would end just about where the land has already been levelled. You understand?”

“Yes. The hydro pole would have to be moved though.”

“That’s no problem. And I can now see that the well would be inside the bungalow, which is a plus. No need to run an insulated pipe from the well to the building that way. Easier to winterise everything too.”

“Yes, I suppose so. You say building a bungalow would only add about sixty thousand to the cost. So, all together, what would a bungalow cost?”

“Depends upon what size of bungalow and what options you’d want, marble counter tops, for instance. It’d be between two-fifty and three hundred thousand, Tom.”

“That’s including excavating the land?”

“Yes. Oh, you’d have to think about where you want the excavated soil to be put. They’d dump it wherever you wanted.”

Tom did a quick calculation. He had over three hundred thousand in mutual funds savings, plus about another hundred thousand in his RRSP which he could draw on if it cost more. If he lived here he could sell the condo and get about four-fifty for it and replace his savings. It was manageable. He could build the bungalow if he wanted.

“I need more time to make my mind up, Harry. Can you send me a copy of the drawing so I could see how you arranged the rooms, their sizes and so on.”

“Yes, I’ll do that when I get back to the office. Remember, you don’t have to have yours just like the one I showed you. In fact, I can already think of at least one change. I’ll sketch what I’m thinking about and include it with the drawing.”

“Thanks. I’ll let you know what I decide in a couple of weeks.”

“Good. I’ve several projects on the go but I want to start the preliminaries on yours soon if you want it built next year.”

“Yes, that’s when I’d like it built.”

Tom drove home thinking about Harry’s suggestion. What would he miss if he lived at Portland all year? First, being near his mother. How much difference would living an hour and a half away make? ‘There’s our weekly meal together and looking after her garden. I could combine both and even stay with her sometimes. She’d like that, I think. There’d be a problem if she fell sick, but, again, I could stay with her if that happened. I don’t need to own my place in town just to see my mother every week or two. I’d miss my friends. Not many of those, though, mostly tennis partners, Jim and Lenny mainly. I’d miss Ottawa’s museums, the NAC and it’s theatres but Kingston has its own theatre and movie houses. Portland’s not far from Gananoque and it’s Playhouse either. Kingston has Queen’s and a good tennis club. Forty minutes to get there from Portland, though. There must be things to do around Portland if I do move there. I should talk to Jack about that, although he doesn’t live there year round. Lilly would like it if I had a bigger place for they could come more often. Stella might even like to stay several weeks in the summer if I had a nice place for her and Lilly. It’s very tempting but it’d be a very big change. Well, why not? Do I want to be a stick-in-the-mud and mope around in my condo when I retire? No, surely not.’

He thought more and liked the idea even better. ‘I think I’ll go for it, though I’ll wait until I see Harry’s drawing before finally deciding.’

The plans for the bungalow that Harry had shown Tom arrived on Friday the following week. Tom was going to the ByTown cinema that night but he changed his mind as soon as he saw the package waiting on the table next to the condo’s mail boxes. He waited until he’d eaten his supper, a Thai chicken curry that he’d made using a bottle of sauce as the base, rice and green beans, before looking at the drawings.

He moved from his easy chair where he usually ate his meals to the dining room table, opened the package and spread the drawings on the table. One sheet showed the bungalow from three sides, two other sheets showed the floor plans. A fourth sheet, smaller than the others, had drawings of the back of the bungalow that faced the lake and one of another room. He put that to one side; it looked like a sketch of how Harry thought the bungalow might be improved.

It was clear from the first drawing that from the front the bungalow looked like most other bungalows. A garage on the right and bay windows on either side of a front door. The side drawing showed how different it was from a bungalow that sat on a level surface for the ground fell from front to back and a diagonal slice of the basement wall was showing. From the back the building looked like a house, with windows upstairs and downstairs and a back door in the centre of the ground floor.

The floor plans interested Tom the most. On the upper floor, going from right to left, there was the garage, which had a door in the centre of the side wall that opened into the house. Once inside the house there was a set of steps that led downstairs on the right side. Past those steps lay the kitchen and counter, a small eating area and the front of a lounge. On the left of the door from the garage there was a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom. Past that there was a small powder room, followed by the back of the lounge. A dining area next to the bow window was at the end of the lounge. A small lobby in which there was a coat closet lay off the corner of the dining area. The house was only thirty six by forty four feet and Tom was surprised when he read the bottom corner of the first drawing. The total living area of the house, upstairs and downstairs, was 3,168 square feet. It was about three times the size of his condo!

The stairs leading downstairs opened onto a laundry area. A window that would give a view of the grass then the lake was above the large sink and, further on, a door to the outside. Two bedrooms were on the far wall. Beside the second bedroom was a small bathroom. All the rest of the downstairs was empty, a space without windows, for it was on the front or road-side of the bungalow. ‘What would I use all that space for?’ thought Tom. ‘A big storage area? A table tennis table? A giant workshop? Maybe Harry will have some suggestion.’

The smaller hand-sketched drawing showed a change to the water-side of the house. A door had been added in the middle of the top floor and a large deck roughed in. ‘That would be nice. It’d be great to have meals there,’ thought Tom. The other sketch showed the side of the basement floor and the stairs. A door was cut through the wall under the stairs which led to another room. ‘How can he put a room there? It would be under the garage. And it has no windows. What’s it for? Doesn’t make much sense to me.’

Tom spent the rest of the evening looking over the plans and thinking about life if he had a place like that. ‘It’s much more useful than a simple cottage. Cost’s more, of course, but would fetch more when I eventually sell it. Money really isn’t a problem if I sold the condo. I wouldn’t have to pay the condo fees and city taxes; that’d save a lot. And my water would be free and no sewage charge. Probably save enough to pay for three or four months in Florida from that alone, although there would be taxes to pay on the bungalow. They wouldn’t be so much though. It’d be a very different life from the one I have now!’

Continuously thinking about the bungalow kept Tom awake for several house but he fell asleep about two o’clock after deciding to build the bungalow. He called Harry’s office at ten the next day, hoping he was in the office; he was.

“Morning Harry, It’s Tom Alwen. I’d like to go ahead and ask you to build the bungalow. I’ve one or two questions about it. Can we meet sometime?”

“Tomorrow morning’s okay with me, Tom. How about you?”

“Yes. At ten?”

“Yes, that’d be fine. If you do want to proceed there’ll be some papers to sign.”

“And you’ll need a cheque?”

“Yes, I will. $5,000 will cover my initial work.”

“Okay.”

Tom made himself a mug of coffee and started writing a list of questions. How much exactly would it cost? Would it be finished next year? What’s the room under the garage for? How is it heated? He added others as the day went on.

Saturday night, over dinner at a Chinese restaurant, he told his mother that he was going to have a bungalow built on the cottage lot.

“It’ll have three bedrooms, mom. You’ll be able to stay there when Stephen’s family come and see more of Lilly.”

“That’ll be nice. When will it be ready?”

“End of next school year, I hope. Just in time for the summer of 2004.”

“I’ll be eighty four then. When I’m 85 I want a birthday party with all my friends.”

“At the bungalow?”

“Oh, no. it’d be too difficult for many of them to get there. We’ll rent a room in town. Don’t worry about it, I’ll plan it all. I’ll have it just after Lilly’s birthday so Steven’s family will be here. You’ll be retired then, wont you?”

“Yes, and living in the bungalow.” Tom then told his mother that he would sell his condo after retiring but that he’d be coming to town every week or two to see her and look after her garden. “It won’t be much different from now. We’ll see plenty of each other.” Hilda was quiet after hearing that then said, “That’ll be nice.”

Another box of Timbits and a pot of coffee were on the table when Tom arrived at Harry’s office. Tom sat down and put the drawings Harry had sent him on the table and took out his list of questions. He poured himself a mug of coffee, took a bite of a sugary Tim Bit then asked Harry his first question.

“How much will it cost, Harry? Can you be more definite on that?”

“No, I can’t, Tom. So much depends on what materials you decide to use. Expensive or cheap kitchen cupboards, or gold plated taps in the bathroom, stained glass windows, whether you choose carpets or wood flooring. I can tell you what this one cost,” and he pointed to the drawings of the bungalow he’d given to Tom. “Two hundred and ninety two thousand. It was built five years ago so prices will be about five percent more now. They chose middle-line materials. Oh, I could save you at least five thousand if you choose to build exactly the same bungalow. I’d use the existing drawings and wouldn’t have to design a new place.”

“Well, I do like what you’ve got here although I don’t understand the extra room, the one underneath the garage. Why did you draw that? What’s it for?”

“Storing vegetables, cans of food or wine, Tom. I saw that you had a vegetable garden and I thought you’d probably make a bigger one when you lived there. The room,” and he pointed to the sketch, “has no windows but it has two vents, one letting air in and the other letting it out. You can control the temperature with that and keep vegetables most of the winter.”

“Oh. That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that kind of thing.”

“You could use freezers, of course, but this is bigger and needs no electricity. Hydro is more likely to fail in the countryside, winds blowing trees on the line, ice storms, like the one we had a few years back. By-the-way, if you use a computer you should buy an uninterruptable power supply.”

Tom wrote that down on the paper. “Okay. I like the door on the lake side on the upper floor. It leads to a deck, I suppose.”

“Yes. I could have that built for you but didn’t draw it in. However, you might like to build it yourself. A lot of people do that. It’d be cheaper if you built it yourself, of course.”

“That’s what I’d like to do then. It’d give me a project, something to do. How’s the place heated Harry?”

“There are several ways to do that. Oil’s common, some people use propane. Others use wood, with a burner outside the house or a wood stove inside. In this house we used wood and electricity. If you look closely at the upstairs drawing you can see a dotted wood stove. They used one from Vermont Castings. The chimney goes vertically up through the roof and is easy to clean. I think they do it themselves. I used a novel way to heat their house. Above the stove is an inlet which opens to a vertical shaft. See, here,” and Harry pointed to the wall that lay behind the wood stove. “At the top of the wall there’s an opening into a vertical shaft. The bottom of the shaft opens into a box in the basement that’s between the two bedrooms. An oil furnace blower fan is mounted in there. It pulls hot air from the opening above the wood stove and drives it through ducts to every room in the house. Thus, with the well-insulated walls we put in the bungalow, you can heat the whole house with that one stove. At least, down to minus ten Celsius. That’s what I’ve calculated. After that, and when you’re away, the baseboard heaters take over.”

“Ingenious. I like that.”

“You’d have to buy the wood, of course, but that’s easy. The supplier will deliver it, cut to the size you want, right to your door. The garage door, in this case. The garage is big enough to store enough wood on shelves alongside the house to keep you warm for a month or more. It’s a pity you don’t have enough trees on your lot to grow your own!”

“All this for less than three hundred, yes?”

“Depending on what you choose, as I said. I’ll give you several brochures before you go and you can select what options you want.”

“Okay, I’m on. How do I pay you?”

“Sign the contract then give me five thousand to cover my initial costs. I’ll ask for more before construction starts and will ask for more as it continues. Probably fifty thousand in March, to have the basement dug out, the basement floor laid and ground floor materials. You’ll have to let me know where you want them to dump the earth. By-the-way, the top few feet looks like good soil so you could use it to build a bigger vegetable garden. The one you have now will have to go. It’s too near the site and the bulldozer will use that space. And your caravan, you’ll have to move that. I suggest you put it near the boathouse, it wont be in anyone’s way there.”

“I’d better do that today, before the snow starts. Damn, I’ll have to pump up the tires and I haven’t got a pump. You don’t have one do you?”

“You’ll need one you can plug into the hydro. No, I don’t. Canadian Tire will have one, they should be open.”

“Okay, I’ll get one there. The brochures; what do I do with them?”

“Mark what cabinets you want, flooring, fixtures, etc. send them back to me and I’ll give you a better estimate of the final cost when I see what you’ve chosen.”

“And you’ll have it done next year, Harry?”

“Provided the weather co-operates my contractors will have it ready for you in September, October at the latest.”

“Great. That’s perfect. Let’s sign the contract.”

“Your lawyer should look at it before you sign, Tom.”

“Let me see it. If it’s simple enough I’ll sign without bothering him.”

“You can do that but you’ll need him to register the place eventually. If you want to sign now, take your copy of the contract to him. I’ll need his name and address. He’ll also look after registering the property to you when it’s finished.”

Tom signed the contract several minutes later, after he had read carefully through each page. He then wrote the cheque for Harry and gave him his lawyer’s name and address.

“I’ll get the brochures for you Tom. Just a minute.” Harry went to one of his filing cabinets and pulled out a set of them and put them in an envelope. “You’ll have everything you need for the bungalow in here. There’s a form as well. Just note which item you want in each section, the name and it’s item number. Oh, wall colours. Don’t worry about that. You can choose the colours you want when the gyprock’s up and you’ve looked at the place.”

Canadian Tire had several tire pumps and Tom chose one that was mid-priced, hoping, as he drove to Portland, that the tires and inner tubes were still good enough to hold the pressure. Once at the cottage lot he tried the pump, inflating the tires until they were firm hoping they would hold up. He backed the car so its trailer hitch lay under the caravan’s socket then lowered the end and locked the two together. He then removed the wooden blocks and retracted the metal struts that stopped the caravan from rocking when he was inside. He walked around, checking everything was okay, removing the hose pipe that drained the sink into the dry well. ‘I wont be able to have a dry well when it’s near the boathouse, too close to the water. I’m sure it’s not allowed. Have to wash the dishes at home, I guess.’ Getting into the Subaru he locked the gear shift in it’s first drive and eased forward. With a slight jerk the caravan began to move. Tom kept driving, making a careful turn before heading along the track to the junction then down towards the boathouse. When he was about twenty feet away he backed the caravan towards the side of the lot. He got out and checked that everything looked okay then placed the wooden blocks in place and levelled the caravan.

He thought about stopping and making himself a mug of coffee when finished but decided he’d already had enough coffee. He drove back to the levelled ground then tackled the fence around the garden. Removing the metal stakes and the wire that held up the wire netting was easy enough but it was extremely hard to pull out the buried part of the netting. After he’d removed about a yard he stopped. ‘It’s not worth the effort. I’ll just cut off the top part with the spade.’

It was tricky cutting the wire mesh. The spade’s angle had to be just right or it would slide off or jam into the earth. He sat on the ground for a while to cool off then walked up the slope to the level where the upper story of the bungalow would be and looked toward the lake. From this position he had a much better view of the water, the islands and the opening into Big Rideau Lake. ‘That’s what I’ll see from the lounge, the kitchen and from the deck. Wow! That will be lovely. Oh yes, the dirt. Where should that be dumped? Down there, I guess, below the existing garden but not too close to the trees.’

North was on his right hand side and where Tom thought the new vegetable garden should go was fifteen yards from the tree-lined boundary between his and Jack’s lot, a place where there were no bushes. ‘There’d be plenty of sun there.’ He walked back to where he’d placed the metal stakes and, using a heavy rock, drove four into the ground to locate the corners of the area where he wanted the dirt placed. ‘I’ll tell Harry about these. And mark them with a white flag next time I’m here.’ He took the other stakes, the spade and the rolled-up wire fence to the boathouse and locked them inside. Finally, he drove to the road, wrapped the chain around the wooden post so the opening wouldn’t be obstructed and fastened it in place with the padlock. It would stay there until he came next year.

The rest of the Fall term slowly passed by. Tom followed his usual routine in his free time: exercises at the Ottawa-N-Fitness club, walking, buying groceries, cooking, having dinner with his mother, reading, preparing lessons, although that, by now, was easy and took little time, and, intermittently, thinking about the bungalow he’d own in one year’s time. He completed the form Harry had given him, choosing carpets instead of wood flooring, linoleum instead of tiles for the floor, a modest set of cabinets for the kitchen and sent the completed form back to Harry. A week later he received what Harry called “a closer estimate of the building costs” that totalled two hundred and seventy three thousand dollars. The money Tom had saved by ordering the cheaper items would buy the furniture he’d need, a ride-on mower and, perhaps, a boat!

He made a list of the furniture he’d take from the condo. ‘I’ll not take the worn things. I’ll buy two reclining and rotating easy chairs and a nice, matching, sofa for the lounge. A new, flat-screen television to go in the corner next to the large window. A new table and set of chairs for the dining area. Extra beds for the spare bedroom. Double or two single? No, I could buy myself a queen sized bed because my bedroom’s big enough for that and move my double to one of the downstairs bedrooms. Do I need new lamps? A good reading lamp besides my chair would be good.’ Many odd moments were filled with thoughts like these.

During the Christmas holidays Tom drove his mother to Toronto. They stayed in the same hotel and visited Steven’s family several times. Lilly was eighteen months old now and tottered around their tiny living room and could say ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy,’ but grandpa and gran-gran were still too difficult although Steven and Sheila had been using the words many times in the weeks before Christmas. Steven told his dad that his mother would be visiting the weekend after New Year.

“She’s bringing Harry Taltson this time. What’s he like, dad? Have you met him?”

“Your mother says I have but I don’t remember him. I suppose he’s okay. Where are they staying?”

“Don’t know. They’ll only be here for a quick visit. Mom wants to see Lilly again.”

“Say ‘Hi’ from me when you see her. I hope she’s still happy.”

“Would you want to get back together again if she wasn’t, dad?”

“Ah, no, I don’t think so. She’ll not want to live in the country for one thing.”

On the drive back to Ottawa, while his mother dozed, Tom thought about what Steven had said. ‘Would I want to live with Pat now? What if she’d changed and found the country okay? Hardly likely, I think. No near-by theatres, no concert halls, no exhilarating conversations with world travellers. Though that could change. We could travel the world when the condo’s sold. For a bit, anyway. The big question is, do I still love her?’ He thought about that for a long while. What Pat had done, slept with another man while they were still married, said she loved him, wanted to leave Tom, all that was hard to forget. She might do it again if they did try living together again. ‘I guess I don’t know her well enough now to say if I still love her.’

 

Chapter Fourteen. Winter and Spring. 2003

Harry called Tom at nine o’clock the second Saturday in April just as he was finishing his breakfast and reviewing his plans for the day.

“Hello, Tom. It’s Harry. How’s it going?”

“Hello Harry. I’m fine. How are you?”

“Great. Tom, I called to let you know that they’ll excavate the basement starting Wednesday next week. Where do you want the soil put?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. I marked the place with four metal stakes. It’s on the north side of the lot below the bungalow and below where I had the garden last year. The men will see them if they look. I’d planned to tie white flags to the stakes but I can’t do that this weekend. Too busy.”

“That’s okay. I’ll tell them what to look for. If they find dirt or a lot of rocks where do you want that put?”

“Don’t know. Best place would be just below the garden area, I guess. On the water side.”

“Okay. I’ll tell them. The chain’s not across the entrance.”

“No, it’s open. How long will they take, Harry?”

“A couple of days, no more. They’ve got big machines. Got to hang up now Tom. Lot’s to do.”

Tom put down the phone and thought about next weekend. He had said he’d help clear the tennis courts, removing dead leaves and cutting the grass, helping where ever he could. ‘I’ll skip that. There’ll be plenty of helpers. I’ll tell Jim I can’t come.’

Tom arrived at his site at ten the following Saturday, parked his car on the road because the entrance to his lot and the track leading to down to the house site was torn up and very muddy. He walked carefully beside the post at the entrance to miss the sticky dirt then across the grass towards the hydro pole. It had been moved and stood twenty yards closer to the road. The top of the well pipe had been cut off and the submersible pump had been pulled up and it, the wire connected to it and the water pipe had been curled up and lay at the bottom of the hydro pole. He wondered if he should put the pump, pipe and wire in the boathouse for safety but decided to leave it where it was in case it was needed by the next workers.

A long, rectangular hole cut into the soil lay in front of him. The sides rose almost vertically on the north and back sides of the hole but extended and followed a curve that increased the width by about another fifty feet on the south side. Looking at the cut edge he saw a layer of top soil, about three feet thick, that covered a conglomerate of dirt and stones lying underneath. The width of the hole was enormous, easily hundred feet. Piles of dirt lay in heaps above the cutting along the north and back side with a large one close to the right hand corner, where the garage would be. ‘Where did they put the rest of it?’ He looked up and saw that the top soil had been spread where his stakes had been but extended beyond them. He now had a garden probably ten feet wider and longer than expected. A large pile of the stones and dirt was piled below it. ‘My god! What am I going to do with all that?’

He looked back at the hole and wondered why the left side was curved and extended so far. Then he realised it was to let the light into the basement bedroom windows. ‘And why is all that extra dirt left at the garage corner? I guess I’ll find out sooner or later.’

He walked down to the garden. It’s size wasn’t so bad when he stood next to it. ‘I can seed the area I don’t need with grass, but that pile!’ He looked at the rocky mountain. ‘I’ll have to get them to level it, it’s too much for me. Once it was levelled it would make a good base for a greenhouse and a shed. They’d be useful. That makes two more projects. Good! I’ll have plenty to do when I’m retired.’

Tom took his camera from his overcoat pocket and began photographing the garden, the rock pile and the excavation. It was a digital camera and he took many shots, planning to choose the best and compile a folder that showed the bungalow being built. Three quarters of an hour later he was on his way back to Ottawa, mentally making a list of the things he’d ask Harry.

He phoned him when he got home but there was no reply. He tried again at ten Sunday morning and he picked up the phone.

“I went to the site yesterday morning Harry. That excavation! It’s a giant hole. It looks much too big.”

“It is a bigger than the house and garage, Tom. The area on the south end lets the light into the windows, as you must have guessed. When the bungalow is finished you should grass the slope and it’ll look okay, although my guys might do that. The bungalow’s not as big as the hole, of course, extra dirt has been cut out so there’s room for the men to finish the outside of the basement wall. That’s why there’s piles of dirt left around the cutting, it’ll be used for backfill. Did they put the rest of it in the right place?”

“Yes, they did. There’s a lot more than I expected but that’s okay. The rocky stuff has not been levelled, though. Can they level it?”

“Not these guys. They won’t be back, but I’ll get another crew to do that. I haven’t been there since I marked the boundaries of the excavation but I’ll be there next week when they cut the foundation trench and lay the concrete. I’ll ask them to level the pile. They’ll have a smaller backhoe when they do that.”

“Do you have a list of what they’ll do and when they’ll do it?”

“No. it’s fairly straight forward. Foundation, cement floor to the basement, basement walls, joists and flooring for the upper floor, walls for that floor, trusses and roof, windows and doors, hydro, water, hot air ducts, gyprock, carpets and flooring, kitchen and bathroom. It’s just what you’d expect. Come as often as you want but make it on the weekends if you can. They won’t want you on the site when they’re working.”

“I see. Okay.”

“I’ll need cheques from now on, Tom. Fifty thousand on the first of each month.”

“I’ll start selling funds then and send you the cheques tomorrow. They’ll all be post-dated, even the first one. I’ll need three or four days for the money to be in the bank.”

“Okay. That’s fine.”

“One other thing, Harry. Can I get water from the well somehow?”

“No, not yet. The pump won’t be connected until the hydro is on in the house. Bring you own water.”

“Right. Thanks, Harry. Bye.”

It was two weeks before Tom returned to the cottage lot. Helping set up the tennis club and three games kept him away the first weekend. On Sunday morning, May 11th, he drove to the lot. There was a new entrance that had been cut through the trees and bushes, one that, Tom guessed, would lead directly to his garage door. He didn’t use that entrance which was quite bumpy but drove to the old one. The ground had dried in the past two weeks and the track had been levelled so he could have driven down but he preferred to walk in and parked the car on the road. The first thing he noticed was that the big pile of dirt and stones next to his garden had been levelled. It now covered the width of the garden and extended towards the river by about twenty feet. It’s size confirmed what Tom had been thinking about during the past two weeks; he could build both a shed and a greenhouse there.

Crossing over the grass and some spots of churned vegetation he saw that the foundation wall had been built outlining the bungalow and the garage extension. A concrete floor had been laid within the bungalow and also, although about a foot deeper than the basement floor, where the cold room would be. A plastic pipe extended from a bed of stones that circled the bungalow and garage. ‘Drainage,’ he guessed, when he had walked closer and saw that it had many small holes in the five or six inch corrugated pipe. Moving to where the back door would be he reached over the foundation wall and touched the concrete. It was dry and felt solid so he stepped over and stood on the floor. There was a square hole where the well pipe would be and he walked over to find that the metal pipe had been cut. It now extended about an inch above a layer of concrete inside the hole that lay about three inches lower than the basement floor. The plastic water pipe and the hydro wire from the pump exited the top of the pipe and lay coiled on the floor. ‘Right, and where are the septic tank pipes?’ Tom quickly found them, five inch plastic tubes sticking through the floor, one where the basement bathroom would be and another near the centre of the house. There was a smaller pipe protruding from the floor near the space where the clothes washer would stand and he assumed it was also a drainage pipe. The floor to the cold room was also hard and he stepped down and stood on it, wondering why it was a foot or so lower than the basement floor then realising it was because the garage extended overhead and its floor would be lower than the floor of the house. ‘And it would have to be reinforced as well, sitting over this room.’

There was not much else to see so he left the bungalow and stepped carefully through the ruts and dirt to the levelled stones next to his garden. He then realised that they formed a space much larger than he needed. ‘There’s enough to have a path around the greenhouse and shed. And I’ll have to slope the stones on the edges and grass them so they hold their shape.’ The last thing he did at the lot was check the caravan. The tires looked as if they had lost all their air and grass was growing around them. Apart from that everything looked okay. He didn’t go inside or into the boathouse but returned to his car and drove home.

He ordered a season ticket for the Gananoque Playhouse the following week and drove directly to the Playhouse on Friday, May 30th, hoping to see Jenny. She was there with her friend and he was able to talk to them during the interval when they stood on the deck with glasses of wine. Tom learned that her friend, Letty Triston, was also a member of the tennis club and that, besides playing tennis and going to the theatre together they also went to the same church.

“The Anglican Church. Do you go to church, Tom?”

“No. I’ve not felt the need to do so.”

“Do you believe in God?” asked Jenny.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. It’s something I’m still working on.”

“One of the things one needs to have a fully rounded life is some kind of spirituality. It doesn’t have to be from attending church or believing in God, though. Don’t you find that?”

“I haven’t thought about it.”

“I’ll give you one of the sheets from a Life Planning course I used to give. Will you be here at the next play? On the last Friday in June?”

“If you’ll be here then I’ll come that night.” ‘I might not see Jack before then,’ Tom reassured himself, ‘so it’s alright to go that night.’

It was dark when Tom arrived at the cottage lot. He passed the new entrance and drove to the old one. The track towards the caravan and boathouse seemed level enough so the drove directly there, parked his car, then took the large flashlight he’d bought that week and walked over to the bungalow. It was too dark to see everything properly but he saw that the basement walls were up with gaps where the windows and the door would be placed. He entered the basement, looked around, then walked to the gap that led to the cold room. The whole space felt damp, as though the concrete between the cement blocks was still drying. He was disappointed with the amount that they had accomplished. ‘Three weeks and this is all they’ve done? That’s not much. They’re not going to finish by October at this rate. I hope they go quicker in future.’

There was not much point in looking anywhere else so Tom returned to his car and put the food and the five gallon plastic container of water in the caravan then turned on the propane. He boiled enough water to make himself a mug of hot chocolate then went to bed.

Sunlight awoke him the next day but not until eight o’clock. He looked out the window as he dressed, wanting to see how the bungalow looked in daylight. The south side was a wall of cement blocks, pierced by two holes where the basement bedroom windows would be. It was not very pleasant to look at. ‘I hope Harry won’t leave it like that,’ he thought. ‘Oh, no. He told me it’ll be covered with stucco.’ Forgetting breakfast he walked over and took a closer look. ‘Coating it with stucco would make it look much better.’ He climbed up the slope so he could see the top of the wall. Some of the holes inside the concrete blocks were filled with cement along the back and side walls, including those that ran around the cold room and rebar rods stuck out of the top. ‘Oh, yes. They must be there to strengthen those walls.’ He wobbled the end of one of the protruding bars and it wiggled slightly. ‘They must have filled the blocks yesterday. That’s why it felt so damp last night.’

He walked around the top edge of the bungalow, admiring the view from that level, then over to the garden, wondering if he should grow vegetables that year. He paced around the edge, estimating its width and length. ‘About thirty by fifty feet. That’s much too big, I’d never eat all I could grow there.’ Then it struck him, he couldn’t grow things this year, he wouldn’t have any water.

Jack and Betty weren’t in their cottage and there was no need to rake the garden so he might as well go home. He returned to the caravan, ate his cereal and drank his coffee, rinsed the bowl and mug outside and turned off the propane.

School began its year-end routine; revision, preparation of exams, invigilating and marking and its year-end Professional Development day. Finally the summer holidays began with Tom walking out the door and thinking, ‘Two more years. I wonder what I’ll feel then, when the school closes for the summer and I step into retirement.’

 

Chapter Fifteen. Summer. 2003

Tom had visited the bungalow once in the middle of June. Much had been done while he was away. The dirt that lay around the outside of the bungalow had been pushed in and filled most of the gap around the basement, garage and cold room and into the space within the garage. The dirt within the garage had been compressed for he didn’t sink into it when he walked over it. Several metal joists covered the top of the cold room and a large metal beam spanned the middle length of the bungalow, supported by three metal posts. Wooden floor joists joined the top of the basement wall to the metal beam, all of it ready to be covered by a sub-floor.

Once again, Jack and Betty were not at their cottage so Tom cut the grass then decided to cut theirs, for it needed doing. After that he headed back to Ottawa. He didn’t even open the caravan door.

He repeated the routine of driving directly to Gananoque June 27th and got to the bar early enough to buy Jenny and Letty glasses of wine during the interval. They took it to the deck besides the water to drink when Jenny gave Tom a couple of pages.

“Don’t bother looking at them now, Tom. There’s a sketch of a diagram I used in Life Planning and notes to go with it. If there’s anything you want to discuss about it let me know next time we’re here. You’re going to the next show?”

“Yes, I bought a season ticket.”

“Okay.”

Tom put the papers in his jacket pocket and they discussed the play before returning to their seats.

After a breakfast of cereal and coffee Tom cleaned up the caravan then walked to the bungalow. He had seen through the caravan’s window that a wall of metal scaffolding rose along the water and south side of the basement and, since the upper floor wall studs were standing upright and in place, he knew that the sub-floor must also have been laid. He walked up the track to the turn-off and approached the bungalow from the road side entering the bungalow through the opening where the front door would be placed. Passing through the small entrance lobby he stood in the area where he would put his dining room table. The floor was dark and thin puddles of water lay on it. ‘That must be from the rain we had two nights ago. I hope it doesn’t harm things.’

There were no squeaks from the floor as he walked towards the picture window. A pile of two-by-fours, some cut pieces of the sheets used for the sub-floor and two saw horses had been pushed into the corner where the television would go. The gap where the door to the deck would be was protected by a two-by-four nailed across it. Tom thought of ducking under that to stand on the scaffolding planks but decided not to. He turned towards the kitchen and glanced into the small powder room as he passed. ‘Not too much room in there but I guess it’s big enough.’

The kitchen was large, much larger than his or his mother’s kitchen though the cupboards, when installed, would make it smaller. He crossed to the back door that led to the garage. The opening where the stairs to the basement would be was also protected but there was a ladder workers could use to get to the basement leaning against the gap.

He stood at the door to his bedroom. ‘Yes, plenty big enough for a queen sized bed. So I’ll definitely buy one. What’s the bathroom like?’ He crossed the room and looked into the en-suite. ‘Just right. Oh, there’s a cupboard in here too. I’d forgotten about that.’

Returning to the lounge Tom pulled one of the saw horses to the centre of the picture window and sat down, looking at the lake, the boathouse and then his garden. Suddenly he saw an osprey swoop down, catch a fish and pull it, still struggling, to a branch in a tree on the edge of his lot. It sat there, placed the fish on the branch and held it in place with one foot then started tearing flesh off its body. ‘Wow, look at that!,’ and, thinking back to all his years as a boy when he lived near Westport, ‘I’ve never seen that before.’ Tom watched as the bird demolished the fish, pushed the remains off the branch, cleaned its beak and feathers then flew away. Two turkey vultures circled in the sky and a boat raced across the water, heading toward the channel and the rest of the lake. ‘To think I’ll have this view all day. How marvellous.’

Five minutes later Tom ducked under the beam protecting the opening to the basement and climbed down the ladder. Joists for the two bedrooms and the bathroom had been installed. There was a small, about three foot square rectangular box between the bedroom doors. ‘That’s where the blower fan must go,’ he guessed. The rest of the basement was empty.

He walked through the gap in the cement blocks behind him and down into the cold room. It was dark and he couldn’t see much. Two holes close to the ceiling let a little daylight in. ‘They must be the ventilation ducts.’ He took one last glance and walked out of the bungalow by the basement door. ‘At this rate they might well be finished in time. That’s good,’ Tom thought, as he walked over to the garden to see how that looked. A large number of weeds and many sprigs of grass had appeared. ‘What am I going to do about all that? It’s too big to be covered with a tarpaulin. Maybe I can cover it with rolls of black plastic. No, why don’t I make several beds instead of a single one? I could rotate crops if I do that.’ He thought about the idea as he walked back to the caravan. ‘I’ll have paths between each plot, just wide enough for the mower to cut the grass.’

After a mug of coffee Tom mowed his grass. Jack’s lawn had been mowed but neither he or Betty were there. Once finished he sharpened the mower’s blades and checked that he still had enough oil for its engine. He put the five gallon gas container in the back of his wagon to be filled when he next came back and was on the road, driving back to Ottawa ten minutes later.

Two weeks later he arrived to find that plywood-covered walls surrounded the upper floor of his bungalow and a roof sheathed with some kind of composite wood. “The shingles,” Harry told him when Tom phoned him after arriving back in Ottawa, “will be put on next week. And, no, you don’t have to worry about the rain that fell on your sub-floor. That often happens and the wood is treated so that the rain, if it’s not too much, doesn’t affect it at all.”

Tom had bought six, twelve by sixteen foot tarpaulins and he used them to divide the garden into six lots after inspecting the bungalow. He folded the edges to make the lots twelve by fourteen, weighed them down with shovels of stones and dirt, and ended up with four foot wide paths between each sheet. These he dug over, not an easy job, and removed as many weeds as he could, throwing them onto the tarpaulins to die. Finally, he raked then covered the paths with grass seed and raked that lightly again. ‘Let’s hope it rains or I’ll have to re-seed again.’

He ate his lunch in a chair taken from the caravan in the bungalow’s lounge. The morning’s work had tired him and he fell asleep after his sandwiches were eaten, waking forty minutes later when Jack tapped his shoulder.

“Hi, Tom. Don’t you have a bed!”

“Oh. Hi Jack. You here this weekend? Didn’t see your car when I arrived. what time did you get here?”

“Just before lunch. It’s just me. Betty’s staying in Kingston, I’m just checking things are all right here, at my place, I mean. I saw the tarpaulins and guessed you might still be here. You put them down this morning?”

“Yes, and grassed the areas between them. Paths. Digging, weeding and hoeing them was the hard bit. What do you think of this place?”

“It’s great. And big. But that’s what you need if you’re going to live here. Last time I saw it only the basement walls were up. Won’t take long to finish it now, I guess.”

“Harry thinks it’ll be done by September, at the latest in October. Want to see the rest of it?”

“Sure,” so Tom showed him the upstairs rooms and they climbed down the ladder to see those in the basement.

“It’s very nice, Tom. You know, if you stay here in the winter you’ll have to get someone to clear the snow from your driveway.”

“Yes, I guess so. Hadn’t thought about that. There must be someone who’d do it.”

“If you bought a good sized snow blower you could do it yourself. Probably quicker than waiting for the man to arrive.”

“Yes, you’re right. Maybe cheaper, in the long run, too. You going fishing now?”

“No, I’m heading back. Betty’s not well.”

“Oh dear. What’s wrong with her, Jack?”

“Cancer. She’s having chemotherapy these weeks. It’s a series of bad and reasonable days. The doctors are optimistic. We’ll see.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Give her my love. I hope she’s soon better.”

‘That’s why I haven’t seen them this summer. Poor Betty,’ Tom thought, as he sat back in his chair after Jack had left.

Tom decided tennis was more important than the bungalow, now that the tournament was drawing nearer, and decided to return directly to Ottawa after the next Gananoque Playhouse performance. He was driving to Gananoque July 25th when he suddenly remembered the notes that Jenny had given him. He felt his jacket pocket. They were still there and he wondered if he had time to stop and read them. ‘No. I’m sure there’s a lot to think about. I’ll just have to tell her I haven’t read them yet.’ He put the pages on the passenger seat so he wouldn’t forget to take them with him when he got back to Ottawa and placed one of the maps from the side pocket on top to hold them in place.

Jenny bought the drinks this time and Tom confessed as soon as he had the opportunity.

“Oh, don’t worry, Tom. We’ll talk about the ideas next time. Oh, Janice will be with me then. Letty is giving me her ticket.”

“I’m taking a cruise when the play is on,” Letty said.

“That’s nice,” said Tom. “Where to?”

“Around the Caribbean. For a week. Nothing special. Have you been there?”

“No. I’ve been to Florida. That’s the closest I’ve got.”

Tennis and exercises kept Tom busy but he left Ottawa early on Sunday, August 10th and arrived at the bungalow at eight o’clock. He was playing in a doubles at twelve so he did nothing except check and photograph the bungalow. The roof had been shingled and windows and doors installed. Unfortunately the doors were locked and the windows closed so all he could do was look through them. Since there was no door on the garage he walked in. Hydro receptacles had been installed on both sides of the garage door and the window. Others, for the light switches were by the door into the bungalow and at the side of the garage door. Wires, running through holes in the studs, linked the boxes. They ended outside the receptacles waiting to be wired to sockets and switches.

He looked through the master bedroom window and could just see through the en-suite door. Two copper pipes and a plastic one emerged from the floor where the bath tub’s taps would be and he saw the edge of a hole over which the toilet would be placed. ‘Well, great. I didn’t think they’d be that far along.’

He took photos of the walls in the dining area and lounge through the bay window, noting that there were two walls between the wood stove and the powder room. The studs were thinner there and a five inch gap lay between them. He could see an opening next to the ceiling. ‘That must be where hot air from the stove is collected before going to the blower fan.’ He couldn’t stop himself from figuring out answers to whatever puzzled him.

He strolled down the slope to the lake side of the bungalow and noticed that a large area in the centre of the bungalow had been raked flat. He walked over and saw streaks of grass seed. ‘Must be the septic field. I wonder where the tank is?’

He walked back to the bungalow and climbed the scaffolding so he could look into the upper floor windows from the lake side. He took photographs whenever he saw something of interest: some of the hydro wires, the water pipes coming through the floor in the powder room and in the kitchen, and a square, four-inch hole in the floor where the wood stove would be. ‘What’s that for? Oh, I know. It must be where the ashes go. No, that can’t be right. It’d be dangerous to shovel them into a hole in the floor. I’ll have to ask Harry about that.’

Finally, Tom walked over to the garden. Patches of grass had grown along the paths as well as quite a number of weeds. He pulled a few of them out then looked at his watch. ‘No time for this. I’d better get back.’ He took another picture of the bungalow from the garden, had one glance at the lake then returned to his car. He was determined to do well in the tournament and more practice was the route to follow.

Second, Tom came second in the tournament that was held the following weekend. He was disappointed and blamed, just to himself, the wind that frequently blew across the court. But the wind affected his opponents also so his failure to come first might just have been bad luck. He was sure he was as good as any of the other fifteen opponents in the sixties-to-seventies competition. Next year would be his last chance to win for he’d be playing in Kingston from then on. ‘Ah, well, second wasn’t too bad,’ he consoled himself.

The evening before the next Playhouse performance Tom unclipped the notes Jenny had given him from the remaining theatre tickets and sat in his easy chair. He read them with a glass of scotch sitting besides him. The first page was a diagram. Two lines crossed each other and in the centre was a circle with “You” written inside. The following words were marked at the end of each line: Physical, Mental, Spiritual and Social. That was all that was on that page. The second page stated what these words meant. Physical, Tom learned, referred to things like exercise, smoking, alcohol, drugs, activities that he should attend to if he wanted a healthy body. ‘No trouble with any of those. I exercise, play tennis, don’t take drugs or smoke and don’t take too much alcohol.’ Which reminded him of the scotch and he took a sip. Mental related to keeping his mind alert. Playing chess or bridge, doing mathematical problems or solving any kind of complicated problem. ‘Well, I don’t know about that. it should include reading, I do a lot of that. Better see if Jenny would allow that.’ Spiritual, caused Tom the most problem. He didn’t feel the need to go to church or follow any religious order, didn’t know if he believed in God and didn’t perform any kind of spiritual ritual like meditate. ‘Well, I do believe there should be some kind of universal moral target that nations should endorse, something they would want to achieve so we wouldn’t have things like genocide. But I don’t spend any time working out what it should be. Maybe that’s a mental occupation I should take up and do two of these activities at once. How about that, Jenny? Can I do two at once? Social, well I don’t have any trouble with that, I know lots of people, the staff at Hillson, many students, most of the tennis club, Mummy, of course. And I get along with everybody, I think. Well, I’m ready to face Jenny now. And Janice. I hope she’s back at Hillson next year. I don’t want to run the club anymore.’ He finished his scotch and put his glass by the sink to wash in the morning and Jenny’s notes in his jacket pocket. ‘Time for bed.’

They met in the bar during the play’s interval then took them to the upper deck to drink.

“What did you hear about next year, Janice. Are you back at Hillson?”

“No, unfortunately. Mrs. Goodner will be back. I’ll probably be a supply teacher.”

“I’m sorry,” said Tom. “We’ll miss you.”

“It won’t be too bad. It’ll give me more time to work on my Masters.”

“It’ll be your last year, Tom?” asked Jenny.

“No, two more to go. You know I’m having a bungalow built on my Big Rideau lot? Well, that’s nearly finished and I’m looking forward to staying there.”

“But you wont live there if you’re still teaching in Ottawa will you?” asked Jenny.

“Not during the school year but I’m tempted to do that next summer.”

“What about tennis?”

“I’m annoyed about that. I only came second in the tournament and I don’t think I want to work so hard again next year so I probably won’t compete.”

“Work so hard?” asked Jenny.

“You know, exercises, many games, trying to be very fit. It was hard work.”

“Then play in Kingston and spend your summer by the lake.”

“I might. Oh, I read your notes and I’ve one or two questions about them.”

“Good. Well, there’s not enough time to do that now. Let’s go to Tim Hortons, the one near the Casino, afterwards and talk there. Do you mind, Janice?”

“No, not at all. It’ll be interesting.”

They drank hot chocolate and ate a dozen Tim Bits while talking. Tom explained how he thought his life was balanced for he did many of the things she had mentioned.

“I don’t know about mental,” he said. “Does reading count?”

“What do you read, Tom?”

“Mostly novels.”

“They wouldn’t count. That’s relaxing. If you read something more demanding that could be mental work.”

“What kind of thing?”

“Read philosophy or the thoughts of the great philosophers, Tom,” said Janice. “Plenty to think about there.”

“I didn’t find that interesting when I had to take a course in my first year at university.”

“You were very engaged when you gave your talk about solving problems, Tom. Especially when you said there should be an ultimate target all nations should seek to solve moral problems like genocide.”

“Well, yes, I do think that’s important.”

“Then how about that, Tom,” said Jenny. “Why not research that area and find one? That’d be a grand mental exercise, for sure.”

“Where do I start? I’ve no idea how to go about doing that.”

“That’s perfect, an excellent mental exercise to begin with!” Jenny said. “Let me know how you get on.”

“Me too,” said Janice.

Tom drove back to his caravan wondering what kind of target all nations would ascribe to. ‘Getting rich? No, impractical. No unemployment? There’d always be people who don’t want to work or preferred to have seasonal jobs. No, not that. Full medical coverage? Well Canada and Scandinavian countries have that but it costs a lot. Could India or China afford such a thing? Would all the other nations chip in to make it possible? I don’t think so. What kind of global target could everyone want? No, the idea’s stupid. I’d be wasting my time if I started thinking about it.’

Saturday morning he awoke with the sun and ate breakfast sitting outside on the lawn chair watching life beginning to stir all around him. Birds seeking food, fish occasionally jumping out of the water in the lake, a fox that ran from one side of his lot to the other and dogs barking in the distance. He took his time wondering what had been done in the bungalow but not eager to find out. He eventually put his bowl and mug near the door, ready to take home to be washed, then picked up the bag that held two knee pads and a trowel and walked slowly to the basement door of the bungalow. The scaffolding was still in place but it needed to be, for they hadn’t yet covered the outside with the off-white vinyl siding that he had chosen or put on the stucco. He tried the basement door but it was locked. However, all the windows were open a few inches. He checked the ones around the basement but couldn’t open any of them. He knew why they had been left open, for the walls had been gyprocked and what looked like the first coat of plaster covered the joins for he could see that they hadn’t been sanded. The windows had been left ajar so that the plaster would dry.

He climbed the scaffolding and tried the upstairs windows. No luck, he wasn’t able to get in and he’d probably tear the window screen if he tried to remove it so he didn’t really mind. He could see enough from the outside anyway. The fibreglass batting must have been installed and, as evidence for that assumption, two or three pieces of it lay on the floor. The hydro receptacles and switches were installed but not yet covered. ‘Why not? Oh, they haven’t painted the walls yet. And Harry will be asking me what colours I want soon. I’ve no idea. Something light. Green, like in the condo? Blue, no, not cheerful enough. Light beige? Maybe. I’ll have the same colour throughout the place, that’ll mean I’ll only have to keep one can of paint to cover any marks I make.’

Tom took a few photographs then walked down to his garden. Knowing that he’d have a lot of weeding to do he had put on a pair of jeans that morning. Wind had blown some of the corners of the tarpaulins about so he straightened them first then put on his knee pads and knelt down. It was hard work removing the weeds but the trowel made things easier. He threw the weeds onto the tarpaulins as before, to dry and wither. The grass over the rest of his lot had grown and he cut it and Jack’s after a fifteen minute break. There was no sign that Jack and Betty had been at their cottage. ‘I wonder how she’s doing? I hope she’s all right now.’

Driving home he thought about school and what he’d have to do before it began next week. He hoped Charles Brandon wouldn’t ask him to look after the philosophy club, although it might prod him into doing some research on a universal goal.

 

Chapter Sixteen. Fall. 2003

School started as usual. Clubs were formed but, since Susan and Jim had left and Janice wasn’t there to stir up an interest no one wanted to restart the philosophy club. Tom’s extra duties were walking the corridors and he thought Charles was letting him off easily; he didn’t mind.

Knowing he’d be seeing Jenny again and that she’d be sure to ask him how his mental exercises were progressing he talked to the librarian in the Rideau Street Public library, the one that supplied him with the novels he read. She suggested he start by reading about the United Nations, what they stood for, what goals they had and recommended a couple of books.

He found the books somewhat boring and not quite what he was looking for. The UN, it seemed, consisted mainly of the General Assembly, the Security Council, a Secretariat, the International Court of Justice and an Economic and Social Council. Of these, the Security Council seemed to be the most important, for it tried to maintain international peace. Not that the others weren’t important but they mostly backed up the UN, kept it going and helped or tried to help nations improve their standard of living. Tom could see all these things were significant but the only one that seemed related to what he was looking for was the Security Council. It had one significant goal, as far as he could see, that of maintaining peace. Yet any one of its five permanent members could veto any of its resolutions, thus neutering its effectiveness. ‘How can they allow that?’ he asked himself. ‘It’s not a global goal if the U.S. or Russia, or any of the other three can prevent corrective action. Well, it might be a global goal but if the UN can’t enforce it then it is unrealistic.’ He thought a little more. ‘Does that mean if a global goal is to be of any use it has to be enforceable? Does it mean the world, no, the UN, needs an unbeatable army, greater than America’s or the military of any combination of nations? How could the UN build and maintain that? Something’s wrong, somewhere. Maybe my belief is that solving moral problems is only good for individuals, not a civilisation. Well, I suppose it must be so, for an individual does have command of his or her actions. But it also means that the UN must have control of its actions if it’s going to solve moral problems for the world. And that, I guess, means the world will never be able to solve its moral problems! I wonder how many people have realised that? It’s obvious, actually. It’s like saying everybody must think alike, that we’d all be clones, to achieve that. Interesting. I wonder what Jenny will think to this line of argument?’

Tom stared at the blank television screen, his mind a whirl of confusing thoughts. ‘Now the problem is that everyone’s different from anyone else. But, of course, it’d be a very depressing world if everyone thought the same.’ He stood up, bothered by his thoughts and too excited to go to bed so he put on his coat and went for a walk to help him think. ‘Then the world will always have moral problems. It’s impossible to be without them. And they’ll always be un-solvable.’ He continued puzzling over this issue and was nearly run over when crossing a street for he didn’t notice the car heading directly towards him. He ran to the side walk and shouted “Sorry” to the driver who had braked hard and was just about to shout at him. “Sorry. I was thinking about something.” The man shook his head then slowly drove away.

Harry Gregory phoned Tom Monday evening, September 15th, and asked if they could meet at the bungalow the following Saturday.

“We’ll be finished in two weeks, Tom. It’s time we walked around the bungalow. There are several things I want to tell you about. Can you come?”

“Oh, yes. Be glad to. I want to see inside. Ten o’clock, at the gate?”

“Yes, that’d be fine.”

It was a week of rain and drizzle and when Tom drove to the bungalow it was still raining. Harry was sitting in his car by the new entrance when he arrived. Tom waved, took off his shoes and put on a pair of rubber boots he had brought with him then got out of the car and draped his raincoat around his shoulders before joining Harry. They walked along the crushed stone that had been laid on the track leading to the garage then along a path of flag stones to the front door. Harry unlocked it and ushered Tom in. They took off their boots although the carpet had not been laid; rolls of it, enough to cover the dining room and the lounge were lying, wrapped in plastic, in the centre of the room.

“They’ll be painting the walls next week, Tom. I need to know what colours you want. Here’s the colour chart. What colours do you want for this room and the entrance lobby?”

“I’ve decided to have the same colour all through, Harry. Easier for me to maintain. A pale green. This one would be fine,” and Tom pointed to the colour he wanted. “It’s light enough so I could easily change the colour without the underlying green showing through.”

“Same colour throughout? Okay. Makes it easier for the boys, too. Good. Matte for the rooms and semi-matte or gloss for the kitchen?”

“Semi-matte, please.”

“The wood stove will be coming soon, probably next week. It’ll be connected to the Selkirk, eh, the insulated chimney. You can see the end of it up there,” and Harry pointed to the stub of a pipe that projected from the ceiling.

“What’s that hole for?” asked Tom, and touched the edge of the hole in the floor with his toe. A four foot square of slate now covered the floor where the stove would sit and the hole was near the back.

“Fresh air comes in there from a duct that leads to the outside. The air inlet to the wood stove lies just above that. Read the instructions when they arrive. It’ll explain how to operate the stove. Oh, yes. See the hole in the wall near the chimney? The screen covering that should be cleaned when it gets dusty. The hot air’s sucked in there. Switch off the fan and use a hand vacuum cleaner and a soft brush.”

“Okay.”

“Right. The water’s on,” and Harry turned on the cold water tap in the kitchen then the hot water tap, “as you can see. The hot water tank is turned off though. I’ll show you the hydro panel in a moment. The hydro’s on, of course, it’s been on for some weeks, the guys needed it. Come, let’s look at the en-suite.”

They walked through the master bedroom and stood at the bathroom door. “It’s all ready to use. The toilet works, of course. Did you see the septic tank and field going in?”

“I saw where the septic field is. The grass they put down has taken well.”

“The tank’s under the grass as well. It’s about ten feet from the wall. It needs to be pumped out and cleaned every five years. I’ll give you a drawing when we hand over and the position of the tank covers are marked on that. Let’s take a look at the garage.”

Harry opened the garage door and they stepped inside.

“The cold room’s under the floor to our left. You probably saw that there were steel joists across the ceiling so the concrete over the cold room is strong enough to hold the car if you ever want to drive it this far into the garage.”

“I see, although I can’t think of any reason why I should do that.”

“Well, you might want to keep a snow blower by the door during the winter, although there’s room enough either side of your Subaru to park it. I’d suggest you build racks of shelves along each side of the garage to put boxes of wood on. That’s what I’ve seen other people do. It’s handy that way and there’s enough room to hold a full cord. They used cardboard boxes to hold the wood, they’re strong enough.”

“Not a bad idea.”

“Okay, let’s have a look at the basement.”

They walked down the stairs and Harry led Tom underneath them to stand next to a door in the concrete wall.

“This is the door to the cold room, Tom.” He pushed it open and they stepped inside onto the floor. “You’ll have to put the shelves in yourself, you’ll know where you want them and how wide they should be. Now, see those two pipes entering near the ceiling? The short pipe lets air out and the long pipe that goes nearly to the floor lets it in. That’s in the winter, when it’s cold outside. You’ll have to adjust the flap on the long pipe to get the temperature you want. Once set, it’ll be okay for the whole winter. I’d buy a maximum-minimum thermometer to see how the temperature varies and adjust the flap to suit what you need. Oh, and keep the screens on the outside clean but don’t take them off. They keep the insects out.”

“Okay.”

“There’s not much to see in the rest of the basement, just the hydro box, hot water tank, air blower and the drain valve to empty the water pipes.”

Harry walked over to a plywood panel set between the two bedroom doors, put a finger into two small holes and lifted the panel up. He then removed the panel and lent it against one of the bedroom doors. A furnace blower fan stood on a platform built two-thirds of the way up.

“You can see how the fan works, Tom. Hot air is sucked from the vent you saw that’s above the stove and comes through that opening,” pointing to an opening above the fan. “The fan then blows it out through the hole that’s behind the fan into the ducts that go to the rooms. You might drop a little oil on the ends of the fan shaft once a year but there’s nothing else to do. Oh, the thermostat that’s on the wall besides the powder room door controls the baseboard heaters, not this blower. There’s a switch besides the thermostat. It that will turn this fan on or off. I’d suggest you leave it on all the time. That’s the hot water heater underneath the blower. Now if you ever want to leave the house in the winter and don’t leave the baseboard heaters on you have to drain the hot water tank and the water pipes. You know about putting antifreeze in the toilets, bathroom and sink traps?”

“Yes. I do that in the caravan.”

“Okay. Well the drain valve to the hot water tank is here,” and Harry touched it with his foot, “and the valve to drain the water pipes is under the laundry tub over there,” and he pointed to it. “Just open both of them, then open all the taps and the water will run out the pipes into the septic tank.”

“I hope I can remember all these things.”

“I’ll make a check list and give it to you with the keys when we’ve finished, probably two weeks from now. I’ll phone to let you know when.”

“Thanks. The whole place is great, Harry. Thanks for doing such a good job.”

“It’s the sub-contractors whom you should thank, Tom. They do the work, I just check it’s being done properly. I’ve a good bunch working for me.”

“It looks like it.”

Tom walked to the road with Harry and waved goodbye as he turned the car and drove away. He wanted to spend time in the bungalow to check everything and be happy with all it provided. He opened every cupboard, thinking what he’d store inside, tried every tap and flushed the three toilets. Everything worked perfectly. All it needed now was the walls to be painted, the carpet to be laid and the wood stove. ‘I think I’ll bring the mattress from the caravan here and sleep over one night. That’d be fun.’

Jenny was with Letty again at the theatre on September 26th. Tom joined them during the interval and confessed that he had run unto a stumbling block in his search for a world goal.

“The librarian suggested that the United Nations might give me an answer so I looked at their mandate and guess what? I discovered that there can never be a single goal for everyone.”

“Many Muslims think there can be, Tom,” said Letty. “Islam and Sharia law.”

“I hope we don’t have to live under that,” said Jenny. “Nothing but punishments, from what I read.”

“Well, it’s got one goal,” answered Letty, “that one can reach Paradise after death.”

“Paradise wouldn’t be worth it,” said Jenny. “What do you think, Tom?”

“I don’t know enough about Islam. But I do know, now, that only individuals have the power to behave morally. It’s because they alone can control their own behaviour. A group of people have to seek the same goal if they want to behave ‘morally.’”

“Exactly,” said Letty. “That’s why Muslims, especially Muslim nations who live under Sharia law, will, eventually, control the world.”

“Are you a Muslim, Letty?” asked Tom.

“No way. I’ve just been taking a course in the World’s Great Religions. Interested in joining it?”

“No. I’m an agnostic.”

“Sitting on the fence then Tom?” stated Letty.

“No, just uncertain about what to believe.”

“Then, why not research that, Tom?” said Jenny. “That could become your mental exercise. Oh, the lights are flickering. We’d better get in. If I don’t see you until next year, Tom, have a good winter. Your bungalow must be nearly finished?”

“Ah, yes, it is. I’ll be getting the keys soon. Bye Jenny. Bye Letty.”

“Bye, Tom.”

Tom drove back to Ottawa after the show. There was no point in looking through the bungalow’s windows to see what the rooms looked like now they were painted. He’d do that when he took possession.

The bungalow was his just over two weeks later. Harry phoned Wednesday, October 15th and left a message because Tom was having dinner with his mother. He didn’t notice the blinking light on the phone until after supper Thursday evening for it had slipped down the side of his chair. He returned the call immediately and they decided to meet Saturday morning in Harry’s office.

“You can take over the bungalow anytime, Tom,” said Harry, after they had each poured a mug of coffee. “And I have a cheque for you. I didn’t need all the last $50,000 and am returning $27,478. Your lawyer will register the transfer once you have authorised that it is satisfactory. There’s a form for you to do that. It’s usually done when you take a final look through the place. We could visit the place now or you could rely on what you saw on our last visit and sign the form now. By-the-way, you should know that buyers of new homes legally have a year for any construction faults to be remedied.”

“Oh, I’m sure everything’s okay, so I’d be glad to sign now. They’ve finished all the painting?”

“Oh, yes, and laid the carpets. I checked it on Wednesday. Everything’s fine.”

“Okay, let me sign the form. You’ll give me the keys and the refund then?”

“Sure. Just make sure your lawyer registers the transaction. Don’t forget to see him.”

“No, I won’t.”

Tom signed the form and gave it to Harry who then handed Tom a cheque for the unused funds, a bunch of keys and a large envelope with several pages inside.

“These list the major places your money was spent and there’s a check-list of things you should do if you’re closing the bungalow over winter. You’ll have to arrange for the telephone, internet and television to be connected. There’s a TV outlet in each bedroom and in the corner of the lounge where you asked for it. I can’t think of anything else. Any questions?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll call if there is. Thank you Harry. I’m sure I’ll be very happy there.”

“Let’s hope so, Tom. Let me know how you find it after you’ve moved in.”

“I’ll only be using it during the summer next year. I’ll let you know then but I won’t move in until the summer of 2005.”

“Okay.” They stood up, shook hands and Tom left. His next stop was his new bungalow. ‘Now to see what it looks like with the carpets down and walls painted.’

He used the new entrance to the lot and parked the station wagon in front of the garage. He looked through the keys and found the key to unlock the garage door. It was strange to have to do this and he decided to have a garage opener installed. ‘I should have asked Harry to have that done,’ he told himself.

He walked to the back of the garage and looked through the window at the lake. ‘Yes, perfect. I’ll build a workbench across this wall. Plenty of light and hydro outlets. It’ll be useful for all sorts of jobs.’

There were four identical keys and he used one to open the door in the garage to enter the bungalow. He walked in, glancing down the stairs that led to the basement then turning left and going into the master bedroom. The carpet was down and the walls painted. ‘Great!’ He went into the en-suite and used the toilet then rinsed his hands, wishing he’d brought a towel. ‘I’d better make a list of things to bring. Toilet paper, soap and towels, for sure.’ He returned to the car for the small notepad he kept in the door pocket and began writing.

In the kitchen he added cutlery, tray to hold it in, mugs, plates, saucepans, frying pan, salt, pepper, coffee, tea, sugar and cans of soup to the list. ‘I wonder if canned food will stand freezing? I probably shouldn’t leave any here if the heat’s not going to be on.’

He walked towards the front door, admiring the carpet that covered the lounge and dining room floor and opened the glass-paned door into the small entrance lobby, looking into the coat closet before opening the front door and stepping outside. It was quiet and peaceful, reminding him of the October days when he lived near Westport more than forty years ago. He walked outside and locked the door behind him then crossed along the front of the bungalow, past the bow window on the dining room to the slope on the south side. The grass the contractors had put down was tall enough to need cutting but that would have to wait until next spring. There was no point in getting the mower out to do just this patch.

Entering the basement door he walked to the room on his right. That room had two windows, one facing the lake and one on the south side. He planned to use this room for a study. He’d have to make some bookshelves, or buy them from Ikea. ‘And a desk, too. It’d be nice to have one, with drawers to hold my check book and things. Maybe even buy a computer and learn how to use it.’ Computers had not been part of Tom’s life. He had one of the school secretaries type any notes he wanted to hand out and she would make as many copies as he needed. Nor cell phones, Tom didn’t own one, not thinking they were necessary.

He checked the second room, the one he would use as a spare bedroom. It had a long closet and he quickly realised he could hang some of his clothes in that. His condo didn’t have enough room and he stored his winter coats and boots in his locker during the summer.

The downstairs bathroom was examined next. He knew that the taps and toilet worked for he’d tried them after Harry had left but he couldn’t remember if the lights were bright enough. Being next to the spare bedroom and backing onto the east wall it didn’t have a window. They lights were fine. The last thing he checked was the cold room. A wooden step had been added so it was easy to enter. ‘Shelves to be built in here, another project,’ he remembered. ‘Plenty of room for vegetables. A bit damp, though. Maybe I’ll have to buy a dehumidifier to keep it dry. Well, there’s plenty of work to do in this place, things to buy and shelves to make and a shed and greenhouse to build. All that’s going to keep me busy. I wonder what I should do first?’

Tom went out the basement door, checking that it was locked behind him, and was walking towards the water when he heard a car door slam at Jack’s place. ‘Ah, they’re back. I’ll go over and see how Betty’s doing.’

He cut through the gap in the bushes, stepped carefully over the barbed wire then went to the front door and knocked. There was no answer so he knocked again, louder. Half a minute later Jack opened the door.

“Hello, Tom. Have you been here long? I was draining the water and couldn’t hear much.”

“No, Jack, I’ve just come. How are you? And Betty. How’s she?”

“Betty died, Tom. Six weeks ago.”

“Oh, Jack. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I thought she was getting better.”

“No, it returned, worse than before. Very painful near the end but we had morphine. She died at home, like she wanted. Ann was a great help, being a nurse and living in Kingston. I don’t know what I’d have done without her. Betty was cremated and I’ve scattered her ashes over the back lawn in Kingston.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No, I don’t think so Tom. Everything has been done. Want to come in and have a beer or coffee? I’ll be eating my lunch next then going home. I don’t expect to come back until spring. Come on. You can have half my sandwiches.”

“I’ve got some myself, Jack. I’ll go and fetch them. Hey, why don’t you bring yours to my place and I’ll show you the bungalow. I’ll get the chairs from the caravan. Give me five minutes. Okay?”

“Yes. I’d be happy to do that. It’s a bit lonely here without Betty.”

Tom fetched the chairs and the kettle, mugs and hot chocolate from the caravan. He left the front door of the bungalow open so Jack could come right in; there weren’t any bugs around at this time of the year.

Jack thought the bungalow was excellent but was most impressed by the large empty space in the basement.

“I wish I had that much room. Our basement’s divided into two bedrooms and a toilet. We rented them when we first bought the place thirty years ago. Helped to pay the mortgage.”

“What would you do if you had a space like this, Jack?”

“Expand my train layout. That’s what I spend most of my time doing in the winter. I’ve a couple of friends who have the same interest. It keeps me busy. You’re not interested in that are you?”

“No. Never had any. I like the look of them when I see them running around in a hobby store, that’s all.”

As they were eating their lunch Jack asked Tom what he’d do when he was retired.

“I can see you gardening and fishing during the summer but what will you do during the winter, Tom?”

“I don’t know. Probably read a lot, go to Kingston for a play or concert, and go to Florida for a month. Something like that.”

“You need a hobby, Tom. You’ll get bored if that’s all you do. And a girl friend; you could do things together.”

“That’d be nice but I haven’t found anyone.”

“Want me to look around? There’s lots of unmarried women in Kingston.”

“No, thanks, Jack.”

“Well, I better get back and see if the water’s all drained. You should do yours too, Tom.”

“Yes, I know. I’ll do that next and coat the caravan’s roof with sealant. Then I’m going to Smiths Falls. I want to buy a ride-on mower. They should be cheaper now than in the spring.”

They were, reduced by five hundred dollars, and Tom bought the largest one they had. Luckily they could deliver it immediately so Tom waited until they loaded the mower onto a trailer and they followed him as he returned to Portland and his bungalow. The mower was unloaded by the boathouse door and Tom helped them push it inside.

The water had drained from the pipes by the time he entered the bungalow and he put the antifreeze he had just bought into the toilets and in the bath, shower and sink traps. He then drained the water and the water tank in the caravan and used the last of the antifreeze there. It was getting dark now so he checked that all the doors and windows were closed and locked. Finally, he padlocked the chain across the old gate, noting he should buy another chain for the new entrance, and drove home.

Tom and his mother drove to Toronto December 27th, visiting Steven, Stella and Lilly. They had spent the Christmas days with Stella’s mother and father. Lilly was beginning to talk and moved around partly by crawling and partly by holding onto things and standing upright. They stayed in Toronto for two days and returned to Ottawa the day before Pat arrived. Tom spent most of the other days in his Christmas holiday reading, walking or visiting his mother. They had dinner at her place three times and twice in restaurants. She said she was fine when he asked, but often felt tired. He dusted her house and swept the carpets, making a note to wash her windows in the spring. He didn’t visit his new bungalow at all during the rest of the winter but thought about it often. Some evenings he sketched the deck, garden shed and greenhouse that he would build in the summer, changing them from time to time as different ideas came to mind.

 

Chapter Seventeen. Winter. 2004

School began and continued. Tom still enjoyed teaching but spent less and less time preparing for lessons. There was little he didn’t know about the courses he had been teaching and mathematics was, unless the curriculum changed, quite an easy subject to teach. Marking tests and exams was the hardest part now but he took his time and didn’t let it bother him. A few concerts and plays, meals with his mother, novels to read and a little bit of wondering how he’d decide if there was or was not a God filled the first half of the winter term.

He found the answer to a problem his greenhouse had been giving him one lunch hour when he was chatting to a friend in the staff room.

“That’s no problem, Tom. There are always lots of second hand windows for sale. They’re often given away too. Thick-paned ones as well. Look for them on the internet.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“People upgrade their windows. Take out the old sliding ones and put in new, double paned ones. Not so many this time of the year but in the spring, after another cold winter, that’s when you’ll find them.”

“I don’t have a computer, Bert. Can you show me how to find them?”

“Sure. How about after school tonight. Meet me in the computer room.”

Tom watched as Bert switched on one of the computers but didn’t try to learn what he was doing until he was shown a screen where second hand windows were listed.

“See? Lots of them and there’ll be many more in spring. Here, for example, these are free. Are they the size you wanted?”

“They could be. But they’re near Toronto. That’s too far to go.”

“They’ll be all over the place. Look for Ottawa or Kingston—your place is near Kingston, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ll leave you now. Just use the mouse to run through the list but you’ll get more in the spring. When you’re finished click on here,” and Bert showed Tom how to turn off the computer.

“Thanks, Bert. Do you know this is the first time I’ve used a computer?”

“Never too late to learn, Tom. Let me know how it went tomorrow.”

“I will, and thanks.”

The mouse wasn’t too hard to use and Tom read about all the windows that were listed on that page then clicked on the arrow at the bottom of the list to see what was on the next one. After scanning several pages he found that he could get almost any size of second hand window, from small, single paned to large, picture-window sized, double glazed ones, and that many were free. ‘Three by four foot is common. I could get those and use them for all the windows and they’d fit inside the station wagon. I’ll not get them now for the bungalow’s driveway will be snowed under. I’ll wait until that’s all gone. Great! Let’s see what else there is for sale.’

Tom spent the next hour gradually finding how to move around the site’s screens and, indirectly, learning a little about using a computer. He stopped when the caretaker came into the room and told him he was shutting the school. ‘I’m going to buy a computer,’ Tom told himself, as he turned off the machine and stood up.

He spoke to the computer teacher the next day and they talked about the kind of computer Tom would find most useful.

“Well, if that’s what you want, you don’t need a new computer Tom. You don’t want to play fast video-games nor solve complex problems. I’ve got one that I no longer use that might be suitable. I’d let you have it for five hundred. Want to see it?”

“If you say it’ll do what I want, then yes. When?”

“Saturday? In the afternoon?”

“Okay. Where do you live Jim?”

“In South Keys. Here’s my card. That was made on the computer I’ve got for sale.”

“Oh, very nice. So I could make business cards too if I want?”

“Only if you buy a printer. All I have to sell is the computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse. You’ll have to buy a printer from somewhere else. Oh, and you’d need an internet connection. Your television supplier can fit you up with that.”

“Is it costly? An internet connection?”

“About the same as your TV, maybe less, if you watch a lot of channels. Tell the company what you want to use it for. You don’t need a very fast speed, for instance.”

“Okay. I’ll see you Saturday. Would two o’clock be okay.”

“Sure.”

When Tom arrived he was shown the computer Jim had for sale. He had numbered the ends of the plugs and the sockets and explained to Tom where each one fitted. He told Tom to connect it up right now on his dining room table. When Tom satisfactorily did that Jim told him to plug it in and turn it on. “The computer power button is here,” and he showed Tom where it was.

“Good. Now wait until it boots, warms up, you might say. There’s no internet outlet in this room so we can’t try that, but it works okay. The installer will connect it at your place when you buy it. Right. Now I suggest you learn how to use the programs I’ve already got on the machine. Play games until you’re comfortable. Sign up for a beginners computer course, if you like. The school board runs them. Learn how to type too. That’ll probably be the hardest thing. Once you can do that you can learn how to use Word. That’s a program that’ll let you type letters or write a book. It’s a very useful one that you should know how to use. Okay, now, see here?” and Jim pointed to a row of icons. “These are games. Click on the first one. Yes, use the left button on the mouse. That’s right. See, solitaire comes up. You can play that, or mah-jong, or one of the others. Not now, but at home. So, do you want to buy it?”

“Yes, I do. It looks like fun.”

“There’s lots to learn, though. Just take your time. See me if you have any problems.”

“Okay. Thanks. I’ll write you a cheque.”

The only place Tom could find to place the computer in his small condo was one end of his kitchen table. Then he found he needed an extension cord so he drove to a computer store and was told he should buy one with a surge protector to stop spikes in the hydro from harming it. This was the first of several expenses he knew he’d have to make for he wanted a printer sometime. The sales assistant also said he should buy an uninterruptable power supply as well if he was going to use it outside the city.

Most of the rest of the weekend was spent playing games on the computer. Sunday afternoon Tom clicked on Word to see what that looked like. He was impressed by the screen that popped up and typed a few letters on the keyboard. Eventually he found how to delete them, forwards was easy but backwards proved a little more difficult. He clicked on each of the tabs at the top of the screen and thought he’d never learn how to use all of them. He shut down the computer after closing Word. Learning how to use a computer was quite tiring, he discovered. Nevertheless, each night he spent a couple of hours clicking on various icons and discovering what the program they brought to life did, or at least, he guessed at what they did, not knowing how to do things like putting photographs on the computer. He remembered reading something about being able to do it in the booklet that came with his digital camera. He’d have to find the booklet before using the photo program.

A couple of weeks later he rang the school board community organiser and asked if they were still running computer programs for beginners. He was told that they did and the next one started in April. Tom registered himself in two programs: Using the Computer and Word for Beginners. He then bought the book Learning to Type from Chapters and spent an hour each evening and two hours each day in the winter break learning how to type.

The first fine day during the break Tom drove to the bungalow with several boxes. He left the car on the road and walked in carrying the heaviest box for he still hadn’t bought a toboggan. It was a cold day but bright and cheery and it reminded him of similar days when living in the country decades ago. ‘Funny how it never seems quite this nice in Ottawa during the winter,’ he thought. He went in by the front door, left his boots in the entry lobby, carried the box to the kitchen, then went downstairs to turn on the hydro. He decided not to switch on the baseboard heaters, as long as he kept his coat on it would be warm enough. He returned to the kitchen and began unpacking the cutlery, tray, plates, mugs, and condiments that were in the box then placed them in the drawers and cupboards. A second box held pots and pans and detergent. The next one was much lighter, containing several towels, linen, toilet paper and soap which he put in the bathrooms. A box of books came next which he emptied, placing the books in one of the corners of his study. The last box held his lunch; a tin of mushroom soup, a ham sandwich, a thermos of tea, a bottle of water and an apple.

Tom stood, looking out of the kitchen window, as the soup, which he had thinned with some of the water, warmed up. There was nobody fishing on the lake, ‘the ice is too thin now,’ he guessed.’ He saw only an occasional bird. He ate his lunch sitting in one of the chairs he had brought from the caravan last fall, enjoying the peace and the scenery. Afterwards he made a list of things he should do that summer, thinking it might be better to build the greenhouse and shed first. ‘I’d probably have more use for them than a deck. I’ll build that in 2005.’

 

Chapter Eighteen. Spring. 2004

Spring term began and Tom spent two evenings each week in the Technical High School learning how to use his computer and Word. He was fairly comfortable with his computer now but found the word processing program hard to master. The second week of that course he had to buy a printer for the teacher gave all of them some homework; they had to type a one-page essay on “What I find difficult in learning how to use Word.” He was glad he could now type reasonably accurately but enjoyed being able to use the spell checker and to move text from place to place. If only he had a computer when he was at university! But no one had them in those days.

As soon as the snow had melted and spring was definitely present he ordered a queen-sized bed, two rotating and inclining easy chairs and a matching sofa, two reading lamps, a chest of drawers and a small dining table that he would use next to the kitchen with two chairs. And a refrigerator, stove and microwave. Tom had told Harry that he didn’t need a dishwasher so a cupboard was fitted in its place. He’d order a larger table and chairs for the dining room later, after he’d moved in. Everything was delivered and installed the following weekend and Tom, at last, felt he could spend the summer there very comfortably. He would bring the old television that he stored in his locker on his next visit and place it on one of the empty boxes in the corner of the lounge.

Tom thought hard about having the telephone, television and an internet connection installed that year and eventually decided not to do so. ‘I don’t really need an internet or a television right now. I can use my old rabbit ears on the TV and I’m bound to get a few channels. And I’ll buy a cell phone; I’ll probably need one living in the country.’

He helped clean the tennis courts at the club and played a couple of games but his evenings and weekends were full: the two computer courses, typing practice, redrafting the shed and greenhouse now he knew what size his windows would be, visiting his mother and taking things to the bungalow most weekends.

Once a week since the beginning of April Tom had searched for windows. He was looking for thick-paned ones and early May he found someone in Ottawa had thirty, three foot by four foot windows on sale for fifty dollars. He phoned, found they had not been sold and bought them the same night. The windows were formerly used as sliding windows, made of thick glass and were heavy. He took them to the bungalow the following Saturday and lent them against the wall inside his basement.

A final and accurate design for the greenhouse and shed was now the next thing he must do and he worked on it as soon as he had finished supper that evening. Once he had done that he made a list of the two-by-fours and the sheets of plywood he’d need. Both the greenhouse and shed would be held within a twelve by sixteen foot structure with the greenhouse along the southern side. The building’s ridge would be ten feet above the ground, the greenhouse’s southern side would be seven feet high and the shed’s northern side would be eight feet high. This gave the plants lots of sunlight and he would have extra room to store many things in the shed after he’d put shelves on the north wall. The sloping greenhouse roof would be made of two rows of four windows that overlapped slightly where they met so rain would drain from the top one onto the lower one. He would use silicone seal to fill the tiny gap where they butted each other along their sides and the small holes that had been used to slide open the windows. The south side would be made of windows standing on a four foot high wall. Other windows would be added to the ends and used within the doors. He’d use shingles on the shed’s roof and waterproof plywood for the walls. A central wall with two windows in it ran down the middle of the structure to separate the greenhouse from the shed. He looked forward to the days when he could start building. It was his first opportunity to see how well he could construct something large.

Living his adult life in Ottawa meant that Tom had not learned how to build things. He liked the idea of doing so but never had the opportunity. It couldn’t be so hard, he reasoned to himself, for many people construct swings, play houses and climbing frames for their children. He’d seen the odd program on television where sheds or garages had been constructed by homeowners from which he had learned a few things, things like; he should space the uprights of a stud wall sixteen inches apart so an eight by four sheet of plywood would fit, uprights in the corners should be made from three pieces of two-by-four and where nails should be placed when shingling. Nevertheless, he bought a book on building sheds to ensure he didn’t make any serious mistakes. It was that book that told him to build on a four-inch layer of concrete with a iron mesh centred within it and that he should buy ready-made concrete because that large an area would be too big for him to make the concrete himself.

Tom spent the long weekend, May 21st to 24th at the bungalow. It was time to plant the tomato, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower plants he’d bought in the ByWard Market and the seeds he’d bought from Ritchie’s. He knew he might lose the lot to rabbits but he’d take a chance and live on what survived. He had seen a fox and that might have killed a lot of them. Saturday morning he removed the plastic from two of the plots and double dug the soil. He was glad it was only fifteen Celsius, for it was hard work. After lunch and an hour’s nap he raked the ground then planted the brassica in one of the plots, the twelve tomatoes at the north edge of the other plot, each with a stake beside it, and sowed rows of carrots, lettuce, onions, beets, radishes and bush beans. He’d not use the other plots this year and was beginning to wonder why he’d made six of them. Surely he’d not need that many vegetables? Perhaps he would, though, if he could store them in the cold room and use them all winter.

Sunday he cleared a path for the cement truck to back along, using pruning shears and a small axe, and keeping it well away from the septic field. The telephone directory at Portland’s post office gave him the names of three suppliers and he planned to call one of them next week and order the cement to make the base for the greenhouse and shed.

The following Friday Tom stopped at the building supplier in Smiths Falls and placed an order for the wood, nails, hinges, door knobs, shingles, all the things he would need, arranging for them to be delivered the following Saturday. The twelve by sixteen foot length of wire mesh and enough of the two-by-fours to make a frame to hold the concrete he tied onto the roof of his station wagon or put inside.

He smoothed the stones with his rake, laid one of the tarpaulins on top and made the frame to hold the concrete early Saturday morning. He then straightened the mesh and laid it on top of the plastic. It was all done by eight thirty. Since the cement wasn’t due until nine he had a bowl of cereal and drank his first mug of coffee. Then he put on his rubber boots and drove his car just to the road on his driveway to block that entrance and walked to the old entrance and waited for the truck to arrive. It came about five minutes later and Tom told the driver he’d lead the way and that it’d be best if he backed in because there wasn’t enough room to turn around at the end. He expected a little grumble from the man when he said this but the driver smiled and told him, “Don’t worry, that’s what I usually do.”

It didn’t take long for the concrete to be dropped on top of the wire mesh. Tom signed the delivery sheet, the driver drove away and Tom used a rake and a twelve foot length of two-by-four to level the concrete. He used the prongs of a fork several times to lift the wire mesh, trying to keep it in the centre of the concrete as it was smoothed. It took three quarters of an hour to level it and Tom’s back hurt when he was finished. There was more concrete than was needed and he used it to make a rectangular slab in front of the doors. He covered the wet concrete with the other tarpaulin, put stones around the edges to hold it in place then walked to the lake to wash the concrete from his boots and tools. Back at the cottage he made another mug of coffee and sat in his chair looking at the garden and concrete patch, imagining what everything would look like at the end of the summer.

The wood and shingles were delivered the following Saturday morning. They were dumped close to the concrete slab which was now dry and solid and Tom began building, consulting his drawings constantly. He made the wall for the north side first, since it was the easiest. He laid some eight-foot long two-by-four studs on the slab and nailed twelve-foot lengths to the top and bottom, wondering if he should have cut the openings for the two windows first. ‘It probably wastes some wood but this way’s easier. I’ll cut them when the walls are up.’

After a coffee break he made the southern wall. This was a little more complex because three windows, with their long-sides laid horizontally, formed the upper half. Then, because the two-by-four supports were spaced so far apart he realised that he would have to place two two-by-fours on the top of each wall to support the roof. This was easily remedied then he added a second to the north wall to make them even.

Lunch followed and, instead of taking a break afterwards, Tom returned to work and built the west end. He decided to cut the windows in this wall once the building was up as he would do for the north side. His circular saw, following carefully marked lines, made cutting the top ends at the correct angle a relatively easy job. He’d leave the east side until the next day since it had openings for two doors and would be the hardest wall to build. Once finished, he was tempted to fasten the three sides together so he could see what it looked like but resisted. He’d do that tomorrow when he had all four walls made.

By now he had a small pile of cut-off wood, some too short to be used for anything but other pieces long enough to be nailed between the studs as cross pieces to strengthen the wall. The very short pieces, he realised, could be split and would make good kindling for his wood stove. He had read the manual for the stove but had not used it yet; it had never seemed cold enough to need more than the baseboard heaters.

Sunday’s task wasn’t as difficult as Tom had thought. He used three studs in the centre of the wall, for the doors hung on these studs, and two studs on the other side of each door. He would make the doors himself, making them wide enough to put a window in each one. That way he could push a wheelbarrow in. It began to rain as he was finishing the end so he put the tools in the box and carried them back to the bungalow, unplugged the extension cord and pulled it into the basement. He returned to the slab, put the walls on top of each other and covered them with one of the plastic tarpaulins, doing the same for the remaining wood before going indoors.

Revisions filled the week at school, an easy time for Tom, and his evening computer courses had finished. By now he could use many parts of the Word program and was thinking he might like to keep a diary, recording what he was doing at the cottage lot. ‘I’ll have to find a name for the place, though. Can’t call it ‘The Bungalow’ all the time. How about ‘My Place’? No, that sounds terrible, although that’s what it is. ‘Tom’s Joint’? ‘End of the Line’? ‘Fishing ‘n Reading’? Naw, but there must be something I could call it. What do Jack and Betty call their cottage? Oh yes, ‘Home from Home.’ Well, I guess that’s what it was, they had their Kingston home as well.’

Tom was pulling the plastic tarpaulins off his building materials on Saturday when Jack joined him.

“Want a hand? Wow, it looks as if you’ve already done the hardest part. I’ll help you stand them up.”

“Hello Jack. Thanks, I was wondering how I was going to manage that.”

“Which wall do you want up first?”

“This one, the north side. I’ll hold it in place with a few twelve-foots then nail the floor stud into place.”

“You’ll nail them into place?”

“Yes. Let me just mark where each of the corners should go then we’ll put it up.”

They positioned the north wall, held it in place with four two-by-fours then Tom drilled through the bottom stud and into the concrete using a carbide bit. He then pushed a pencil-shaped piece of wood through the hole and drove a four inch galvanised nail through the stud, the insert and into the concrete.

“That’s a good way to fasten it Tom.”

“Read about it in a book. Now let’s do the west side.”

Once that was up Tom nailed the abutting corners together with two nails, leaving half an inch of each projecting.

“I’ll move them if they’re in the wrong place. Now the east side.”

That and the south side went up quickly and the corners actually fell exactly on the corners Tom had earlier marked. He used a spirit level to ensure the walls were vertical then nailed them firmly to each other. That done, he said he was going to have a coffee.

“Want to join me, Jack?”

“Sure.” They sat in Tom’s new easy chairs to drink it, eating chocolate digestive biscuits.

“I’m going to the Playhouse next Friday, Jack. Are you going this year?”

“I hadn’t thought about it but I’ll join you, if you’re going from here.”

“I wasn’t going to be here until the summer but I can. I’ll pick you up at seven? Okay?”

“Yes. Great. How about fishing? Season’s started and I’ll be out tomorrow. Want to join me?”

“No, not yet. Not until the shed and greenhouse are built.”

“Let me help. We’ll get it done sooner then.”

“No, thanks, Jack. I want to do everything myself. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this and I’m really enjoying the work. But thanks for offering. We’ll go fishing once it’s over. School finishes next week and I’ll be down for several days at a time.”

“Okay. So what are you going to do next?”

“Make the inner wall, the one that divides the greenhouse from the shed. Once that’s up I’ll add the roof trusses, cover it with plywood then shingle it.”

“You have a ladder?”

“Oh yes. I bought a sixteen foot aluminium one. It’s not too heavy.”

“Why sixteen foot? Surely a twelve foot one would be long enough.”

“Yes, for this job. But next summer I want to build a deck on the bungalow and that’ll need a longer ladder.”

“I see. Good thinking. Okay, I’ll leave you to it. You’re going back tomorrow then?”

“Yes. Late afternoon.”

“Then see you next Friday,” and Jack left while Tom put the mugs in the sink to wash later.

He made the central wall next, constructing it inside the erect walls which wasn’t easy since it was the same width as the floor, then pushed it upright and nailed it into place along its bottom and each side. His trusses were simply two-by-fours, placed on edge and nailed onto the tops of the north, central and south walls. Since the longest truss was only nine foot long he was sure they would be strong enough to withstand the weight of any amount of winter snow.

He covered roof with half inch plywood after lunch then began shingling, following the method described in his book. It was easy enough but took longer than he expected and he was glad when finished, for it was getting dark. He microwaved a quiche for supper and drank two cans of his favourite beer, Barking Squirrel. Afterwards he watched TVO, one of the three television channels his rabbit ears could retrieve, for a little while and went to bed at ten.

Sunday morning Tom cut the studs where the windows would go on the outside walls and framed them with two-by-fours being careful his windows would fit in each opening. After a break he fastened the pine planks to the outside of the walls. He had first thought of using plywood sheets but changed his mind when he saw the planks people often used to line their study. They weren’t meant to be used outside and he’d have to finish them with a good waterproof stain but they’d make the place look very attractive. He laid the planks horizontally, fastening them into place with two inch finishing nails. With the careful cutting each one needed it took Tom all the rest of the day to cover one and a half sides. He was very tired when driving back to Ottawa and stopped at a restaurant for supper on the way.

 

Chapter Nineteen. Summer. 2004

School ended Friday lunchtime and after eating Tom loaded his car with the food he’d been buying during the week. Vegetables to make the salads he liked for lunch, balsamic dressing, cereals, a loaf of rye bread, butter, jam, two bags of milk, chicken breasts and ground beef and packs of frozen peas and corn, potatoes, twenty four cans of beer, everything he could think of, for he didn’t want to shop more often than needed. He had decided that, since he would soon have completed the greenhouse and shed, he was going to build the deck this summer. He put enough clothing to last two weeks, including a good pair of trousers to wear at the concert, in a suitcase.

He was at the bungalow at four o’clock and unloaded everything before walking down to see how the building had withstood the heavy rain that fell Tuesday night. A few pools of water lay on the concrete slab, blown in through the open windows or unfinished walls. The planks on the sides were dry and Tom resolved to give them the water-proof coating before starting the deck. The two gardens needed weeding and there might be some radishes already big enough to add to his salad. ‘The garden comes second, or when I need a break from building,’ he decided.

“So how long are you staying?” asked Jack, as they were driving to Gananoque that night.

“About two weeks. I want to finish the building and start on the deck before going back to Ottawa. I’m going to make it as well this year.”

“Then what will you do next year, Tom?”

“Enlarge the garden probably. I’ll use the greenhouse to start things like cabbage and broccoli. I’ll be retired then and I’ll just enjoy myself. Go fishing with you, of course. Or with Bob. Or buy a boat and go by myself.”

“Want to fish while you’re here now?”

“Probably not but I might need a rest. How long will you be staying?”

“Maybe a week. Not decided.”

“Oh, Jack, Jenny might be at the theatre tonight. She’s the mother of a teacher that taught at Hillson for a couple of years. If she is I’d like to have drinks with her and her friend, Letty. You’ll join us?”

“Of course. You interested in Jenny or Letty?”

“Oh, no. We’ve just got some common interests. Jenny plays tennis and I’ll be joining her club.”

“I see. Are you looking for a girl friend, Tom?”

“Don’t know. Not seen anyone that immediately attracted me. No one has affected me like Pat did when I first saw her. How about you?”

“No. Not at all. I still think about Betty every day and miss her a lot.”

“Of course, Jack. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Jenny and Letty were at the Playhouse. They waved to Tom after he’d sat down and mimed drinking to which he laughed, nodded his head, then pointed them out to Jack.

“Looks like we will be drinking with them in the interval, Jack.”

That they did, arriving early enough to buy them before all the others got to the bar and they were able to find a clear place on the deck afterwards.

Tom introduced Jack and explained that Jack had a cottage next to his bungalow and that they fished together sometimes.

“Do you live there?” Jenny asked Jack.

“No, I live in Kingston, on Willingdon Avenue.”

“Been there long?”

“About thirty years. You live in Kingston, too, I guess. Tom told me you’re a member of the tennis club.”

“Yes, that’s right. Oh, Tom, done any research on the world’s religions yet?”

“No I haven’t. Maybe next year. I’m busy building at the moment,” and Tom told them what he had done and planned to do that summer. The lights dimmed before he was finished and they began to move back to their seats.

“You can let me know how far you’ve got next time,” said Jenny, as they separated.

“Be glad to. Bye.”

Jack asked Tom why Jenny asked him about religions as they were driving home and Tom reminded him of the philosophy club he used to monitor and Jenny’s idea that one had to exercise one’s mind.

“So, she thought it would make a good mental exercise for me. But I’ve been too busy to do anything about it.”

“You could come to church with me, Tom. I find it very comforting, especially now.”

“I don’t think so Jack. I’m an agnostic.”

“Well, if you change your mind, let me know.”

It took Tom all Saturday to finish fastening the pine boards to the outside. Sunday he cut the two windows in the inside separating wall and covered the greenhouse side of the wall with quarter inch plywood. Monday morning he carefully added the windows to the slanting greenhouse roof, holding the bottom row in place with bent pieces of coat hanger wire so that the windows extended past the line where the top of the vertical window would be by an inch. Then he ran silicone seal along the bottom and sides to fasten the windows in place. He next added the second row of windows, using wire to hold them in place, placing each one half an inch over the lower window after ensuring the top edge was snuggled under the row of singles. He then siliconed that row of glass into place. In the afternoon he finished the south wall by fastening in the vertical windows.

He was going to fit the windows in the east side on Tuesday but it was raining when he got up so he worked on his sketch for the deck. He wanted a wide one, having experienced the discomfort of narrow balconies in his condo. ‘Eight feet wide, I think, but extended on the south west corner by about twelve feet. An octagon shape would be very nice. Could have Steven’s family around a table and eat meals on a area that wide. Now, how would I make something like that?’

Tom made many sketches and had firmed his final arrangement into a detailed set of drawings by his morning coffee break. He was greatly helped by two booklets he’d got from the building supplier when he ordered the wood for the greenhouse. After coffee he made a list of materials he needed, choosing pressure treated wood over cedar to make the deck because it was cheaper and easier to maintain. It would be supported by joists fastened to a ledger on the wall of the house and by posts on the outside. Since the wall was made of concrete blocks he’d use long masonry anchors to hold the ledger. And he’d use posts long enough to hold the railing that surrounded the deck.

The rain continued but it reminded Tom to add waterproof stain and a large brush to the list of materials he had to buy. He would coat the greenhouse and shed walls as soon as they had dried. In the afternoon Tom drove to the lumber yard in Smiths Falls.

“When do you want them delivered?” asked the man at the order desk.

“How about Thursday or Friday?” said Tom.

“Friday’s best for us, we have a delivery near you that day. Sometime in the morning, don’t know when.”

“Okay,” said Tom and handed over his credit card.

“You know,” said the man, “it’s going to be a lot of work, digging that many holes. Why don’t you rent a post hole digger from Rob’s Rent It? You’d get it done in half a day that way.”

“Where are they?”

“On the next side road going south. Can’t miss it. And the cement; how are you going to mix that?”

“On a plywood sheet,” said Tom.

“It’s much easier if you use a wheelbarrow and a hoe.”

“I don’t have one, a wheelbarrow, that is.”

“We’ve got them on sale. Take a look. Not worth buying one if it’s only for this but do you have a garden?”

“Yes, I do.”

Five minutes later Tom had bought a large, plastic wheelbarrow.

He called at Rob’s and rented a gasoline post hole digger for twenty four hours and put it in the back of his wagon. Rain or not, he’d start digging the holes when he got home. ‘Anyway, rain would probably make it easier to dig,’ he told himself.

The rain continued, not heavily, but enough to make using the post-hole digger uncomfortable. Tom stopped after making four holes. The machine made the job easy until it ran against large stones which happened three times. He used one of the metal stakes to free the stones. One of them was so low he had to use a spade to widen the hole so he could reach down to remove it. He looked forward to the warm shower he’d promised himself once he’d finished. ‘Need some rum and coke too. Or a cognac. Why didn’t I bring them from home? I’ll buy some tomorrow when I take the digger back.’

The rain stopped during the night and Tom finished digging the holes on Wednesday morning. He returned the digger before it’s rental period had expired then he visited the liquor store.

He took the rest of the day off. He had been working hard the last twenty four hours and deserved it. After lunch he sipped a scotch and planned the rest of the week. Thursday he’d install the other windows in the greenhouse and shed then make the doors. Friday he’d pour the concrete supports for the deck. He was getting things done much quicker than he’d expected. ‘When Jack comes next I’ll go fishing. Or if I see Bob, I’ll ask if he’s going out.’ Since Bob and Jane’s cottage was two lots down Tom never knew when they were here. ‘I should call around and find out how they’re doing one day.’

The remaining windows were held in place by triangles of wood, nailed on either side of the window into the two-by-four frame. The windows were easy to fit, once the holding triangular lengths of wood were cut. The greenhouse warmed up immediately and Tom realised he would have to ventilate it, something he’d overlooked.

‘How am I going to do that? Easiest way is to remove some of the planks at the top of the east and west walls. I could cut the removed planks in half then fasten them on an angle to keep the rain out. Should I screen them with mesh to keep the bugs out? Yes. Might have to add a fan too, don’t know how much ventilation I’ll need. That means I’ll have to have electricity here. Can I do that myself? Is it legal if I do that? It would be if I simply used an extension cord and plugged it into the house. Okay. I’ll do that. Let’s see how hot it gets in the summer before doing anything. I can use that min-max thermometer from the cold room to find out.’

Tom levered out the four top pine boards from the top of both ends of the building using the flat crowbar. He cut off each angled end, trimmed the shaped edges of the planks and cut them lengthways into two pieces with his blade set at a forty five degree angle and nailed them into place, cutting an extra board to make the bottom strips. ‘That didn’t take too long and it looks okay. Hope they keep the rain out.’ He stood inside and waited; the place slowly cooled somewhat.

It was mid-afternoon by now and he didn’t want to start on the doors so he tidied up, then walked along to Bob’s place. Unfortunately Bob was not there so Tom continued walking along the road. It had been a long time since he’d done that, ‘Four years! Time goes by quickly.’ He greeted the couple working in their garden but saw no one else on his journey.

Tom was cutting the boards for the doors to his shed and greenhouse Friday morning when he heard a truck driving slowly along the lane and guessed it was his material from the lumber yard. He had driven stakes into the ground to mark where he wanted the wood to be dropped but he ran up to the entrance and guided the driver down the slope and around the corner.

“Just here, please,” he called.

The driver unfastened the straps holding everything in place, removed the wheelbarrow, the boxes of nails, screws, j-bolts, post anchors and the concrete tube forms, then slowly tipped the back of the truck and eased the truck forwards. Tom watched as everything slid gently off the back and onto the ground.

“Perfect. Thanks. So you’d already been to the other place?” asked Tom, as he signed the slip.

“Yes. They didn’t have much and they were on the way. Good luck with all this. Cheers!”

“Yes, thanks and cheers to you.”

The bags of cement mix lay on top of the wood and Tom, thinking it might rain again, covered them with two of the plastic tarpaulins. He put the box of galvanised nails and the cans of preservative for the greenhouse walls in the basement then returned to the job of making the doors.

The doors were simple in design; vertical, interleaved boards, held together with horizontal boards placed where the hinges would be fastened and also at the top and bottom of the door. Two diagonal pieces, one under and one above the window kept the structure rigid. Both doors were made by coffee time and, eager to see how they fitted he lifted one of the doors by holding it through the window hole and positioned it within the door frame. It fitted nicely and so did the other. ‘Not bad!’ he told himself.

Chiselling out thin slices of wood to hold the hinges and making the holes for the door handles took an hour. Once the doors were mounted he fastened the windows into place, using silicone and strips of wood running around the sides. All that needed to be done now was to coat the outside with water repellent, make a workbench in the greenhouse and add a few shelves.

After a lunch of cheese and lettuce sandwiches he read the instructions on the side of the pre-mixed concrete bag. He then collected a wheelbarrow load of stones from the edges around the shed and dumped them between two of the post holes. Next he placed a cardboard tube in one of the holes and added enough stones around the outside to keep it in place, vertical and its centre exactly under the string which marked the line where the support posts should be placed. Then he dumped one of the bags of concrete mix in the wheelbarrow and added water, mixing it with one of his garden hoes. He took his time, wanting to be sure the mixture was just right, then used his shovel and a bucket to fill the tube, occasionally adding more stones around the outside of the tube to keep it vertical. Once it was full he pushed a j-bolt into the centre of the top. Tomorrow, once it had hardened, he would screw on the post anchors and fill the hole with stones.

The first support took nearly an hour to complete, the second and third about half that time then Tom stopped. He’d accomplished a lot that week. He carefully washed out the wheelbarrow and tools and left them to dry.

He had a shower, heated a TV dinner and ate it watching television. Once he’d seen the six o’clock news he tried to read the novel he’d first started in May but soon felt sleepy. After three more attempts to read he gave up and went to bed.

He spent Saturday making the other post supports. The hardest part was ensuring the ones needed to hold the octagonal, enlarged corner portion of the deck were in the right place. He finished mid afternoon then spent an hour weeding the garden. Again he felt tired as he put away his knee pads but fit. One thing about building things, it kept you in shape!

He had finished the other half of his quiche and was watching the television when Jack knocked on the front door.

“Hi, Tom. I’ve just come in and saw your lights. Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all. Want a beer? How about food, have you eaten?”

“Yes. I had a hamburger before leaving Kingston. Thought I’d spend the night here and do some fishing tomorrow. Want to join me?”

“Sure. I’d like that. Sit down and I’ll get the beers.”

“You’ve made the greenhouse then? I saw it as I came across and it looks as if you’re starting on the deck. You must be working hard!”

“I am. And things don’t take as long as I expected so I’ve got a lot done. But I’ll be glad for a change. What time do you want to fish?”

“Nine, is that okay with you?”

“Great. Bass or trout? It’s a good job I renewed my fishing licence.”

“I’d like to go after lake trout. I’ve got minnows. That okay with you?”

“Great. Well, what have you been up to. Not seen you for a long time.”

“Don’t feel like coming now that Betty’s not with me. I’m only staying one night. Oh, Ann and Peter got married last month. You’ll see them soon, they’re thinking of spending a week here.”

“A second honeymoon?”

“More like the first, they haven’t been anywhere yet.”

“Then I’ll not disturb them. I’m sure they wont want to see me. Was it a big wedding?”

“About forty. My brother and sister and their spouses from New Brunswick. Seven or eight friends of Ann. Peter’s parents, his brother and some of his friends. Ann’s moved into Peter’s apartment. It’s a bit crowded and they think they’ll buy a house as soon as they have enough down payment. I said they could live with me but they didn’t want to do that. Don’t blame them. How’s Steven?”

“Haven’t seen him for months but he’s coming here in July. It’s Lilly’s, my granddaughter’s, special wish, to come here for her birthday. I think she wants to try fishing!”

“How old is she?”

“She’ll have her third birthday here. I don’t know what birthday present to give her.”

“A fishing rod?”

“Of course! That’s a good idea.”

Jack caught two trout, Tom caught none but he took the one Jack gave him when they docked at noon. Tom was glad to be back on land, three non-productive hours on the water were too many for him but he didn’t say anything to Jack.

He coated the outside walls of the greenhouse with the water repellent stain in the afternoon. It slightly darkened the pine boards but Tom thought the place looked better than it did before. He stacked the unused plywood and shingles in the shed and fastened the max-min thermometer to the back wall in the greenhouse so that he could find out if he had to add a fan. Trout, potatoes and frozen peas made supper. A bowl of ice cream and television finished the day.

After breakfast on Monday he fastened the ledger board that would support the deck along the lake side wall of the bungalow using his four foot spirit level to ensure that it was horizontal. It was difficult to keep the first length an inch beneath the upper-level door, but he solved the problem by supporting it with several pieces of wood. The whole task became much simpler once he had the first anchor bolt in place. After coffee he added the south side ledger board then nailed on a row of joist hangers. He knew this wasn’t the normal way of doing things but he planned to fasten a few joists to them so that they would hold the posts in place when he nailed on the front supporting beam.

The concrete piers seemed solid enough and Tom bolted on the metal post anchors once he had eaten lunch. He then set up the first post, nailing it within the post anchor after using several two-by-fours, one fastened to a joist hanger and the others leaning from the ground, to keep the post in place and vertical. He left the supporting boards in place and fixed two more posts in place before stopping for the day. Remembering that he should be photographing the construction he collected his camera and took several pictures of the posts, garden and greenhouse.

It was raining again Tuesday morning so Tom decided to drive to Ottawa and wash his clothes. He left early and, once they were in the dryer he phoned his mother and asked if she would like to go out to supper.

“Oh, you’re here, Tom. Yes I’d like that but you come here for lunch. There’s some boxes in the attic that I’d like you to bring down.”

“Okay. About twelve?”

“Yes. And bring me some milk when you come, please.”

Mrs. Alwen knew there were several packets of love letters Peter had written to her somewhere in one of the boxes and she wanted to read them again before burning them. They weren’t for Tom to read. And old magazines; no need to keep them. In fact, she was now facing the fact that she couldn’t take anything with her when she died and it was time she did a bit of clearing. No need to hurry, she felt fit, but one never knows what might happen.

Tom collected more things from his condo to take to the bungalow; books, a floor lamp, the bedside table from the spare bedroom, some dishes. He’d soon have more there than in Ottawa.

The rain stopped as Tom drove to his mother but he was sure it’d be much too wet to cut the grass. Something to add to his to-do list when he came back.

Over lunch they talked about Steven’s visit and Lilly’s birthday.

“I think I’ll drive there on the seventeenth.”

“It’s too far Mum. Going there and driving back the same day is too much for you. We’ll come here and visit you. That would be better.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive but I do want to see them. Can you come on Lilly’s birthday?”

“I think so. We don’t have anything planned as far as I know.”

“Then I’ll buy a birthday cake for her. Come for lunch.”

Tom packed his car in the afternoon and took his mother to a Thai restaurant for an early supper. She enjoyed Thai more than Indian food but they hadn’t found a nice restaurant before. The one they went to that evening was good enough to become a favourite. After returning his mother to her home he drove back to Portland. He wanted to get back to work. Lots had to be done before his visitors arrived.

 

Chapter Twenty. Summer. 2004

Steven’s family arrived Saturday afternoon, July 17th. By that time Tom had all the deck posts up and the deck joists firmly fastened in place. Sixteen foot two-by-fours were fastened diagonally across some of the posts and to stakes driven in the ground at the ends and around the corner to ensure nothing moved. Tom kept the bungalow door to the deck locked to prevent Lilly from venturing out.

He was pulling weeds from the driveway near the new entrance when they arrived.

“Hi, Steven, Stella. Hi, Lilly. Give me a hug Lilly, a big one. Ah, that’s nice. Did you find it difficult to get here Steven?”

“No, dad. Your map made it easy. Let’s unload the car first then we want to see around the place.”

“Of course. You’re in the master bedroom, upstairs. I’ve put the air mattress and a sleeping bag for Lilly there also, Stella. I hope that’ll be all right.”

“I expect so. It’ll be her first time on one of those. We’ll find out. Where are you sleeping?”

“In the downstairs bedroom, on the mattress from the caravan. I’ll put my bed from the condo there when I sell the place.”

After moving their suitcases and boxes of provisions into the bungalow Tom showed them around the house, the garden, greenhouse, boathouse and along the water front.

“Are you going to buy a boat, dad?” asked Steven.

“Not for a while, I’ve been too busy. Maybe I’ll get one next year.”

“Where can we fish, grandpa?” asked Lilly.

“Anywhere you like. We’ll try along here or we can go next door, on my friends dock.”

“I haven’t got a fishing rod.”

“Oh. What shall we do?” Tom asked, knowing that he had bought one for her birthday.

“We can buy one, Lilly,” said Stella. “I looked in your kitchen cupboards and fridge, Tom, and we’ll have to go to town to buy a few things, Crunchy Corn Flakes, peanut butter, bagels, more mild cheese, things Lilly and we like.”

“Ah, well, you don’t have to buy a fishing rod. I’ve bought one for you, Lilly. It’s part of your birthday present.”

“My birthday’s not until Monday, grandpa.”

“Well, I think you could have the fishing rod now. Let’s call it a ‘welcome’ present. Shall we go and fetch it?”

“Oh, yes please. Then can we go fishing now?”

“Sure, if mummy and daddy say yes.”

The first thing they did after Lilly unwrapped her fishing rod and tackle kit was go to the garden and dig for worms. Tom thought she might not like this part of fishing but Lilly found it fun and didn’t mind holding the wriggling worms. However, she didn’t like pushing the point of the hook through them and turned her head away when Tom did that.

He showed her how to cast and did that for her before giving her the rod to hold. They tried several places along Tom’s bank and on the sixth spot Lilly was lucky.

“I’ve got one, grandpa! Look, it’s pulling and pulling! What do I do?”

“Turn the handle, Lilly, like I showed you. Yes, that’s right. Keep turning.”

“Look, it’s head is out of the water. Is it okay to lift it out?”

“Yes. Want me to help?”

“No, I can do it,” and Lilly pulled the rod up and swung the fish onto the ground.

“Don’t touch it, Lilly. It’s a sunfish and they have a sharp spikes along their top fin. Let me take it off the hook.”

Tom did that and said, “Look at the orange-red patch. That’s why it’s call a sunfish. Can I put it back in the water? It’s too small to eat I think.”

“Okay,” and she watched as it was put in the water and swam away.

“Are there any other kinds of fish here grandpa?”

“Yes, all sorts, but they might not be just here. Tomorrow we’ll try the dock next door. That’s where my friend lives. We should go and wash now, it’ll soon be time for supper. Do you like fishing Lilly?”

“I think so. I don’t like using worms though.”

“We can use bread tomorrow but it’s not as good. The fish like the scent of the worms, I think.”

Over supper Tom told them that his mother would like them to visit her on Lilly’s birthday.

“Do you mind? She said she’d buy a birthday cake for you Lilly.”

“Yes, of course we can go,” said Steven. “I’d like to see Grandma again. Okay, Stella?”

“Sure. Well, I won’t need to buy flour and things and make a cake then. Good.”

“If we catch a fish we can take it to gran gran,” said Lilly.

“Maybe, Lilly. She does like fish. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”

Tom got up as soon as the sun rose on Sunday morning for during the night he had thought about making a swing for Lilly. He cut a piece of two by eight from the end of one of the joists to make a seat and drilled holes in each of the corners to pass the rope through. Some nylon rope from a coil he had used to temporarily hold boards together when building would be plenty strong enough to hold her weight. He was pretty sure that there would be two trees among those next to the boathouse between which he could fasten a board from which he could hang the swing. When he walked down with the swing and his ladder to check he found that one of the trees had a strong, almost horizontal branch that would be perfect for the job.

‘Well, I’m sure Lilly will like that. Too bad we don’t also have a sandy beach. But, maybe we could. I could have a truck load of sand dropped just here. It doesn’t slope much and the trees will give it some shade. I’ll call before we leave tomorrow and order some. The sand would be useful if I have to make cement as well.’

After they’d eaten breakfast Tom took Lilly to Jack’s dock and she caught three perch. Since the first one was big enough to eat Tom suggested they have it for lunch. Catching the other two meant there would be enough for everyone to have several bites.

“I’ll clean them and your Mummy will fry them for us.”

“What about keeping them for gran gran?”

“Let’s eat these and catch some more this afternoon for her.”

“Okay, grandpa. You know, I like fish, but I’ve never had this kind. Will they taste nice?”

“Oh, yes. They’re very nice. You’ll see.”

Everyone thought they were wonderful and Lilly said she liked fishing and wanted to fish that afternoon to get some for her gran gran.

“Grandpa might need a rest, Lilly, but maybe daddy would like to take you fishing.”

“Sure, I would,” said Steven. “Let’s all fish. How many rods do you have, dad?”

“Two spinning and one for lake trout. That one should also be alright.”

“Don’t worry about me,” said Stella. “I’ll just watch.”

“I’ve got something to show you Lilly,” said Tom. “We’ll see it after lunch.”

“When did that come?” asked Lilly, as soon as she saw the swing. “It wasn’t here yesterday.”

“No, I made it first thing this morning.”

“You’re good at making things, aren’t you grandpa. Can I try it?”

Lilly stayed on the swing for twenty minutes. Steven and Lilly came down after seeing through the kitchen window what was happening and pushed for a while. Lilly kept wanting to go higher but Stella didn’t let her. Whilst that was happening Tom collected his rods from the boathouse and his tackle box. Seeing these Lilly stopped swinging and they all went to Jack’s deck and began to fish. Twenty minutes later, after no one had caught anything, Steven caught a three to four pound smallmouth bass. Unfortunately he could not land it for Tom didn’t have a net and it got away. Everybody became keen again and they fished for another half an hour but the fish weren’t biting.

“Well, that solves one problem,” said Tom. “I don’t suppose you have a fishing licence Steven.

“No, I don’t. I hadn’t thought about that. Anyway, I’ve had enough for today. Let’s stop now.”

“Do we have to, daddy?”

“I think so. You can try on another day, Lilly. Gran gran just wants to see you and everybody. She doesn’t really need a fish.”

“I wanted to give her one I caught myself.”

“You can tell her what you caught yesterday,” said Stella, who was sitting on a chair and reading a book while they fished.

“Yes, and that we ate them too. Good.”

They had a lasagne for supper, one Stella had made and frozen, followed by an apple pie, also made by Stella.

“We’ll do some grocery shopping on the way home tomorrow. I’ve some frozen hamburgers but we need buns and onions. Unless you have some in your cold-room, Tom.”

“No. There’s nothing from the garden there yet. I keep everything I’ve bought up here, in the cupboards or the fridge. Those are just empty boxes in the cold room, ready to be filled when I’ve got a big garden. I’ll buy a barbecue tomorrow, Stella. I’ve never had one before. You or Steven can show me how to use it.”

“It’s easy, dad. The only trick is to hold a bottle of beer when you’re cooking!”

“Then that’s another thing to buy tomorrow. These,” and he pointed to the three empty cans, “are the last ones.”

They gave Lilly her birthday presents after breakfast on Monday. Stella gave her the doll that Lilly had admired when seeing it in a window. Steven gave her a water colour set and two sketch pads and Tom gave her five Easy Readers. Lilly, of course, couldn’t read but Tom hoped she would pick up the words if the books were read to her at bedtime. That’s what he did with Steven and it wasn’t long before Steven could read them and within a year could stumble through new Easy Readers by himself.

They drove to Ottawa in Tom’s station wagon, leaving after a late breakfast and arrived at Hilda Alwen’s house at eleven thirty. She had set up a table in the garden, for it was a lovely day. Lilly showed her the presents she had been given and Mrs. Alwen said she had a present to give her but would do that after lunch. They ate three kinds of sandwiches; ham, cheese and tomato with lettuce in each one. Lilly’s birthday cake was an ice cream cake.

“I bought this because I knew that Tom always liked them on his birthdays. Do you like it Lilly?”

“Oh, yes, gran gran. It’s my favourite cake too. Can I always have one on my birthdays, Mummy?”

“Yes, as long as you remind me that’s what you want.”

“I’ll remind you!”

“Does anyone want any more lemonade? I’ve another can in the freezer and can easily make some more.”

Lilly asked for more and Tom went to the kitchen to make it. His mother also went in and returned with a cardboard box. She put it on the table and asked Steven to get the other box which was on the table in the lounge. After Tom returned with that box and jug of lemonade Hilda turned to Lilly.

“Here is your birthday present, Lilly. I’m sorry it’s not wrapped up. I forgot to buy some wrapping paper. Open the big box first. You’d better help her, Steven. What’s inside is rather heavy.”

With everyone watching and Lilly helping, Steven pulled a toy house out of the box.

“It’s not new, Lilly. It’s one I had when I was young. Look, the back side opens and you can put the furniture in the rooms. That’s what’s in the other box.”

“Oh, gran gran. It’s lovely. Open the other box, daddy, please. Oh, thank you gran gran.”

“I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Lilly. Be careful with the furniture, it can break easily. Some of the legs did break off but my daddy glued them on again.”

The table was cleared and the trays that held the tiny furniture were lifted out of the box. Everyone watched as Lilly placed pieces in the lounge, bedrooms and kitchen.

“Isn’t it lovely! Thank you gran gran. It’s the most perfect gift I’ve ever had. I’ll always treasure it.”

“If you keep it carefully you can give it to your daughter, Lilly.”

“Yes, I will.”

As Hilda and Stella washed the dishes Steven helped Lilly put the furniture back on the trays and pack everything in the two boxes. They put them carefully in the back of the car and shortly afterwards said goodbye to Mrs. Alwen.

In Smiths Falls they left Stella and Lilly at a supermarket and drove to Canadian Tire to buy a barbecue. They bought a simple one, for Tom didn’t think he’d be using it often, and placed it in the back of the wagon along with a full tank of propane. They hoped there would be enough room left for the groceries but this turned out not to be the case and everyone except Tom had to hold one or more bags on their laps as they drove back to the bungalow.

Whilst Tom and Stella moved the groceries into the kitchen Steven worked on the barbecue. He did this in the garage and, once set up, he left it burning to clean the grills. Five minutes later he turned it off and called for his dad. Tom watched as Steven explained how to turn on the gas, how to use the igniter switch and what to do if the gas didn’t quickly light.

“Read the manual dad. It’s easy. Now, you have a go. Let me turn off the gas first.”

Tom demonstrated that lighting a barbecue wasn’t an impossible problem for him then stated that they hadn’t bought any beer.

“So we can’t use it tonight, right?”

“Oh yes we can, dad. I’ll drive to Portland and buy a case. Stella said we will be having hamburgers tonight. I’ll use my car. Tell her where I’ve gone.”

Hamburgers, cooked whilst holding a can of beer, tasted great and Tom planned to eat more of them that summer. ‘I’ll put the barbecue on the deck once that’s made. It’ll be convenient that way.’

Tuesday they relaxed. The load of sand Tom had ordered before leaving for Ottawa on Monday arrived and was dumped just to the north of the swing. Tom and Steven, partly helped by Lilly, used the shovel and rake to level about half of it, leaving the rest in the centre where they made a big sand castle. In the afternoon Lilly played with her doll house on the kitchen table which had been moved to the centre of the dining room. She helped her grandpa weed the garden for a few minutes afterwards then she and Steven fished and caught four perch which they ate for supper along with new potatoes and a salad made with lettuce, radishes, green onions, all fresh from the garden and small, cooked beets. For some reason rabbits had not touched the garden that year. ‘Perhaps the fox got all of them or they moved to somewhere else. Let’s hope so,’ thought Tom. ‘I’ll risk it next year too.’

Wednesday they drove to Perth, walked around the streets and sat in the park, later eating in a restaurant that overlooked the river. Thursday was similar to Tuesday but the fish escaped them and they had a cheese omelette for supper. Friday, after breakfast, they loaded Steven’s car and after saying how much they had enjoyed the holiday and wanted to do the same thing next year they drove back to Toronto.

Tom, funnily, was slightly happy when they left. It was tiring having a family around and he could now sleep in his own bed. Also, he could get back to what he liked doing most of all, constructing.

He changed the sheets, reminded himself to buy a washer and dryer soon, took a look at what food Stella had left and decided he had enough and wouldn’t have to shop for three or four days. He made himself a mug of coffee and sat down to look at his design for the deck. ‘Now, what is the next thing I should do?’

That was easy to answer, screw the deck boards onto the joists. ‘It’ll be best to start where the steps will be and work along from there. And I’ll have to stand on the ladder for the first four or five boards but I should be able to knell on the deck to do the rest.’

He removed and folded the plastic tarpaulins that were covering the wood, took them to the shed and returned with his ladder. He then slid about twenty boards onto the joists and moved the first into place. He fetched the box of galvanised screws and his electric drill with the bit the assistant told him would fit into the screws. He tightened the bit into the drill and tried screwing one of the screws into a piece of two-by-four on the ground. It was easy, for the wood was soft, but it was hard to keep the screw vertical, even using both hands. He reversed the drill, removed the screw and climbed the ladder, carrying the drill and screws.

The first screw was difficult to insert. The wood for the deck was denser and harder than the two-by-four and Tom was new to holding a screw-driving drill vertically and applying pressure at the same time. The second screw was easier but progress was slow because each board needed two screws in each joist.

He had cut several boards in half and he next positioned a short one alongside the first board, using two pencil-wide pieces of wood to keep a gap between them, then screwed it into place. He next put another long board next to the ledger and fastened that. A full length board was next placed butt to butt with the half length board and then screwed on. ‘That looks nice,’ Tom said, as he saw how the boards looked. But he was tired and his arms needed a rest so he stopped for lunch.

It took four long days to fasten all the deck boards. Inserting the screws became much easier when he was kneeling on the deck but cutting the pieces to fit the octagonal-shaped section was tricky and Tom made several mistakes. Cutting the angles too narrow was the worst mistake, he could fix the ones he cut too wide. Nearly all of the badly cut pieces could be reused in other places though, where shorter lengths were needed.

The steps came next. They took two days. It was now Thursday, July 29th and he was ready for a change. He fastened rope along the top of the posts so he wouldn’t fall off the deck and Friday morning he cut the grass and weeded the garden. After lunch he showered and drove to Portland to buy more beer, lean hamburger meat and a bag of frozen french fries. They would make his supper that night.

Jenny and Letty were at the Playhouse that evening but they were with two men and Tom did nothing more than wave to them. He was a bit relieved for he had not done any research on the world’s religions and had nothing to report. He drank his beer by himself in the interval and wondered if the men were anything more than the women’s friends. Letty didn’t attract him but he liked talking to Jenny. Didn’t Janice once tell him her dad died in a car accident several years ago?

Tom was making the railings for the deck on Saturday morning when he heard a car drive up to Jack’s house. ‘So we might go fishing tomorrow then. I wouldn’t mind that. Wonder how long he’s staying. I’ll go over and invite him for lunch when I’ve finished cutting these.’

Then he heard Ann call out to Peter and remembered that Jack had told him they would be having a few days late honeymoon in the cottage so he’d just keep working. Sunday morning, after he’d had his coffee break and was cutting the verticals for the railing around the octagonal portion of the deck, they both appeared through the bush. “Hi Tom,” called Ann. “We heard the saw and thought we’d like to see your place. It looks lovely.”

“Oh, thanks. And congratulations to you both. Jack told me you got married in May. I hope the weather was kind to you.”

“Just cloudy. Can we come up?”

“Yes, careful on the stairs, I haven’t made the handrails yet.”

They stood on the deck looking towards the lake.

“What do you think of the view?”

“The view from here is great, Tom. Dad told us about your house but didn’t say anything about the greenhouse, shed and this deck. Did you make all of them?”

“Yes. Hard, but very enjoyable work. Another three or four days I’ll be finished with the deck then I can relax. Come. Have a look inside.”

Tom opened the door to the lounge and they entered. He showed them the wood stove and explained how it would heat the whole house. Later, downstairs, they walked into the cold room and he told them it was for keeping vegetables for the winter.

“So you’re going to stay here and not go to Florida,” said Peter.

“I’ll probably go for a month but stay here the rest of the time. The water can be drained or the baseboard heaters will heat the place when I’m gone.”

“You’ll need a lot of wood if you stay all winter.”

“I guess so. I’ll put it in the garage so it’s dry and easy to get. Ah, that’s another thing to make, shelves.”

“Well, it’s a nice place. I’m sure you’ll be very happy here,” said Ann. “How about having supper with us tonight? Peter listened to a lecture last month that he’d like to discuss with you.”

“Yes. I’m sure you’ll be interested, Tom. Remember when we talked about the universe and how it evolved? Well, Dr Sewell talked about life and it’s evolution, not Darwin’s stuff but what it results in. Maybe it’ll relate to your club’s search for ‘good’ behaviour.”

“The club’s not running now, Peter. Once it’s originators left Hillson it closed down. But I’ll be interested. I’ve been told I should exercise my brain and this might be a lot more interesting than researching the world’s religions.”

“Okay, then come at six and we’ll have a drink first.”

“Right, I will, but you must have supper with me before you leave. When are you going?”

“Tomorrow. I have to be back at work.”

“Then come tomorrow. Do you mind hamburgers? I’ve just learned how good they can be if cooked on your own barbecue and I bought a lot of ground beef Friday.”

“Love ‘em,” said Peter, “don’t we, Ann.”

“Sure do.”

“Okay.”

Tom finished cutting the deck rails and began screwing them into place but stopped at four. He had a shower then made a list of things still to be done. It began with handrails for the stairs, then continued; shelves to store wood on in the garage, shelves in the greenhouse and shed, a workbench in the greenhouse, make shelves for the cold room and some in the basement storage area . . . and he had earlier thought that he was almost finished building things! There was much more to do, and to buy, come to think of it.

He made a second list; buy a clothes washer and dryer, buy a second tank of propane, for he didn’t want to run out in the middle of cooking a meal, buy a large axe, a wedge to split the wood and a mallet in case some of the firewood had to be cut into smaller pieces. No, those things could wait. He’d use the smaller scraps of wood left over from his building this winter and buy those tools next year. He might be short of money after the wood for shelves and the washer and dryer had been bought.

Before supper they sat, drank and snacked and talked about Ann and Peter’s wedding.

“The clouds didn’t make any difference but it was cool,” said Ann. “Best of all, apart from getting married to Peter, was seeing all my relatives. Some had arrived two days before so we had lots of time to catch up.”

“Where did you go for your honeymoon?”

“To an inn in Vermont, a place friends had told us about,” said Peter.

“It was lovely,” added Ann. “We had the honeymoon suite, all by itself in a wing off the side.”

“Great meals, too. You should try it, Tom. A nice place for a holiday. Bit expensive though.”

“Well, I can’t for a while. I’m running out of money, as you can guess. And I’d need someone to go with to enjoy it most.”

“Let’s eat,” said Ann. “It’ll be cooked by now.”

They moved inside the cottage. Peter and Ann brought plates of salad and a hot cottage pie from the kitchen. An opened Cabernet was on the dining room table. As they ate, Tom told them about his plans for the future, how he would live there starting next summer, and that he’d sell his Ottawa condo when he moved.

“We want to move, too,” said Ann. “We should have enough for a deposit in two or three years. Then I’ll have a baby. We can’t wait much longer, I’m thirty six.”

“You could have one now, couldn’t you?”

“There’s no room in Peter’s apartment. We’ll have to wait. I don’t really mind, as long as the baby is all right. It gives us more time together, eh, Peter.”

“Yes, it does. Lets have coffee in the lounge, Ann. I want to tell Tom what Dr Sewell said.”

“Okay.”

They cleared the table, started the coffee and took the key lime pie, plates and forks into the lounge. Once the coffee had been poured Peter pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and opened it.

“Jack told me that you were working here all summer, Tom, so I summarised what Dr Sewell said so I could give it to you. I’ll read it first then we can discuss the ideas, if you like.

“1. How life has to exploit its surroundings to get the energy/food it needs to survive.

“2. How, as the surroundings change, life has to adapt or it dies. Mutations introduce changes that may help this process. In other words, life learns how to exploit the changed environment or it dies.

“3. These increased capabilities are inherited by their offspring.

“4. Where this must end—a god-like organism.

“What do you think, Tom?”

“Only the last sentence is new, of course, Peter. All the rest came from Darwin and many other scientists,” said Tom. “It’s just the last statement. How did the audience react to that?”

“Well, as you pointed out, no one bothered about the first three points but there was plenty of discussion about the last. Some told her that she was saying we’d become a god and they hated that idea, saying that God already existed. Others disagreed. They said it’s a sensible conclusion; if living organisms continually learn more and could therefore do more things, then where else would they end? They would be able to do anything and become god-like. Others argued that there could be many other outcomes, war or diseases stopping this process.”

“Did she say that we, our species, would end up with god-like abilities?”

“No, no. Someone asked that. She said that in her view, humanity would not survive that long. She guesses that it would take many million years for this to happen. And that we, even if we survived the troubles we are creating on earth, would have evolved into some other species. In answer to another question, she thought we’d become Borg-like, with our brains, or an electronic equivalent, living in machines and that these machines would have senses and be able to manipulate things. We’d eventually become living robots, she thought, if we survived.”

“And those robots would become gods?”

“Not quite. She guessed that the robots would integrate their knowledge and abilities and form one entity. That’s what would become a god-like being.”

“It’s more like a fairy story, a science fiction story, surely. She should write a novel.”

“Don’t you think it’s possible?”

“I don’t,” said Ann. “What’s the point of evolving to becoming a robot? It’s the last thing I want.”

“Well, same for me,” said Peter, “but isn’t it the obvious outcome of continuous evolution, it produces species that continually learn more and thus, can do more?”

“Why does it have to know more and be able to do more?” asked Tom.

“Well, that’s what happens all the time, if we think about it. Each day scientists know and understand more. And that knowledge is passed on. Eventually all educated people know more and nearly everyone has the tools to do more. Right?”

“Yes, but why must we have to do more? Can’t we continue just like we’re doing?”

“Of course not, Tom,” said Peter. “We depleting the planet. How do you think we can get enough food to feed all the people we have.”

“And all the others to come,” said Ann. “They say the world’s population will grow to nine or ten billion by twenty fifty. That’s why we’re only having one child. We should really have none but I can’t live with that.”

“There has to be some people born, Ann,” said Peter, and he reached for her hand.

“It’s an interesting idea,” said Tom. “Maybe not realistic, but I’ll think about it.”

“Yes,” said Peter. “I knew you’d be interested, and I thought it related to your early conundrum: how do you decide what is ‘right’.”

“Oh, why did you think that?”

“Surely, if becoming god-like is the end result of evolution, it’s obvious? It is ‘right’ to support this, to support life’s evolution. Isn’t that the answer to the questions the kids had? If they do things that support life’s evolution, then they are doing the ‘right’ thing.”

“Oh, interesting. That really might be the answer they were looking for. But it’s too late for me to work through all this now, fascinating as it is. Can we talk more tomorrow, after I’ve thought about it for a bit?”

“Of course, Tom,” said Ann. “You must be tired, it’s nine thirty and you’ve been working hard most of the day.”

“Ah, yes,” said Peter. “Let’s call it a night and we’ll talk tomorrow. What time should we come for supper?”

“Oh, same as today. Come at six.”

“Okay, we’ll be there.”

Monday morning Tom drove to Portland and bought two bottles of shiraz and twenty four cans of beer from the LCBO then walked to the next door store and bought a cherry pie and some vanilla ice-cream. Once back at the bungalow he returned to making the rails for the steps, continuing until he’d finished at four thirty, thinking, now and again, about Dr. Sewell’s idea. He tidied up, pulled the barbecue through the bungalow and out onto the deck and placed it against the wall to the right of the balcony door. With the eight-foot wide deck there was plenty of room for it. He worked the kitchen table through the door and positioned it in the centre of the octagonal enlargement then placed the chairs around it. It looked okay but Tom thought he should buy a larger one, one with chairs that could be kept outside. He didn’t have a table cloth to cover the table. ‘Well, we’re eating hamburgers. It’s like a picnic and doesn’t have to be dressed up.’

He showered then cut the tomatoes and onions into slices and left them in the fridge, checking to see that the beer was cold enough. He thought about having one now but decided to wait; he’d probably drink more than he should during the evening.

He was sitting on one of the lawn chairs on the balcony when Ann and Peter appeared and walked down the stairs to greet them.

“How’s the garden doing?” asked Peter. “I’d like to have one but it’ll have to wait.”

“Come and have a look,” replied Tom, and took them over.

“You can see what I’ve got. The radishes are finished, of course. There are tons of beans. Do you like green beans? I’ll get a bag and you can pick as many as you like. Take some of the tomatoes too, they’re just coming in. I’ve eaten the best broccoli heads but you might find some. Just a minute, I’ll get some bags from the shed.”

“One would be enough Tom. We’d like some beans and a bit of lettuce.”

“I’ll get a knife then. I just cut the tops of the lettuce and more grows on the same stem.”

They put the bag in Tom’s refrigerator and took out three cans of beer. These they drank on the deck, eating potato chips and sitting in lawn chairs from the caravan watching the clouds float over the lake.

“I can see why you want to live here,” said Ann. “This is wonderful.”

“I haven’t taken time to enjoy it much this summer,” replied Tom. “It’ll be different next year.”

“You’ll be just as busy if you use all those garden plots, Tom. Why so many?”

“That’s how much soil they collected when they excavated this spot. I don’t think I’ll use all of them, I’ll probably grass two. Or I might grow raspberries and strawberries.”

“You could freeze those,” said Ann. “Or you could make jam with the berries. Did you know that you can blanch and freeze things like beans, broccoli and cauliflower?’

“No, I didn’t. I was going to keep them in the cold room.”

“You could keep the brassica there, and carrots and beets, but not beans. Dried beans, if they’re kept dry, but not green beans. Onions you could braid and hang up, like garlic, I should think. Look it up on the internet.”

“I don’t have that here yet, I’ll look it up in Ottawa. I’ll get internet and television next year, when I’m living here.”

“And a telephone,” said Ann.

“No, the cell phone works well enough and that’s all I need. I’ll change the cell’s number to my Ottawa number when I move.”

“Thought any more about life becoming god-like,” Peter asked Tom.

“Yes, a bit. It’s a plausible hypothesis. If intelligent life lives long enough it is bound to learn a great deal and will be able to do many more things than we can do now. It may be able to travel close to the speed of light or even faster, if that’s possible, say in another dimension. That way it could visit some of the planets that orbit other stars. Maybe there are things like worm holes or quantum tunnelling and life could travel through them or some kind of intelligence that is a form of life could do that. Many things might be possible, eventually. So it could become a god-like being but never a god.”

“Why not?”

“Well you told me when you reminded me of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Peter. You said we live in the universe. So there will be problems we can’t solve, questions we can’t get answers for, without going outside the universe. That, I’m pretty sure, is impossible. There might not even be an ‘outside’ to our universe.”

“Yes, of course. Okay, life will never become a God. But it could possess god-like properties, you agree?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s something worth striving for, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then that’s the target you can use to solve moral problems.”

“Yes, again. I’ve come to that conclusion too when I was thinking today.”

“So are you going to tell your students that?”

“No, I can’t. There’s no way to find anyone interested in that kind of question at school now. As I said, the club disbanded.”

“So all this has been for nothing then.”

“Oh, no, Peter. I’m very interested. You’ve given me the solution I would never have found. So thank you.”

“Well, I’m glad that’s been cleared up,” said Ann. “Isn’t it time we ate?”

“Sure. How about you cooking, Peter, while Ann and I put things on the table. I’ll get the hamburgers and a beer. My son says the cook has to have a beer in his hand while cooking.”

“Your son’s a smart man!”

Hamburgers and cherry pie eaten, they finished the meal with coffee and a cognac talking about Kingston and the many things one could do there.

“Not as many as in Ottawa,” Tom said, but he agreed with them. It seemed a nice place to live.

They left at nine and Tom washed the dishes thinking about them and their life together. ‘How great it is to be young again or, at least, to be beginning a life together. It would be nice if I had someone to share my life with. That’s what I’m missing, a companion. Ah, stop that kind of thinking, Tom. Let’s see what’s on television.’ He turned it on and watched a documentary about Asia but the lack of a lady friend to share his life with tugged at the back of his mind until he fell asleep.

Tuesday morning he measured various walls and drew diagrams of the shelves and benches he would be building and made a list of things to buy. He phoned his mother and asked if she would like to have lunch or dinner with him. They settled on dinner. He put his laundry in a big plastic bag then went to the garden and packed green beans into a basket and filled another with the last of the spring onions, a big bunch of lettuce leaves and some ripening tomatoes. These he put with his laundry in the back of his Subaru, locked the doors to the bungalow and headed towards Ottawa. In Smiths Falls he stopped at the building supplier and placed his wood order, asking them if they could deliver it on Friday.

“We could, but it would have to be in the afternoon. Will that be okay?”

“Sure. I’ll be there.”

Tom cut his mother’s grass in the afternoon and helped her in the garden. Over dinner in the ByWard Market that night he persuaded his mother to visit the bungalow and stay for a night or two.

“I’d like you to see what it’s like, mom. It’s very comfortable. You can have the master bedroom. It’s got it’s own bathroom. We could cook or go to Westport for lunches and dinner. You might meet some of your old friends there.”

“We didn’t last time. They’ll have moved to a nursing home or died.”

“We didn’t have supper when we went and we didn’t go to The Cove. That’s where they might be.”

“Oh, all right. Not this week, though. Next Friday would be best. That’s when most of them eat out.”

“Okay. I’ll come for you Friday morning and can take you back Sunday. Okay?”

“As long as I get back by five on Sunday. I’m having dinner with the Sampson’s that evening.”

“Oh? How often do you do that?”

“Once a month. We alternate. We’re thinking of taking a trip together next year.”

“Good for you. Where are you going?”

“Ireland. They want to see where their family came from and I’ve never been there. We’d go in the spring.”

After taking his mother home Tom sat in his condominium with a port, thinking about holidays. There were many places he hadn’t seen and he might as well spend some of the money he would receive when this place sold on taking holidays. One of the flyers he’d collected with the mail the condominium supervisor held for him, was a travel brochure. He’d take that back to the bungalow and study it, not that any of their trips would be for next year but he’d get an idea of what they would cost and where they went.

He spent Thursday morning shopping, first buying three bookcases from Ikea, then food, everything from apples to frozen dinners. The rain slowed and stopped as he passed through Lombardy on his way back to the bungalow. ‘Too bad it didn’t continue all day. The garden needs it.’ He’d been watering it twice a week during the hot days but it needed more than he thought he should draw from his well. He didn’t want it to dry up, as he’d been told had happened to others along his road. ‘I’ll have to pump water from the lake next year when I have four plots. I wonder if a sump pump would be strong enough to do that?’

He parked the wagon in the two-car parking space next to the garage door and lifted up the door. Doing that reminded him that he should have a door opener installed. ‘Two hundred dollars plus installation fees. I wonder if I could put it in myself.’ He glanced up. ‘There’s a hydro plug already there. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ll ask someone in the store about fitting it myself.’

After unloading the car he left it where it was. The forecast was for more rain tomorrow and he wanted the wood they would be delivering stored in the garage.

It was drizzling when the man on the truck dropped his wood next to the garage. After he’d left Tom moved it inside. He stacked the plywood sheets against one wall of the garage and placed the two-by-fours and wider planks on the other side. He’d make the shelves in the cold room first, then the greenhouse, if it wasn’t raining, and do the garage last.

During coffee he checked his drawings for the cold room shelves and counted the number of uprights and plywood shelf supports he needed, making careful notes. He’d cut the two-by-fours into two-by-twos. They’d be strong enough to support the plywood shelves. He unpacked his new table saw, assembled the safety cover and switched it on. Everything seemed okay. He used an extension cord to let him put it on the driveway, then took one of the eight foot lengths of two-by-four, adjusted the guide until the blade would bisect the wood, put on his safety glasses and started the motor.

Cutting the wood was not easy and he had to press it tightly against the guide all the time. He tried cutting just half the second time, reversing it and cutting from the other end, but the cuts didn’t exactly meet, although that didn’t make the pieces unusable. They just didn’t look nice. Eventually he got the knack and found placing a shim between the wood that had already been cut to keep them separate made cutting easier. He stopped for lunch when all the wood he needed for the cold room was cut then he swept up as much of the sawdust as he could. ‘I’ll stand the saw on one of the tarpaulins in future. That’d make it much easier to tidy up.’

He carried all the wood to the cold room after lunch and used a carbide bit to drill holes in the concrete block walls, then long screws to fasten the inner shelf uprights to pieces of wood he had hammered into those holes. Fastening the outer shelf uprights to the ones he’d installed by nailing on the cross pieces was much easier but the job still took all afternoon.

Saturday morning Tom cut the shelf plywood into lengths. They were easy to install; they just needed to be laid on the cross pieces. The six inch widths that would be used to hold cans and bottles of food and other small items were put up first. The wider shelves that would hold crates or boxes of carrots and beets and cases of wine, wine he hoped to make for himself one day, were put up last. Six banks of these shelves seemed many more than he’d ever use but he might as well use up the space.

As soon as he opened the door to the greenhouse Sunday morning Tom knew he’d have to redesign the air vents. The floor on the lake side of the greenhouse was wet and there was a puddle in the corner next to the wall that separated the greenhouse from the shed. He opened the door to the shed and found the same thing had happened there. Wind had blown rain through the slots. He should have known that would happen, the flaps should have been wider. He should have used the full width of the plank, not cut them in half. Luckily he still had several so he fetched the steps and crowbar and removed the existing flaps from both ends of the building.

It didn’t take long to cut new flaps from the boards and nail them into place. This time he made six flaps and they lay closer to each other. ‘That should do it. I’ll screen the hole before installing a fan. And I’ll have to run a hydro cable here but that can wait until next year.’

Tom cut the supports and plywood to make the shelves for the greenhouse and shed in the afternoon and left them in the garage. It was much easier cleaning up with most of the sawdust on the plastic tarpaulin but he wondered where to put it. Remembering that green vegetation in a compost heap needed carbon to break it down he dumped it into a garbage bag.

The shelves for the greenhouse, the shed and the bench in the greenhouse were in place by Wednesday noon. Tom then turned to the garage. Here he made and fastened shelves along the house-side wall of the garage that were wide enough to hold the strong cardboard boxes he’d been collecting. Every time a load of wood was delivered he’d store it in the boxes and keep them on the shelves. He’d never have to collect the wood from outside and, as Harry had told him, he’d be able to store more than a half-cord of wood there. Thursday night Tom was finished. Several two-by-eights remained, these he would use to make a work bench along the lake side wall in the garage. He stacked it against that wall and swept the floor.

He debated travelling to Ottawa that night as he showered. He was tired and decided to go early the next day so he could wash and dry his clothes and the sheets and pillow cases before collecting his mother. He’d buy the yoghurt and cereal she liked from the supermarket together with more food for himself on the way to collect her. She was ready when he arrived and he placed her small suitcase in the back of the wagon.

Hilda was impressed by Tom’s bungalow as she was shown around the place but asked him why he’d not just had a cottage built.

“Harry Gregory, my architect and main contractor, explained it would not cost much more than a cottage to build but would fetch much more when I sold it.”

“I see. Now that you’ve got a place like this I know you’ll be moving here. I had hoped you’d stay in Ottawa.”

“Don’t worry, mom, I’ll come and see you every week or two.”

“That’s not as often as you did before, but I guess I’ll have to live with it. You have to do what you want to do. What are you going to call it?”

“I don’t know. Any suggestions?”

“‘My Place’?”

“Certainly not! It’ll have to be better than that.”

“Then come up with one. It needs a name. Can’t call it ‘The Bungalow’ all the time.”

“Yes, mom. I’ll try.”

Tom and his mother had a pizza he collected from Portland that night and he booked a table for two at The Cove in Westport for the following night. They ate breakfast inside, for it was chilly, but had lunch of ham sandwiches and a salad using lettuce, onions, carrots, broccoli and tomatoes from the garden, on the deck. After a rest they drove to Westport and walked around the downtown streets, looking for people they might know rather than inspecting the windows of the shops. They found someone eventually. They had sat on the bench by the dock and after a while a man joined them. It turned out that he had attended the same elementary school as Tom.

“Did you know Lenny Jackson?” Tom asked. “He was my best friend.”

“Yes, I did. He was killed about thirty years ago. Knocked off his bicycle by a truck, somewhere near Perth.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that. We lost touch when we moved to Ottawa.”

They talked no more and the man called the dog that had been curled up under a bush and walked away.

They saw no one they remembered at the restaurant. It was crowded and they felt they were being rushed so they didn’t order coffee and drove home.

“It’s not the same, Tom. I wouldn’t want to live there now. It’ll not be the same for you, either. You can’t live in the past. You’ll have to make new friends.”

“Yes, I guess so. Trouble is, how? Most of those living near me only come in the summer. I do know Bob and Jack, they’re the men I go fishing with.”

“You’ll have to talk to the people who stay here during the winter. I’m sure you’ll find someone.”

Driving home after returning his mother to Ottawa on Sunday Tom searched for a name to give his bungalow. ‘What is important to me?’ he asked. ‘The name should relate to me, a desire, a place I like, a destination, something like that. I want to return to country living. It was so enjoyable when I was growing up. Here at Last? No. My Goal? The goal one wants to achieve when solving a problem? That was important a few years ago. And still is, I guess. How about Target? No, can’t have that, it’s a store. Anyway, what is my target? Dammed if I know now. Just to retire. Then what? Maybe the place should be called What For since I’ve no idea what I’ll be looking for in the future. What For? Whatfor? That’s not too bad. Whatfor. Maybe that’s what I’ll call it.’

Monday morning Tom made the garage bench and added four six-inch wide shelves on one side of the window and fastened a perforated sheet of ply to the other side. He’d hang his tools on the ply and put things like his plane, nails and screws on the shelves. He took out his lists and crossed off the last thing he had to make and added ‘bench vice’ to the list of things he should buy.

After lunch he made another list of things to do: put up the Ikea shelves (when raining?), collect the scrap wood from the greenhouse and put on garage shelves, test woodstove, garage opener (install myself?), run hydro to greenhouse (how?), paint caravan roof. As he did this he added to his purchase list: garage opener, roof sealant, fan for greenhouse (one for shed as well?), fluorescent lights, hydro wire (kind?), plugs, switches, receptacles. After a short nap he worked in the garden; hoeing, removing the pea vines, cutting another cauliflower, one he’d use to make a cauliflower cheese casserole for supper and picking more tomatoes. He’d have to freeze most of these and the freezer in his fridge was already full. Another thing to buy, a chest freezer. Could he can the tomatoes? No, he didn’t want to do that this year. Maybe his mother would do that next year.

During the next week and a half Tom painted the caravan roof and readied it for winter. He kept the mattress in the downstairs bedroom, it would be dry there. He cut the grass for, what he hoped would be the last time, running the motor afterwards until the tank and carburettor was dry. He also figured out a safe and cheap way to run electricity to the greenhouse. He’d buy a roll of twelve gauge hydro cable, run it through a plastic pipe which he’d bury a foot deep with a six-inch layer of stones on top, cover that with soil and grass it, and just plug it in the hydro outlet by the basement door when he needed electricity in the greenhouse. He could do all that without a permit or an inspection. And he devised a way to get the cable through the pipe; he’d push a wire through it first then use the wire to pull the cable through.

Pushing the wire through the pipe wasn’t as easy as he thought and he had to cut the pipe into four lengths to manage it but eventually the cable ran the whole length. He laid the cabled pipe along the ground between the hydro plug on the bungalow’s back wall and the narrow wall between the two doors in the greenhouse-shed and used that to guide his digging. It took two days to dig the trench. To help drain any water that soaked down towards the pipe he laid it on a three inch layer of stone and sealed each joint where the plastic pipe had been cut with duct tape and covered that with a thick layer of silicone seal. Another three inch layer of stone covered the pipe and some of the removed dirt and the removed grass layer replaced on top. Drilling a hole through the wall, installing hydro boxes in both the greenhouse and the shed was the easiest part of the job. After testing that everything worked he hung the fluorescent light fixtures and connected them to switches by each door.

Friday afternoon Tom put boxes of vegetables and his washing in the car. He finished the cottage pie and cauliflower casserole for supper then drove to Gananoque. He hoped that Jenny would be present. He didn’t see her when he sat down and thought she wouldn’t be coming. He felt disappointed, for he wanted to tell her what Dr Sewell and Peter had said. As he made his way out during the interval he found her sitting next to the aisle at the back of the theatre.

“Oh, you’re here. I thought you weren’t coming.”

“Letty has food poisoning. She said she would be well enough to come tonight but when I called around to collect her she thought it better if she stayed at home. So I was late arriving and the usher told me to sit here so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. Want to have a drink? It’s my turn to buy.”

They found a spot where they could sit with their glasses and Tom told Jenny how he had been exercising his brain after hearing what Peter had told him.

“I’ve been thinking that Dr Sewell must be right; life must evolve and must get smarter so that’s probably the goal one should aim for when trying to solve moral problems. You see it can cover all kind of situations. Genocide, the topic we discussed earlier, is wrong because it would kill many who might still contribute much to life’s evolution, especially people like scientists, musicians, technologists, teachers, really everybody. Same goes for abortion. It must be wrong, for one doesn’t know how the unborn child might contribute to life’s evolution when he or she grows up.”

“Not always, surely, Tom. What if the mother was, say, a twelve or thirteen year old girl who had been raped after her parents had been killed and there was no one left to help her? What chance would the child have under conditions like that?”

“You may be right. Perhaps there are situations where abortion is okay. What about euthanasia? I think that must be okay.”

“If the person was suffering greatly and was terminally ill, you mean. Okay, then what if that person was just on the verge of discovering something wonderful, some new discovery, something that would help life evolve to become even smarter? Wouldn’t it be better if that person didn’t die?”

“Ah, that’s an exception. Surely such a person would strive to continue living until his or her discovery was finalised.”

“Yes, that’s my point. There will always be exceptions. But your idea of using ‘contributing to life’s evolution’ seems to have some merit. I think that that should be your next mental exercise task; round it out. Think of lots of moral problems and see if you could use that target when looking for a solution. We should go in now. Want to sit in Letty’s place next to me?”

“Yes, please.”

They made their way back to the seats as the lights went down. At the end of the show Tom told Jenny that he’d be at the next one and perhaps he’d have something to tell her then.

“I won’t be here Tom. I’m going to England to see my brother. You’ll have to tell me next year.”

“Oh, okay. I will. Well, have a safe trip. I hope the weather will be fine.”

“It usually is in September. When you’re retired that’s often the best month to travel, kids are back at school, not so many people travelling and the fares are cheaper.”

“I’ll remember that. Bye Jenny.”

“Bye, Tom.”

He thought about Jenny’s suggestion as he drove to Ottawa. In a way he was glad he wouldn’t have to report progress next month, he’d be busy with school work. He’d just keep the task in the back of his mind and think about it when he remembered.

Saturday, after cutting his mother’s grass, Tom took her to their Thai restaurant and told her what he had been doing since she left.

“You like making things then Tom? You never used to. How do you know what to do?”

“Reading books, watching television shows and thinking, I guess. I tell myself that if I make a mistake I’ll try again. Mostly I don’t make any significant mistakes but I start slowly and gradually learn how to do what I want. It keeps me busy and I like that.”

“What will you do when all that kind of thing is finished?”

“Don’t know yet. Garden, fish, read, use the computer.”

“Why not take a course at Queen’s? You used to like learning new things.”

“That’s an idea. Maybe I will. I’ll have to find out what’s available then decide.”

Tom visited Ikea before leaving Ottawa Sunday afternoon and bought a set of shelves and a corner desk, getting them from the same company who made the bookcases so they would match. The bookcases were half full of books now, he’d stacked them when it rained one afternoon. Some of the boxes he’d carried the books in were now full of wood, pieces left over from his building. One day, before closing the bungalow, no, before closing Whatfor, he’d light a fire in the stove and find out how it worked.

There was a letter in the mail that said the staff meeting had been delayed until Friday afternoon. This was good news, for it had originally been scheduled for Wednesday. He spent the week tidying the garden, assembling the desk and book shelves, adding to the list of things he had to buy, a computer chair and a lamp for his desk in particular. Tuesday evening he read the manual for the wood stove and lit it Wednesday morning. It was easy to operate, a lever on the back regulated the amount of air that entered and controlled how hot the fire burnt. Wood could be added from the top or from the front and the ashes fell into a tray at the bottom of the stove. When the ashes were cold he carried the tray to the garage, wondering where to discard them. Undecided, he tipped them into a five-gallon metal pail he had found in the bushes behind the boathouse. He knew that ashes could be used on gardens if they were too acidic and that they could also be used to make soap but he didn’t think that he’d need to do either of those things. But they’d be worth keeping for a while, just in case something came to mind.

 

Chapter Twenty One. School Year. 2004-2005

The staff meeting followed the traditional pattern. Tom was given his usual extra duties plus an extra one, he had to walk the corridors for half an hour before school started as well as during the lunch hours. He didn’t mind, it was an easy task.

Classes began Tuesday, September 7th. There were about seventy more students in the school this year and both of Tom’s two grade nine classes had a few more students. No one suggested forming a Philosophy Club.

He attended the tennis club’s annual dinner Friday, September 24th, instead of going to the Gananoque Playhouse theatre. A modern musical was playing and it didn’t interest him so he didn’t bother to choose another date. He was welcomed at the dinner, even though he hadn’t joined the club that year. Many people knew he would be leaving Ottawa after he retired the following year and wished him good luck. He was even mentioned in the president’s speech, as a long-standing member who had come second in the sixties to seventies tournament the previous year.

Tom closed Whatfor the same weekend, draining the water from the water heater and the pipes, putting antifreeze in the toilets and sinks, checking the kitchen cupboards to see if there were any cans of food that freezing might burst, ensuring the baseboard heaters were turned off and that the windows were closed and locked. The caravan had already been drained and there was nothing to do there. He placed all his garden tools in the shed, planning to buy padlocks the next year. Just before leaving he took several photographs, thinking he should take them every year to keep a record of how things changed.

Hilda Alwen caught the flu towards the end of November. She blamed the weather and having to walk in the cold rain when she shopped downtown. She stayed in bed as much as possible and Tom visited every night, making soup and cooking simple meals for her. Instead of getting better it became pneumonia and her doctor told her that she should move to a retirement home, one where they could look after her properly. Steven’s family stayed at her home for two nights between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and had a Christmas party in her bedroom. She recovered but moved to a retirement home in January and she died there early March.

Tom was the only inheritor apart from the five thousand dollars Hilda gave to her church. He began the task of clearing his mother’s house and finding a real estate agent to sell it. The last Saturday in March he put his father’s chair in the back of his station wagon, then the microwave and small kitchen appliances that he might use, his mother’s good chinaware and all his dad’s tools. He left the pictures, photograph albums and other small items to collect another day. That afternoon he drove the car to Whatfor with a five gallon container of water, a TV dinner, milk and food for breakfast. He would sleep over and return to Ottawa on Sunday.

The roads were clear and he made good time but slowed down when entering the Old Kingston road. It had snowed about five inches two days earlier. Icy rain followed and he was not sure how well the back roads had been cleared. He needn’t have worried, for snowplows had been around even pushing the snow to the other side of driveways so he could turn in and drive to his garage. He left the car outside and started carrying in the tools when he slipped and fell, hurting his knee. He’d overlooked how slippery the layer of ice could be. Easing himself up he took the tools to the back of the garage then began breaking up the ice. It wasn’t difficult but his knee hurt whilst he was doing it and he wasn’t looking forward to carrying in the chair, it would be too easy to step on ice and fall again. Then he remembered the ashes he had taken from the wood stove. ‘I’ll spread them over the path.’ Whether it was the ashes or the fact he’d broken much of the ice layer, he didn’t fall again.

The bungalow was cold and Tom lit the fire as soon as the car was empty and had been driven into the garage. The living area heated first, taking half an hour to reach room temperature, then Tom turned on the blower fan and walked into the bedroom. Soon warm air flowed from the ducts and he smiled. ‘I guess it works. Great idea!’ He didn’t check to see if the warm air was heating the downstairs rooms, his knee still bothered him.

He kept the stove burning all night, putting in more wood when he woke just after two and when he got up at six thirty. Much of the wood he was burning was short pieces of two-by-fours, made from pine. That burned quickly but enough red ashes were left from the other wood that the next load caught fire fairly quickly. The stove was too hot for him to remove the ashes when he left after coffee but he knew that he would save them again in the metal bucket when he cleaned the stove. His knee still hurt, especially when he eased himself into the driver’s seat, but not enough to go to a hospital to have it checked. He was sure he hadn’t broken anything.

The real estate agent, after seeing his mother’s house the next weekend and doing a little research, told Tom that the house should be listed for four hundred and twenty nine thousand, nine hundred dollars, justifying this asking price on the selling price of similar homes in the area and lot size.

“That’s more than I thought it would fetch but I’m glad. Are you sure it’ll fetch that?”

“New owners might add extensions on the garage and the back. Some houses around here have been torn down and a bigger one built on a lot this size. I think the price is justified.”

“I’ve seen two houses in this area torn down. It must cost a lot to do such a thing.”

“The location warrants it, they say. Can you have the house and windows cleaned? They need it.”

“The contents are being auctioned in two weeks, on April 16th, and everything will be moved out by then. It’s hardly worth doing a lot of cleaning before then but I’ll do what I can. If I list it with you, what’s your commission?”

“Six percent.”

“That’s a lot. Can’t you make it lower?”

“We don’t get all of that, the selling agency gets half.”

“Your office will get all of it if you sell it.”

“Yes, but it doesn’t often happen like that. Well, do you want to list it?”

“I guess so. For three months.”

“Right. Then there are some papers to sign. It’ll be on MLS soon after I get back to the office so things might happen any time after that. Do what you can to keep it tidy.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll put a lock box on the door. Do you have a spare key for the house?”

“Yes. Here,” and Tom gave him the one his mother used to carry. “With a lock box any agent can come in here? Will the contents be safe?”

“Oh, yes. Agents will always be with the clients. Don’t worry about that. But if there’s any small and valuable items you might best remove them.”

“I don’t think there is but I’ll have another look.”

Tom spent every evening cleaning and removing extra things he decided to keep. Boxes from the attic were sorted through. Bags of trash holding saved newspapers, worn clothes, underwear, receipts, calendars, old sheets and linen, were left by the curb for the garbage truck to remove. Better linen, clothes that might be used again, things that would not be auctioned were taken to the Salvation Army. Finally he cleaned the windows.

Tom never knew when some agent might want to show the house so he had to tidy up before leaving every time. He was glad when the auctioneers told him on Friday that they’d empty the house the following Tuesday. He checked the house Wednesday evening. It was bare and he felt sad when he locked the door behind him.

He didn’t know whether to attend the auction but finally decided not to. He guessed that some or most of the furniture would fetch much less than he thought it was worth, and even less, after the commission was taken. He received a cheque in the mail, together with a list of items and what they sold for on Friday, April 29th: fifteen thousand, seven hundred and forty two dollars and thirteen cents.

The agent brought Tom an offer for his mother’s house the following Wednesday evening. Someone was willing to buy it for three hundred and seventy thousand dollars. Tom declined and decided against lowering his asking price when the agent suggested he do that.

“You said it was worth four hundred and thirty so I’m sticking to that. At least, until June or July. I’m not in that much hurry to sell.”

He listed his condo for sale the following Saturday, deciding not to use the same agent, who seemed to mostly handle houses and wasn’t very friendly. The Ottawa Citizen showed which agencies specialised in selling condominiums and he chose the biggest one of these. His place, he was told, should be listed for five hundred and seventy thousand. Tom was surprised. His condo was probably a third of the size of his mother’s house and had no garden. But it was in Sandy Hill, a desirable place in Ottawa, near many embassies and big houses with their large gardens. Two weeks later two offers arrived the same evening and, within two hours, Tom had sold it, getting his full asking price, with a closing date of June 30th. That evening he celebrated by going to the Thai restaurant he and his mother loved.

Even with all his future riches, Tom decided to move his furniture himself so he booked a 15 foot U-Haul truck for seven hours, Saturday June 25th, to be picked up at eight o’clock. He hoped that seven hours would be enough time; an hour to load, less than two hours to drive there, an hour to unload and two hours back and an extra hour to be on the safe side. He’d hire two students to help him.

He taught two grade twelve classes that year and Friday, June 17th, the last day before the exams started, Tom told the first class that he wanted to hire two boys to help him move his furniture from his condominium to his bungalow near Portland.

“The move will be on Saturday, June 25th. I guess it will take eight or so hours and I’ll pay a hundred dollars. If anyone’s interested, please see me when the bell goes.”

Four students stayed behind, all reasonably strong looking.

“Well, I’ll only need two. We’ll toss for who goes, okay? I’ll take those who’s coins show heads.”

“What if there’s three or four heads, sir?” asked Al.

“Then you toss again.”

It took four tosses to eliminate two of the boys. The others agreed to show up at Tom’s condominium at eight thirty on the Saturday morning and Tom gave them his phone number.

“Wait outside for me. I’ll be collecting the truck. It’s a U-Haul. And call me if you can’t come. I’m relying on you.”

Tom got up at six on June 25th. He stripped the bed and pushed the sheets, blankets and pillow into a box, then dismantled the bed, leaning the mattress, box spring, frame and bed-head against the wall. That would go in first. The sofa and chairs from the lounge would go next, followed by the chest of drawers, dressing table then the bedside tables. He would work from the biggest to the smallest. The boxes full of stuff from the drawers and kitchen would go next. Fragile things, like his computer and lamps, he’d take later in his station wagon. Half-way through emptying the drawers he remembered that last night was the first of his Playhouse nights. He forgotten all about it. If only he’d remembered he could have phoned and changed the dates. Ah, well, he’d see Jenny next time. And he didn’t have anything to report on his mental task, anyway.

He drank a mug of tea and ate two slices of toast while working then drove to the truck office. He was ten minutes early but they were ready for him. He left his car in the lot then drove the truck to his condominium. At first he drove slowly and carefully but the truck wasn’t difficult to manoeuvre. He parked as closely as he could to the front door, on the same side of the road, three cars down. It was now eight fifteen and he hoped they would be on time. Neither of them had phoned to say they wouldn’t be coming. Joe turned up at eight twenty, followed by Bob at eight thirty.

“Oh, why are you here Bob?” asked Tom. “Al’s supposed to be coming.”

“He had to visit Montreal with his parents and he left last night so he phoned me and asked me to take his place.”

“Oh, he didn’t phone me.”

“I guess he thought it didn’t matter, once I said I could do it.”

“Okay. Well, let’s get to work.”

Tom opened the back of the truck then took the boys to his condo and told them which ones to take first.

“I’ll mostly be in the truck, tying things to the rails or putting blankets between them. The bed, mattress and sofa will be the hardest and I’ll help with those. Okay? Right, let’s go.”

It took just over an hour to load the truck and Tom realised he could have rented a twelve footer instead. He thought about putting some of the smaller boxes in the empty spaces but decided against doing that; they’d be safer in the wagon.

They stopped at Tim Hortons in Smiths Falls for coffee and a dozen donuts, the boys eating three each and Tom having one. Unloading and leaving was finished by twelve thirty and Tom drove the truck into Portland and collected the two large pizzas and cans of pop he had ordered twenty minutes earlier. They ate them and finished the donuts while driving back to Ottawa for he didn’t want to be late. He needn’t have been worried for he arrived at the U-Haul place with twenty minutes to spare. He paid for the rental with his credit card and gave each of the boys one hundred and twenty dollars, saying he was very pleased with how they had moved his stuff. He then drove each of them home in his car.

His condo was now almost empty with just the boxes and items he’d move in the wagon packed in one corner of the living room. He’d spent the next few nights in a sleeping bag on the air mattress. There was milk, butter, some eggs and cheese in the fridge and a frying pan sat on the stove. He’d live on cereal or toast for breakfast, have sandwiches for lunch and eat supper in restaurants. He sat in the one kitchen chair that remained, put his feet on one of the boxes and tried to read the newspaper. He’d have to cancel his subscription next week. And the subscription to his telephone, television and internet accounts. He jotted these things on a piece of paper. And hydro, was he to do that or did his lawyer handle that part? He couldn’t remember. He felt tired and laid down on the air mattress and slept for half an hour.

Tom felt more energetic when he woke so he carried some of the boxes and lamps to his car then placed some of the pictures on top. ‘Two more loads should do it,’ he thought.

He drove to Whatfor Sunday morning, taking it easily, although he wasn’t really worried about anything being broken. He left them in the car while he repositioned the furniture the boys had placed in the rooms, moving his double bed against the wall in the basement bedroom and placing the chest of drawers and the dressing table in various positions to maximise the space in the room. He left his sofa in the large basement area where he had told the boys to leave it. He probably shouldn’t have kept it but he might make this into a downstairs play room one day. It was a good parking spot for unneeded furniture and later that day he stored three lamps there.

Once finished, Tom opened the basement door and walked towards the garden. It was messy and needed work. The old tomatoes vines should be removed and the garden dug, fertilised and raked. He’d do that next week, after everything had been moved from Ottawa. All his tools were untouched in the shed but Tom knew he should add padlocks. ‘Time to make another shopping list. I must get a clothes washer and dryer. And what else was there? Oh, yes, a chest freezer. Must be more things but can’t remember them.’ He added ‘Padlocks’ then returned the paper and pen to his pocket.

Seeing Jack in his garden as he walked back to the bungalow Tom joined him.

“Hi Jack. Here to cut the grass?”

“I should do it, I suppose. Just having a look around. I’m going to sell the place, Tom.”

“Sell it? Whatever for?”

“Doesn’t have the same attraction with Betty gone. And I’d like to help Ann and Peter buy a house. They might as well have some money now, when they need it, rather than when I’m gone.”

“You’re going to miss fishing. Sure you’re doing the right thing?”

“I’ve been thinking about it all winter. I got an estimate last week and I decided yesterday to sell.”

“Well you can always come fishing with me. I’ll be moving in on Wednesday and will be living here permanently.”

“That’s right, you’ll be retired then. Hey, Tom. Do you want to buy my boat? Boat and motor?”

“I might. How much do you want for them?”

“How about fifteen hundred? None of it’s new but you know how well the motor runs. I’ll throw in the fish finder too. I won’t need it either.”

“Okay, yes, that’s a good deal. I’ll buy them.”

“Then we’ll move it to your boathouse. Want to do that now?”

“I haven’t got my check book here, Jack.”

“That’s all right. You can give it to me next time I’m here. As you said, I’ll have to keep the grass cut. You open the boathouse doors and I’ll bring it around.”

The floor of Tom’s boathouse slopped upwards from the lake and a grove along the centre showed where boats had been dragged in and it wasn’t too hard for them to pull Jack’s boat inside.

“Do you want to keep your fishing tackle here, Jack?” asked Tom.

“No. I’ll probably fish in Kingston. There are several good places for that.”

“Call me if you want to go after lake trout.”

“All right. Give me your number.’

They exchanged phone numbers and Tom said, “Want to have a beer? Or lunch? I’ve got bread and cheese.”

“Yes, that’d be nice.”

Jack looked around Tom’s bungalow, laughed when Tom told him he called the place Whatfor and wondered why it was called that.

“‘Cos I don’t know what I’m looking for, now I’m retired,” said Tom.

“Why do you need something to look for?”

“Oh, long story. Need a target if I want to solve the world’s moral questions, something like that.”

“Sounds like you want to become a preacher, Tom, thinking like that.”

“No, no. It’s just a problem I began thinking about when students at school asked what was ‘right.’ How we knew what was the ‘morally right’ thing to do. Mainly the non-religious ones asked that.”

“I see. Never thought about it. I just do what seems appropriate.”

“So do I, Jack. Another beer?”

“No, thanks. I’d better cut the grass then take a few more things home. I’ll be selling the place with all its furniture. The agent said some people like to buy places like that, all ready to move in. They won’t like the bed though, it’s not the best and needs a new mattress. I’ll give you a call when I’m coming again. Probably in two weeks, when the grass will need cutting again.”

Tom tidied up then drove back to Ottawa. He’d cut his grass Thursday or Friday, not today. However, the grass at his mother’s house needed cutting so Tom did that Monday night, using her lawn mower that he had left in the garage. Like Jack, he’d have to return to Ottawa every couple of weeks just to cut the grass. He wished he could sell the place and thought about lowering the price while walking backwards and forwards with the mower.

He returned to Whatfor with another load of filled boxes Tuesday afternoon, as soon as he could get away from school, stopping in Smiths Falls to select and buy a washer and dryer and arranging for them to be delivered on Friday morning.

Tom and Vera Button, a history teacher who was also retiring that year, were given farewell gifts at the end of the school year’s last staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Vera received an elaborate vanity travelling case. Tom was given an electric trolling motor, for several of the staff knew that he liked fishing. In thanking them, Tom laughed and told them it was just what he wanted, for he’d just bought a boat!

Thursday morning he packed the last things in his car, locked the condo door, drove to his lawyer’s place and gave him the keys. It began to rain as he drove to Whatfor and that changed his plans. He’d hoped to work on the garden, for it was already more than a month late in planting. It wasn’t a heavy rain but enough to keep him indoors.

He opened the garage door, reminding himself to buy a garage door opener, and drove the car in. After lunch he unloaded the boxes and installed the computer. ‘I’ll have to get the internet and television put in next.’ As soon as he had said that his cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello. Is that Mr. Alwen? It’s Tommy Labelle here.”

“Hello Mr. Labelle. Have you got an offer on the house?”

“No, I’m afraid not. I’m calling to remind you that your listing expires on Saturday. I hope you want to re-list with us.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Labelle. It might be better if I listed with another agency.”

“It’s your asking price, I’m afraid. I think you should lower it. We did get one offer, remember?”

“Yes, for three hundred and seventy. You said it was worth four thirty so I’d like something around that figure.”

“I don’t think you’ll get it now, houses sell best in the spring. How about listing it for four hundred thousand? It might move at that price.”

“I’ll think about it. If I decide to do that I’ll call you.”

“Do it before Saturday, please, Mr. Alwen. If you like I’ll bring the papers to you in Portland. One of your condo neighbours told me you’d moved there when I visited.”

“Don’t come until I say I’ll list it again. I have to think about it.”

“All right, sir.”

Tom went upstairs and poured himself a small shot of Glenmorangie, added a little water then sat in his armchair, looking at the rain running down the picture window. ‘Four hundred minus six percent. That’d be three hundred and seventy six thousand. A fair cry from four thirty. But I wasn’t going to get all that, just, let’s see,’ and he used the pad of paper he kept on the side table to work out what six percent of four thirty came to. ‘Twenty five thousand, eight hundred dollars, meaning I’d get about four hundred and four thousand. So I’d lose about twenty eight thousand. Several months pay! I should have been a real estate agent.’

He decided to sleep on it, but was already sure that he’d have to lower his price.

The washer and dryer were installed early Friday and Tom arranged for the internet and television to be installed. Following that, he dug the garden and thought about re-listing the house. ‘No. I won’t. I’ll list it myself and save the commission. But how can I do that since I’m living here? I could put a sign in the garden with details and asking price and my telephone number and they could call me. That would work.’ He thought about the problems associated with doing that while he dug but couldn’t decide what to do. ‘I’ll leave it until I decide, there’s no hurry. I’m sure Alwen will leave the sign out and call me if someone asks about it.’

He finished digging that day. It wasn’t easy for he tried to double dig but the soil was heavy. He knew that putting the top five inches of soil under the bottom five inches would improve the land but wished it hadn’t rained on Thursday. Saturday he sowed the seeds remaining from last year, planting them in a new plot, then he drove to Baker’s Feed Store in Forfar to buy more seeds and some fertiliser. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell plants so he’d have to drive to Smiths Falls or another town to get them. He chose Smiths Falls and drove directly there.

It was busy in town but he found a nice restaurant and had a soup and salad lunch then bought six tomato plants and a dozen cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and eggplants. ‘It’d be good if I can grow eggplants. I love them when I eat Chinese or Thai. Have to find out how to cook them though.’ He planted all of them as soon as he returned, running a hose from his bungalow to water them. He added, ‘sump pump and pipe’ to his list of things to buy, with a note besides it, ‘Would it lift water ten feet high?’ That was how high he estimated the garden was above the lake level.

 

Chapter Twenty Two. 2005.

Tom was washing the breakfast dishes Sunday morning when his cell phone chimed.

“Hello?”

“Is that you, Mr. Alwen? It’s Dennis, Dennis Peal. I’m living in the same condominium you lived in, on the third floor. I was told last night that you have a house for sale on Pleasant Park. Is that right?”

“Yes, my mother’s house. Are you looking for a house?”

“My wife’s mother is looking for one in that area. She’s moving to Ottawa to be near to Lyn. If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you want for it? Some of the houses around there sell for five hundred thousand or more, she can’t afford that.”

“Four hundred and thirty thousand. Is that too much for her?”

“It’s still a bit high. Can you make it lower?”

“I don’t know. Tell you what, my listing expired yesterday. I think that means I can sell directly to you without paying a realtor. If so, I’d accept four hundred. Have you dealt with Ottawa’s Best real estate agency?”

“No, never heard of them. My friend told me the man who asked him where you were last week had that name on the side of his car. When asked why he wanted to know he said you have a house for sale and he had to contact you. My friend knew I was looking for a house and he asked where it was and was told on Pleasant Park.”

“The man must have been my agent. So you’ve never dealt with him? And your wife’s mother, she’s never dealt with that agency?”

“No, we’ve been to one and looked through their MLS listings but must have overlooked your house. Perhaps the photos put us off, I don’t know. Can we see it?”

“Sure. When?”

“How about today? If we like it we’ll tell Lyn’s mother and she’ll come sometime next week.”

“I could be there at eleven.”

“All right. What’s the address?”

Tom told him where it was and changed into decent clothes then set off to Ottawa. Once there he checked carefully around the house and garage. He was pulling a few weeds out of the front beds when a car drove into the driveway. A young man and a woman got out.

“Mr. Alwen?”

“Yes, you must be Dennis. I think I’ve seen you once or twice in the elevator.”

“Yes. This is my wife, Lyn. It’s an old house then. That’s probably why we ignored it before.”

“It was built around 1910, I think. Take a look around outside and let me know if you want to see inside.” As soon as he said that Tom knew that was not a good way to sell a house. He should have conducted them around and pointed out all the good features. This way they might just say ‘no, thanks,’ and drive away. Damn.

They were a bit non-committal when they returned from the back garden. Tom, to make up for his past mistakes, had opened the front door and stood beside it.

“Come inside. You should see what it’s like. There’s no furniture, I’m afraid. You’ll just have to imagine furniture being in its place.”

Tom switched on the lights in the hall, something he should have done earlier he guessed, then showed them the living and dining rooms, kitchen, the family room and powder room then took them upstairs.

“The trees and clouds are making it darker than usual but you can see how it looks. The basement’s unfinished, I’m afraid.”

“Well, it’s got everything she needs,” said Lyn. “I like the hardwood floors everywhere. She doesn’t have use for a finished basement. What do you think, Dennis. Think she’d like to see it?”

“I don’t know. Four hundred thousand is still a bit high, don’t you think?”

“Yes, but this is a nice area and close to the hospital.”

“The roof, Mr. Alwen, does it need a new one?”

“It was re-shingled six or seven years ago, with twenty five year shingles. It’s fine. The water heater is a rental one so it’s no problem. The furnace was new two years ago, a high-efficiency one.”

“What’s the square footage, room sizes and city taxes?”

“All that’s on the listing page. I have one with me. Take a look and copy anything down but it’s the only copy I have so you can’t keep it. I’ve some paper in my car if you need some.”

“No, I’ve got some here.”

Dennis made some notes then handed the sheet back to Tom.

“We’ll talk to her,” he said, “then call you and tell you whether or not she wants to see it. That’d be best, wouldn’t it, Lyn.”

“Yes. I’d like to take some photos of each room to show her. Do you mind, Mr. Alwen?”

“No, of course not. Take all you need.”

Lyn took her cell phone from her bag and began taking pictures. Dennis walked back through each room, opening the closet doors and looking out of the windows. Tom stood aside and wondered what else he should do to make them like the place.

They said goodbye ten minutes later and Tom didn’t know what to think. Was this a wasted morning? Probably. Then he’d better make the most of his time in Ottawa. He took his shopping list from his back pocket, ‘Canadian Tire, they’ll have most of it.’

It cost him over four hundred and fifty dollars to get everything; a garage door opener, a submersible sump pump, capable of lifting over twenty feet the box said, and a large roll of one and a half inch diameter plastic pipe. He already had enough heavy duty extension cord to reach from the greenhouse to the sump pump plug. He also bought a ten foot length of strong half-inch wire mesh planning to make a cage to go around the pump to keep weeds out.

He had lunch in a pub, fish and chips, thinking it was time he did some fishing and hoping Jack would visit soon, and thought about what he’d do when he got home as he finished his beer. ‘It’s likely to rain so I’m just going to read. If it’s raining tomorrow I’ll install the garage opener. I hope that’s not difficult.’

After reading the manual Monday morning Tom began installing the garage opener. He immediately ran into a snag, the trusses didn’t line up with the centre of the door. He solved that by mounting the opener on two two-by-fours running perpendicular to the trusses. He later had a second problem, he wasn’t strong enough. The door, as it was raised, was assisted by two springs and these had to be tightly wound up. He eventually managed to do that by fastening an extension spanner onto the winding rod to lengthen it and make it easier to twist. It took a while to get the right tension but he was finished shortly before one. Lunch was a sandwich, he didn’t have the energy to make anything more elaborate. He sat in his chair afterwards and read, dozing off several times. The rain continued, tapering off in the evening.

He made a two-foot diameter cylinder, closed at one end, out of the wire mesh he had bought on Tuesday morning. Wire from some coat hangers held the sump pump in the middle of the cylinder and he fastened a five-foot length of the plastic pipe to the pump’s exit pipe and ran it and the hydro cord through a hole cut in the side of the cylinder. He then covered the top of the cylinder with more mesh. The unit was now ready to try.

He’d took it, the roll of plastic pipe and a connecting sleeve to the lake below his garden then connected the pipe and pushed the pump into the lake. It sank but wasn’t completely submerged so he pushed it our further with his hoe. He uncoiled the roll, taking the pipe up the slope to his garden and putting stones on the pipe to hold it in place. There was about thirty feet more pipe than he needed. He fastened the pipe to a short metal stake driven into the ground and left the unused part coiled up by it’s side. The hydro cord from the sump pump was only thirty feet long so he couldn’t do much more that day. He’d have to use an extension cord and run it to the box in the greenhouse.

Tom’s phone rang that evening. It was Lyn’s mother, Mrs. Strickland.

“Lyn’s photos give me a good idea of what the house is like, Mr. Alwen, and I’d like to see it. Can I do that on Saturday? I’ll be in Ottawa then.”

“Yes, of course, Mrs. Strickland. What time?”

“How about eleven o’clock?”

“Yes, that’s fine. We’ll meet at the house?”

“All right. I’ll have Lyn and Dennis with me.”

“That’s fine. See you then.”

Jack’s car was in his driveway when Tom returned from a walk Wednesday afternoon so knocked on the front door of his cottage.

“Hi, Jack. You here long?”

“Hi Tom. Don’t know. Maybe, see how I feel. Long enough to do some fishing if you’re up to it.”

“Ah, that reminds me. I haven’t paid you for the boat. I’ll go and get my cheque book.”

“No hurry. What are you doing for supper? I thought I’d get a pizza in Portland. Interested? We could get some minnows while we were there too.”

“Yes, okay. I’ll come over in half an hour. Want to eat it there or bring it back?”

“It’s better when it’s warm so let’s eat there.”

They ordered the pizza and ate it on the picnic table behind the store. The owner of the waterfront bait shop came out of the house when they drove into the yard, walked over to the hut where he kept the minnows and sold them a dozen four inch ones which he put in a bucket for they had forgotten to bring Jack’s minnow pail. Promising to bring it back the next time they were in Portland they drove to Whatfor, put the fish in the minnow pail and hung it off the corner of Tom’s boathouse.

“They should be further out, where there’s a bit of a current. Might be better if we hung them from my dock. Are you going to build a dock, Tom?”

“Hadn’t thought about it. Yes, I suppose so.”

“Well, I guess these would be okay where they are for the night. Let’s go first thing tomorrow. About seven?”

“Sounds good. I’ll have to be back before ten, the internet and television man is coming between then and noon. Want a beer?”

“I thought you’d never ask!”

It was cool when they ran the boat to the north shore first thing next day. Jack used his downrigger and Tom his light line, betting five dollars that he’d catch a trout first.

“They’ll be quite deep this time of the year, about fifty feet down. Let me handle the motor, Tom. I know it best,” said Jack.

They were using Jack’s ten horse power motor rather than Tom’s new electric motor. He hadn’t even taken it out of it’s box. They started moving and let their lines out on either side of the boat until they were deep enough and cruised slowly where the map showed the deep water lay.

“Just about here is a good spot, Tom. Yep! What did I tell you, I’ve got one already. Feels like a three or four pound one. Great. You use the net, will you?”

Tom quickly reeled in his own line and picked up the long-handled net then waited for Jack to bring the fish to the surface. Once it came close enough to the boat he slipped the net under the fish and brought it into the boat. Jack hit it firmly on the head with his cudgel.

“Okay, you win. Here’s your five dollars,” Tom said, handing them over.

“Thanks. You’d better get a downrigger, Tom! Look at the fish, it’s big enough for two to eat. So how about having supper with me tonight?”

That fish was the only one they caught that morning and they motored back about nine thirty, tying the boat to Jack’s dock.

“Why not leave it here, Tom. Until you make your own dock. It’ll be okay until someone buys the place.”

“Any offers?”

“No, not yet, but it’s only been on the market for a week. How about your mother’s place? Sold it yet?”

“No. I’m hoping to hear from someone this week.”

“Your agent?”

“No, the listing ran out and I haven’t given it to anyone else yet. A man from my condominium called me about it and I’m hoping I can sell the place myself. Save the realtor’s fees if I can do that.”

“Well good luck. Hey, a van just drove into your place. It’s probably the installers. I’ll clean the fish. See you at six, then.”

There were two men in the van. After talking to Tom and checking that they were at the right place they got busy, joining a cable to the one that ran along the road, mounting it on the side of the bungalow then running it to a feeder box on the wall. Another line ran from that to a box in the basement from which cables to various outlets, both television and internet, were already wired. They used their monitors to check that everything was working properly then removed Tom’s rabbit wire antenna and screwed in a cable.

“Try it now,” said one of the men.

Tom turned on the TV and flicked from one channel to another.

“You’ll have to set it up first. Want us to do that?”

“No, I’ll do it later. How about my computer, will that be on if I connect it to the internet?”

“Yes. If you have any problems phone our office and someone will sort it out. You shouldn’t have any. Okay, sign here and we’ll be off.”

The first thing Tom did after they left was wash his hands. Then he made a pot of coffee and sat down to set-up his television. He now received about thirty channels and watched some of them until it was time to make lunch, a shrimp salad today.

In the afternoon he connected his computer and switched it on., remembering as he did so that he should buy an uninterruptable power supply. It was fun to get on the internet and check his email box. There were five entries, what seemed like spams, in it and nothing else. He emailed Stephen to let him know he was now connected.

They fished again Friday morning, catching nothing, even though Jack insisted they stay out for four hours. This was a bit too much for Tom. It was a hot morning and rather dull, trolling backwards and forwards with no action. They left when the last minnow was gone and Tom said he didn’t want to fish for bass in the evening.

“You take the boat if you want to go, Jack.”

“Okay. When are you going to put on your new motor? Got a battery for it yet?”

“Oh, no, I haven’t. I’ll have to get one.” He added that to his shopping list. There was no trouble spending money these days, it seemed. Good thing he now had plenty, although most of it from his condo sale had been used to buy back the stocks he’d sold years ago to pay for the bungalow and to buy some GICs. He’d kept twenty thousand in his savings account so he could buy things like the battery.

Friday afternoon Tom cut the grass. It was so much easier now he had a ride-on mower. The pipe from the sump pump was awkward. He’d have to bury it but not deep, just a couple of inches would be enough. He keep the electrical cord at the edge of the lake by the pump so that didn’t get in the way when he was mowing and unroll it when he wanted to use the pump. That’d be much easier than burying it.

Putting the mower away Tom remembered he had a pile of washing to do. He did that then ran the first batch through the washer. An hour later he put it in the dryer and watched as it began to cycle, wondering if it was levelled properly. It seemed to be, for it didn’t wobble, but a minute later the metal exhaust pipe fell off the wall outlet. ‘Good thing I was here,’ he thought, as he fetched a metal clothes hanger and twisted it around the pipe to hold it in place. ‘Another thing to buy; two metal straps.’

Mrs. Strickland, Dennis and Lyn drove up shortly after Tom parked his car in the driveway to his mother’s house. As before, he showed Mrs. Strickland the front and back garden first then let Lyn show her around the inside of the house. Dennis wanted to see the basement and Tom took him downstairs and showed him the furnace, the washer and dryer and the hot water tank. They then returned to the kitchen and waited for the others to come downstairs.

“I quite like the house, Mr. Alwen. Were you satisfied with what’s in the basement, Dennis?”

“Yes, it’s just as described. Nothing to worry about there.”

“Well, Mr. Alwen. I’m interested in buying it but there’s some trouble. Can we go somewhere to discuss it. I’d like a coffee. Is there a Timmy’s around here?”

“Sure, three blocks away. I’ll lock the house then you can follow me.”

Once they had mugs of coffee in front of them Mrs. Strickland explained her problem.

“It’s money, Mr. Alwen. I’ve got to sell my house first. I just put it on sale and haven’t had any offers yet. Could you give me a month’s option to buy your house? If I don’t sell my house by then I’ll have to reduce my asking price. I want to sell it this year and the best time to sell has already passed. What do you think?”

“An option to buy? Buy for how much, Mrs. Strickland?”

“You told Lyn and Dennis four hundred thousand. Can you make it less? My house is listed for forty four so I wouldn’t get much more than forty if it sold and I might have to lower the price if there’s an offer.”

“I can’t go below four hundred, Mrs. Strickland,” said Tom, feeling he was being pressured and not liking it. “Tell you what, I’ll sell you an option for five thousand for a month. You’d lose that money if you didn’t buy. I’d let you have it for three hundred and ninety five thousand if you buy it. That’s as low as I’m willing to go.”

“You’ll give me the five thousand back then?”

“Yes. Three hundred and ninety five thousand in all.”

“Okay, I’d do that. Can we put it in writing?”

“Sure. I’ll get some paper from the car.”

“I have some here, Mr. Alwen. And my cheque book.”

They wrote out a satisfactory agreement and copied it then signed both copies and Mrs. Strickland gave Tom a cheque.

“I’ll be depositing it this afternoon Mrs. Strickland. That’ll be okay?”

“Oh, yes. I know there is enough to cover it. Well, let’s hope for the best. I’ll phone you as soon as I know what’s happening.”

“Oh, Mrs. Strickland. What closing date will you ask for?”

“As soon as possible but it will depend on what my buyer wants too.”

“There’ll be another problem if it’s not before the end of the month. You’ll need another option and I might have someone else who’s wanting to buy my mother’s place by then.”

“Yes, I can see that. We’ll just have to hope for the best.”

Tom waved goodbye as they drove away from the coffee house wondering a bit if he’d been had. Could Mrs. Strickland have been manipulating him to lower the price by five thousand or was she really waiting for her house to sell? ‘It can’t be like that. She seemed to be honest. I’m sure Lyn and Dennis wouldn’t have conspired with her to do that. Well, I hope she finds a buyer, or I do, soon.’

After a ham and cheese roll for lunch at Timmy’s, as Mrs. Strickland called it, Tom headed to the nearest Canadian Tire store where he bought a twelve volt car battery, a battery charger, metal bands for the dryer pipe and the other items he needed.

After passing through Lombardy Tom noticed a sign for an auction sale pointing up a side road. He decided to take a look and followed the road until he came to a string of cars parked besides a farm. He found a spot, locked the car and walked up the lane to join a crowd that stood around a farm wagon on which a man stood, asking for offers for the pile of scrap metal that lay twenty yards away. It seemed that Tom had arrived near the end of the sale. After dropping the asking price from ten dollars to five someone bid two and it was accepted. The man held up a piece of card and the number on it was copied down by a young girl standing next to the auctioneer. A collection of plastic pipes was next and sold for seven dollars and the sale ended. Before stepping down the man thanked everybody for attending and reminded them of the sale to be held next weekend on Cedar Valley road. The group, mostly of what Tom believed to be farmers together with a few villagers or weekend cottagers, drifted apart and he walked over to see what two dollars had fetched. Besides old implement wheels, pieces of old machinery were seven, eight-foot long metal stakes. ‘I could use those to make a fence around the garden.’ He looked at the plastic pipes, ‘and those too. I better go to some of these sales.’

Emails had been passing backwards and forwards between Steven and Tom, arranging when they would arrive and leave, and things Lilly that would like to do. Her birthday would be in a week’s time and they would drive up Saturday morning and stay until the following Friday. Fishing was one of Lilly’s top priorities, ice cream cake for her birthday tea and a campfire with marshmallows. The ice cream cake would be the most difficult for Tom to arrange and Steven said they’d buy one in Kingston. It would survive the forty minutes drive to Whatfor in the ice box and Lilly could choose which one she liked. Tom would buy the hamburger, buns, relish, marshmallows, wine and beer.

He spent much of the week preparing for their visit, cutting the grass after burying the pipe from the sump pump. The pump performed as he hoped, delivering plenty of water to the garden. The most difficult part of watering this way was that the pipe from the sump pump was too thick to bend. He’d have to buy a flexible extension. He charged the car battery, fastened his electric motor on the boat and took a short run. ‘Well, that’s easy to operate. I bet Lilly would be able to use it in a year or two’s time.’ He arranged large stones to form a place where camp fires could safely burn, at the side of the sand but away from the trees, and made two short benches to sit on. He thought about cutting some short sticks to heat marshmallows on but changed his mind; Lilly might like to help with that. Lastly, Tom made a slide from ten-foot-long boards and covered it with layers of one of the plastic tarpaulins. He fastened one side of the top end to a tree and used a two-by-four to support the other side then made a ladder that Lilly could use to climb to the top. ‘Next year I’ll make her a tree house. She’d enjoy that, I think.’

Tom’s garden was growing well, the tomatoes were three feet high, held upright by ties to wooden stakes. The lettuce, radishes, spring onions, carrots and even beets were sizeable enough to eat. The fox and its family, for Tom had seen them several times, had eaten or scared the rabbits away. Unfortunately, cabbage white butterflies were flying around the brassica and Tom knew what to expect; first eggs, then larva that looked like green worms, that ate the leaves. Last year he had to pick them off before eating the broccoli. He learned that Bt would control them so he bought some and had sprayed it on each week. However, none of the cabbages or cauliflowers were big enough to be eaten.

The first thing Lilly wanted to do after hugging her grandfather was to go fishing. Stella and Steven moved into Tom’s bedroom and unpacked while Tom and Lilly went to the garden and dug for worms. Once they had seven or eight they walked to Jack’s dock where Tom baited Lilly’s hook and she dropped it over the edge. A perch immediately pulled at the worm and tore it off the hook.

“Oh, grandpa, it got away. And it was a big one too!”

“I think the worm was too big, Lilly. Let’s try a small one.”

That technique seemed to work for Lilly quickly caught four good-sized perch and two sunfish.

“This is the best place to fish, grandpa. But it’s not your dock, is it?”

“No, it belongs to my friend Jack. The boat is mine though.”

“That one? Is it? Can I have a ride in it?”

“Not until we have a life jacket for you. We have to wear them when we’re in a boat. I guess you can’t swim yet?”

“No. Mummy said she’d teach me this holiday.”

“Good. I’ll clean the perch now and we’ll keep them in the fridge and have them for lunch tomorrow.”

“Can’t I have mine for supper?”

“With hamburgers? Sure you can eat both?”

“We’re having hamburgers? No, I won’t have the fish then. I want two hamburgers.”

“Did you get a nice birthday cake, Lilly?”

“Yes. A big one. All red and white, and it said ‘Happy Birthday’ on it too.”

“That’s great.”

“I’ll be four on Tuesday, grandpa.”

“Yes I know.”

Tom didn’t know what to buy Lilly for her birthday. He asked Steven in one of his emails and was told she liked Easy Readers but Tom wanted to buy her something better than a few books. He went to Toys“R”Us when he was in Ottawa and, after a great deal of thinking, bought her a six-volt, ride-on, car. His grass was bumpy and sloped but it should be safe enough. Steven’s apartment had a small back garden, not much room to ride it there so it would have to be taken to one of the Toronto parks. He was sure she’d like it, he would have, when he was her age, but he didn’t know if Stella would like Lilly riding around on such a thing.

The camp fire, lit Sunday evening, was a hit. Everyone cooked marshmallows on sticks and Stella made cookie munchies from hot mallows, a square of milk chocolate all squashed together between two cookies. Tom’s slide was not so popular. Lilly got a small splinter in her left hand from the ladder on her third slide and didn’t use it again.

The week passed quickly enough. Life jackets were bought on Monday afternoon and they all went for a ride in the boat. It was sixteen foot long, made of aluminium, and just large enough for four of them, thought Tom, but he’d need a bigger one if Stella and Steven had another child. He took Lilly fishing in it twice but they caught more fish from the dock and she preferred doing that than sitting with a life jacket on. Stella taught her to paddle and float on her back and promised to take her to a swimming pool when they returned home.

Lilly loved the car and ran it around the garden, closely followed by Stella, until the battery died. Five hours later, battery charged, she was on it again, this time Stella watched her from the deck and Tom walked besides her. The third time Lilly followed a complex track Tom fashioned out of string and stakes, riding on ground that was mostly level and well away from the water. After that they all watched her from the deck. The car could not go very fast and it was almost impossible to turn it over so they all became less worried. Stella even told Tom that it was a nice present when they packed it into Steven’s car on leaving.

Tom returned to making things after they left on Friday morning. His next project was a dock and he designed an eight-by twelve-foot one, twice the size of Jack’s dock, thinking that they might like to sit on it. It would float on forty-five gallon plastic barrels. He knew where to buy them, a man had a pile of them in the yard next to his house some fifteen miles away and sold them for twenty dollars each. Friday afternoon, after designing both the dock and a tree house and ordering the wood for them, Tom bought eight barrels, carrying them home in two trips.

 

Chapter Twenty Three. 2005.

Saturday morning, at nine forty five, Tom drove to the auction sale the auctioneer had reminded people about at the last sale. He was early enough to find a parking spot in the farmer’s field. He parked and followed others to a table set up under a tree near the entrance where he gave his name, address and telephone number to a lady who then gave him a card with a number on it. Having watched what others did at the last sale he knew how to use the card, he’d hold it up each time he bid. He hadn’t learnt yet that the most common procedure was to nod or raise a hand when bidding and only hold up the card so an attendant could note down it’s number after the item was purchased.

He walked around the yard, looking into most of the boxes that were grouped into lots. Small items from the house were in boxes on two wagons or standing upright on tables. Furniture was arranged in two rows on one side of the house. Farm equipment took over the other side, three tractors of different sizes and ages, old hay rakes, horse-drawn mowers, a wide wooden corn seeder, tools, motors, boxes and boxes of small items that must have been taken from old machinery or cars. So many things and none that Tom wanted. Much of it might be useful to a farmer or an antique store but there was nothing for him. He was about to leave when he saw a rototiller next to a pile of forks, shovels, hoes and rakes. Two men were looking at it and Tom walked over.

“I don’t think that’s been used that since Bobby left some fifteen years ago. Bobby did all the gardening.”

“Do you think it’ll work?” asked the other man.

“I suppose so, carburettor would be clogged, I bet, because there’s still gas in the tank. Looks like the air filter’s missing. That’s bad. The piston could be seized. You interested in it?”

“Naw, don’t think so. Garden’s not big enough for one of those. Let’s have a look at what there is from the house.”

After they walked away Tom looked over the machine. If it worked it might be just what he wanted. It would be much easier than digging. He pulled the starting handle. Nothing moved. He pulled harder and the engine slowly turned over. ‘Hmm, I might be able to fix that. Wonder what else he’s got that goes with that.’ Next to the machine was a box with two cans of oil, what looked like extra tines, a torn manual and the air cleaner. ‘Well, it might be worth buying that. Wonder what a new one costs? What’s this one worth to me, I wonder? Maybe a hundred, if I can get it to start. Nothing, if I can’t. I’ll wait and see what people bid for it.’

It was a long wait, for the auctioneer started with the things from the house. Tom was tempted to buy a colourful large vase when it came up but it sold for forty five dollars, much more than he was willing to pay. Some good purchases were made, good if one was into buying old furniture. Around noon he bought a hot dog and a coffee from the truck that stood near the entrance and watched while people bid. After a short break the auctioneer began selling the farm equipment. The rototiller Tom wanted was one of the last items to be sold.

He opened the bidding by asking for a hundred dollars.

“Come on, folks. This is a five horse power Troy Bilt tiller. Maybe nine hundred when new. Easily worth two now. Who’ll start at a hundred?”

“It don’t work, Harry. Hard to pull over, probably needs a new piston. I’ll give you twenty five for it.”

“Twenty five, then. Who’ll make it fifty? Fifty?” And he rolled a string of fifties out then dropped it to forty. Fearing that he’d give up and sell it to the other man Tom put up his card. The auctioneer saw it.

“Forty I’ve got. Now who’ll say fifty?” He looked at the first bidder who shook his head.

“Anyone else? Fifty dollars? Includes this box of tines and some oil? Any more? No? Gone to the guy in the red shirt.”

Tom raised his card again so the girl with the sheet could see it and the auctioneer moved on to the next item. ‘So I bought it! Let’s hope I can get it working.’ Tom picked up the box of parts and joined the line of people waiting to pay for the items they’d bought. This didn’t take too long for there were three people collecting money. He put the box on the floor of his wagon then began to drag the tiller to the car. This was not easy, for one tire was flat and the other only half full. A man helped him load it and Tom drove slowly home with the handles of the tiller sticking out of the back of the wagon. ‘Another thing to buy, a tire pump and some oil for it.’ He needed oil for both cans were open and dust could easily have fallen in over the years. He used two lengths of eight inch boards to run the tiller off the wagon and left it in the garage on some newspaper. He didn’t expect it to leak oil but if it did he didn’t want the floor to be marked. He took the manual and read through it after supper.

Tom gradually manoeuvred the tiller onto some short planks, lifting it a few inches above the ground, after breakfast the next day. This way he could inspect the tires. As far as he could see they should not need replacing. He placed an empty tin that used to contain tomatoes under the gasoline shut-off valve and opened the drain. The gasoline that ran out was dirty but usable as a cleaning fluid, he thought. Then he began cleaning the engine, removing large dirty areas with some of the old gasoline on a brush. He should have done this in the driveway but it was easier to open the garage window and use just a little gasoline. He took the air cleaner outside to clean by blowing and brushing lightly then washed the covering foam filter with soapy water and left it to dry. Next he squirted WD-40 on the tiller’s moving parts and the control knob and into the inside of the controlling wire that ran down to the carburettor. He discovered several knobs that he recognised as injection ports for grease and added ‘grease gun and grease’ to his shopping list. It was difficult to remove the spark plug but he managed and added ‘spark plug and spanner’ to the list. He’d write the type of plug to buy from the manual later. The engine was now easy to turn over and Tom felt more comfortable. ‘It looks as if it will be okay. Now for the carburettor.’

He unfastened the unit and placed it on the workbench. It was very dirty and he decided to brush some of the old gasoline over it. He used a small watercolour brush to do that in the driveway, kneeling down and cleaning all the outside then left everything to dry while he took a coffee break.

He laid an old newspaper on the bench when he came back and slowly took the carburettor to pieces, placing each part in a line so he could reassemble it correctly. As he worked he made a note to buy some small socket wrenches. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the unit. In particular, the float wasn’t dented and it should float. He reassembled the unit carefully, attached it to the tiller’s engine and connected the control wire. Lastly, he fastened the air filter in place.

‘Now what?’ he asked himself. ‘Oh yes, change the engine oil. I could probably get that at the garage in Portland but I need a tire pump and new spark plug so I’ll go to Smiths Falls after lunch.’

While buying the tire pump Tom saw a bottle of yellowish compound that said it would seal small holes in tires and he bought one, thinking it might be useful. Besides the spark plug, oil, grease, grease gun and the other things he also bought a set of socket wrenches, both British and metric and a can of starter fluid. Later, at the lumber yard, he bought another large box of galvanised screws, two short lengths of heavy chain and four large bolts and nuts. He would be using them to hold the gangplank to the dock he would build next.

Once home he inflated the tiller’s tires and drained its oil into an empty large coffee tin. After it had drained he replaced the drain plug, rolled the tiller off the planks and poured in fresh oil. He then pumped grease into all of the grease nipples he could find. Lastly, he screwed in the new spark plug and connected its wire.

‘Now to try it. No, I haven’t filled the tank.’ Tom fetched the gas can from the boathouse and filled the tiller’s tank. Taking a deep breath, Tom pulled on the starter rope. The engine turned but did not catch. After doing this several more times, Tom sprayed some starter fluid into the air filter opening. Three more firm pulls and the engine fired. Tom slowly increased the throttle and listened. The engine sounded fine. He then leaned the engine forward so that the diggers were off the ground, slowed down the engine and pulled up the hand lever to engage the diggers. With a small shudder they began turning. ‘Yes! Great! Now to try it.’

Tom, in thinking how to landscape the bungalow, had decided several months ago that a flower bed along the front of the house on each side of the door would look nice but had never got around to digging it. He’d try the tiller there. He pulled up the lever controlling the wheel drive and moved the tiller into line then adjusted the bar at the rear so that the diggers would not dig too deeply. He engaged the blades so that they would dig as the wheels pulled the tiller along. He was two feet away from the wall when he did this and was glad he wasn’t closer for the diggers caught, dug in and hauled him and the machine forward. He rapidly let the digger lever go and lifted them up. ‘Wow. I could have hit the wall. I’d better use it in the garden before I dig here. It’s got a lot of power!’

He returned to the garage, put everything away and tidied up, then checked he had the key to the garden shed on his key ring and drove the tiller there. He’d leave it inside and dig the garden on another day. He’d done enough for that day. Time for a rest and to read the weekend paper.

The wood for the dock and tree house was delivered early Monday morning. He removed the wood for the tree house, its planks and the waterproof plywood for the sides, checking it off the list. It would have an eight-by-eight foot floor with walls, windows, door and roof. He had seen sheets of corrugated iron at the auction and would have liked some but there were always too many for him to buy, probably two hundred or more, removed he guessed, from the roof of a barn that had collapsed. A few of those would be perfect and he could ask whoever bought them if he could buy some from them. However, there was no hurry. Lilly wouldn’t be returning for another year. It was more important for him to build a dock since he saw a couple of strangers looking over Jack’s cottage three days ago and he almost went over to ask what they were doing but guessed they would be prospective buyers. If someone bought the place he’d have to tie his boat to a tree or drag it up the slope into his boathouse. ‘That’s another thing I should build, some way of getting the boat into the boathouse. A trolley on a track would be best. Perhaps I can find suitable wheels at an auction. And some glass for the tree house windows, they would have to be smaller than the ones left over from the greenhouse.’ Auctions were useful things, a place where bargains could be found. And fun, too.

Tom took his time when building the dock. It wasn’t hard, a layer of planks supported by four twelve-foot long boards, the inner two separated just enough from the outside boards so that the plastic barrels would fit between them. The dock was made and ready to drag into the water by Wednesday afternoon, together with a twelve-foot long gangway that would join it to the shore.

Once finished, the dock was heavy and difficult to pull towards the water. Once he had it on the sand he changed into his swim suit, walked into the water and pulled the dock out leaving one end on the sand, expecting that to hold the dock in place. He fetched the plastic barrels and pulled one of them to one of the floating corners. He planned to lift that corner up and ease the barrel underneath. After several attempts he gave up. It was not possible to lift the dock high enough to slide a forty five gallon barrel underneath. The barrel was determined to stay on top of the water or, if depressed, it rolled away from him instead of going underneath.

Tom sat on a one of the shore-side dock corners and thought. How could he put the barrels underneath? It really needed two men to lift the dock and a third to insert the barrel. With no one to help him he almost gave up but thought it might be possible to hang the ends of the dock from two pyramids. He tied three twelve foot planks loosely together at one end and carried it to the floating end of the dock. He then tied a length of rope to the corner of the dock and looped it over the knotted end. Easing himself into the water he stood the pyramid upright around one corner, holding it down by tightening the rope. Pulling a little more he lifted the dock slightly and he tied its free end to one of the pyramid planks. ‘That might work,’ he thought. He made another pyramid and did the same thing to the other corner. Working from side to side, lifting the deck while pulling on the rope and fastening it every time the corner raised two or three inches Tom was able to raise the end a foot above the water level. ‘Now let’s try the barrels.’

With the dock that high it was easy to push barrels under the dock. He managed to push two under each side of the dock before removing the pyramids. To stop the dock from drifting away he tied a rope to the corner of the dock that was now raised above the sand and fastened the other end to a tree. The next job was to push the dock fully onto the water, slide the inner barrel on both sides to the other corner and place a third barrel in the centre of each side. This was not difficult, for the dock was already six inches above the water and the last two new barrels slid in easily. He was left with two, unused, barrels which he stored in the back of the boathouse.

The last thing Tom planned to do that day was to make sure the dock stayed in place. He’d found four large rocks on Sunday and used the wheelbarrow to move them to the side of the sand. He moved the two larger rocks, placing them on the grass slightly wider than the width of the dock and fastened a rope to each one. He then pushed the dock over until it lay between the rocks and fastened the other end of the ropes to the inside corners of the dock. Next he carefully placed the other two rocks in his boat, fastened a rope to each one, then rowed himself to a spot where he thought the first anchor should be. It was not easy to lift one of the rocks without flooding the boat with water but he managed and lowered it to the bottom of the lake. He then rowed the boat to the dock and fastened the rope to the nearest corner of the dock. He positioned and lowered the other rock then fastened its rope to the dock, tied his boat to the dock and climbed out. Slowly he pulled the dock to where he wanted it to lie then he tied the ropes tightly to their corners. Now the dock was eight feet from the shore. He’d fasten the gangplank to it tomorrow, he’d done enough for today.

Connecting the gangplank to the deck was a problem. Tom wanted it to be level with the dock. He solved the problem by using two short chains that bolted the two structures together, however one had to be careful in stepping from one to the other for when he put one foot on the gangplank it sank a few inches. He’d have to find a better way to join them. He was just about to put his tools away when a shout from a young girl came from Jack’s cottage.

“Look, mummy. We’ve got a dock.”

“Be careful, Shirley. Don’t stand on it, it might not be safe. Wait for me, I’m coming.”

“It looks fine, Sue. Don’t worry, Shirl can swim.”

“We’ll have to buy a boat, dad.”

“Yes, I will. Not this year though, maybe next.”

‘Ah, then Jack has sold the cottage,’ Tom guessed. ‘I’d better go over and introduce myself.’ He left his tools on the gangplank and walked along the shore and around the end of the barbed wire fence.

“Hi. I’m Tom, Tom Alwen. I live next door. Are we going to be neighbours?”

“Hello, Tom. I’m Ken Abraham. This is my wife, Susan and our daughter, Shirley. Yes, we’ll be here now and again. My mother bought the place. She’s in the house. You live here all the time, then?”

“Yes, I do. Moved in this year. Used to live in Ottawa.”

“We live in Gananoque. So you know Mr. Higgins?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, this is my mother, Dorothy.”

“Dot, that’s what my friends call me. Hi,” and she held out her hand.

Tom took it, surprised at her sudden smile and warmth of her hand.

“Hi, I’m Tom Alwen. I live next door.”

“Then I hope we’ll be friends, ‘cos I’m going to be here quite often. You like coffee?”

“Sure,” said Tom, surprised at the question. “Why?”

“I’ve just put the pot on. It’ll be ready now. You coming Ken, Susan?”

“In a minute, mom,” said Ken. “I want to look around out here first.”

“Me too grammy,” said Shirley.

Dot lead the way and told Tom to sit in the lounge while she and Susan prepared a tray. He stood up when they entered the room and helped them rearrange the chairs so there were five grouped around the small table.

“Help yourself, that’s ginger cake and this one’s a carrot cake. Want to try both?”

“Well, yes, please. Not big slices, though.”

“I made them yesterday.”

“Ma’s a good cook, Tom. Get her to cook a meal for you.”

“Sure, I’d love to. Not ‘til next week, though. I won’t be back until Tuesday. You’ll be here then, Tom?”

“All the time. Do you live in Gananoque too?”

“Yes. Always have. On Brock Street. Where do you come from?”

“Ottawa. I used to be a teacher. My, the ginger cake’s good.”

“I like it with coffee. Better than the carrot cake. But I don’t eat too much of it. Don’t want to put on weight.”

“Nothing for you to worry about, ma,” said Susan.

“Oh, carrot cake? That’s what I want, grammy,” said Shirley, who had just run into the room.

“Cake and lemonade for you then dear. What do you want, Ken?”

“The ginger, please,” and he sat down and poured himself a mug of coffee. “Are you going to keep all the furniture mom?”

“Most of it, it think. Might swap some with stuff I’ve got at home. You see anything you want, Sue?”

“Don’t know,” said Susan. “Haven’t looked at anything with that in mind.”

“Jack said you might want to change the mattress on the double bed. It’s not very comfortable,” Tom said.

“Right. I’ll do that. Anything else?”

“No, that’s all he mentioned.”

“Go and lie on each of the beds, Ken, and see how they feel. They all might need changing.” Ken got up and walked towards the bedrooms.

“I’m going to try mine,” said Shirley, as she jumped up.

“Has Jack got three bedrooms Dot?” asked Tom. “I thought he only had two.”

“Yes, that’s right, there are only two. I’ll be sleeping with Shirley. There are two singles in one of the bedrooms. Ken and Sue will use the room with the double bed. What’s it like living here full-time Tom?”

“I’ve only been here full-time since July so I don’t know. Ask me next year.”

“How long have you had the place?”

“Bought the land in 1998 and had the bungalow built there in 2003.”

“Your place looks nice. You must show me around sometime. You’ve got a much bigger lot than this one, too.”

“Yes. It goes to the line of trees that run down to the boathouse. I fish now and again. Do you like fishing.”

“Only when I catch something but I seldom do.”

“Yes it takes time. I don’t like it if they’re not biting.”

“It looks as if you garden as well.”

“Yes, when I get time. I’m still making things. I built the deck, the greenhouse and shed and I’m making a dock right now.”

“That’s nice to know. I might have a few jobs for you!”

“Grammy, I’d like a new mattress.”

“I think you’ll need one, too, mom.”

“Right, three new mattresses. No, might as well change the whole bed if I’m doing that. Anything else you noticed Ken?”

“You’ll need brighter bulbs, mom. They’ll all fifty or seventy five watts. You have hundred watts or more at home.”

“Okay. One of the problems with getting old, Tom. Need more light to read.”

“It’s the same for me. I like reading and need a good light. Well, I should get out of your way, you’ll have lots of things to do. Thanks for the cake and coffee,” said Tom, as he got up.

“See you next week, Tom. I’ll have coffee with you then. I’ll bring some more cake.”

“Come everyday in that case,” said Tom, as he left. “Bye, everyone. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it here.”

‘I shouldn’t have said that,’ Tom thought, as he walked out the back door. ‘I don’t want to have coffee everyday with Dot, even if her cakes are good.’

Tom was finishing an early supper before driving to Gananoque when Mrs. Strickland phoned.

“Hello, Tom. I’ve sold my home but there’s a catch. They don’t want possession until August 31st. Can I extend my option until then, please?”

“Another month? What happens if they back out?”

“Well, they’ll lose their deposit, I guess.”

“And I lose another opportunity to sell my mother’s home. What’s their deposit Mrs. Strickland.”

“I’m not sure I should tell you that.”

“Well I want another five thousand for the option,” said Tom.

“That’s all I’m getting! How about half that?”

“How sure are you that they’ll buy your house?”

“He’s just got a job here so I’m pretty sure they’ll buy it. And she’s expecting a baby so I think they’re keen to move in before it comes.”

“All right. I want your cheque this weekend, before August 1st.”

“And I’ll need the signed extension too. Dennis and Lyn are here with me right now. They’ll bring my cheque to Ottawa later today. When can you collect it?”

“On Sunday. No, tomorrow. Around noon. Will they be home then?”

“Yes, they say they will be.”

“Okay, I’ll see them at their place then. Bye, Mrs. Strickland.”

Tom thought what else he should do when in Ottawa. ‘I’ll do some shopping. Better get out my list. And I should get the key from the estate agent and get him to remove the lock box. I’d better call him and arrange that.’

After making those arrangements Tom finished his supper and washed the dishes before driving to the Playhouse. During the intermission Jenny talked about her trip to England then Tom told her and Letty how busy he’d been since retiring.

“Is that why I haven’t seen you at the tennis club?” Jenny asked.

“I guess so. I’ve been so busy I haven’t even thought about tennis. I’ll probably come when the projects run out. They take so much energy I don’t have any left to play tennis.”

“Any new thoughts on the idea of life becoming omnipotent, Tom?” asked Letty.

“No, none. Haven’t thought about it once.”

“I told a friend about it over lunch a couple of weeks ago and she believed it. Said it was inevitable.”

“Did she have anything more to say about it? Like it would be a ‘good’ thing to support that objective?”

“No. I don’t think she said anything else about it. I’ll ask her if I remember, next time I see her.”

“Tell her I think it might be a way atheists can decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ behaviour.”

“If I remember, though I don’t know if she’s an atheist.”

“Well, a non-believer, like me.”

“Okay. We’d better get back to our seats now. That’s the lights.”

After collecting the cheque and depositing it on Saturday Tom had a scrambled egg roll and coffee at Tim Hortons then went to the real estate agents to collect the key to the house. He returned to his mother’s house and cut the grass, washed his hands and had a drink of water. Then he shopped, buying an uninterruptable power supply for his computer, a thirty foot length of two inch diameter flexible plastic pipe, some clamps to fasten it to the pipe from the sump pump, and some groceries. He added two packages of cookies when he passed through that aisle so he could offer some to Dot when she came for coffee.

Once home, Tom changed into his working clothes and went to his dock. On the way home he’d thought of a way to keep the dock and gangplank level. He’d add a short extension board to the underside of the dock and rest the gangplank on that. The chains would hold it on top and it would also be flexible. It wasn’t easy to do this since Tom chose to fasten the board without lifting the dock and had to screw it on with his hand and screwdriver under the water. It took half an hour to screw in the four holding screws.

Sunday morning Tom worked on the garden. Weeding, removing side sprouts from the tomato plants and fastening the plants to the stakes, tying the outside cauliflower leaves around the forming heads to keep them white, watering the rows after clamping on the flexible pipe (which made watering much easier) and spraying Bt over the brassica. He’d seen the white butterflies and found several clusters of their eggs under the broccoli and cabbage leaves. After lunch he sat on the deck and read until the sun, intermittently shining through the clouds, forced him inside. It wasn’t because he was too hot, for it was only twenty three degrees, but he didn’t want to get sunburnt. ‘I’ll have to buy a shade or big umbrella for the deck.’

Monday morning he looked for trees suitable to hold a tree house. He found two that were about seven feet apart but they were fifteen feet from the shore. ‘I’ll have to use these but it’s a pity she can’t see the lake from here.’

He removed the brush and small trees from the site then reviewed once again how he’d build a tree house that would be higher than his head. He would spike two two-by-twelves to the trees using just one nail, seven feet above the ground. He couldn’t make it any higher, he thought, or Sheila wouldn’t let Lilly use it. He’d then make a ten-foot platform and lean it on two inclined two-by-twelves, erect it then build the house on top.

He had the platform made by lunchtime. Deciding during lunch that a single two-by-four wouldn’t be strong enough for the supporting posts he would use two nailed together, ten-foot long, on each outside corner.

Tom used two ropes to fasten the platform to the trees after pulling it to the top of the two-by-twelves. He then tied the uprights loosely to the other ends of the two-by-twelves and screwed in a two-inch screw, leaving half-an-inch protruding, seven-feet up the uprights on each side. They would stop the rope from slipping when he used the uprights to raise the deck. He did that and then placed a large rock under each post so that its end wouldn’t sink into the ground. Finally, he used his level to level the platform and ensure the supporting uprights were vertical, then nailed the uprights to the two-by-twelves and the platform, finally driving additional spikes through the joists into the two trees. The platform was up and tightly secure by three thirty, although he would have to put cross-pieces between the uprights and from them to the trees to keep everything in place. ‘That’s enough for today. Time for a beer.’

 

Chapter Twenty Four. 2005.

Tom had made one of the sides for the tree house and was about to make the other when he heard a car arriving at Dot’s cottage. That reminded him that she would be coming for coffee that morning. He put down the hammer and walked back to the bungalow. The living room and kitchen needed tidying. The weekend’s paper was still on the floor, unwashed dishes sat in the sink and the coffee pot needed cleaning. Once the kitchen and the lounge looked satisfactory he checked the other rooms and the garage thinking she’d probably want to see everything. That done, he returned to making the tree house walls. He’d cut and nailed the plywood covering onto the second side when Dot called to him.

“I’ve got the ginger cake. Where’s my coffee?”

“Hello, Dot. I’m coming. Be careful of the poison ivy. There are a few patches beside the path. You know what it looks like?”

“Yes. I can see some now. You should spray it.”

Dot left the cake on the deck stairs and walked towards Tom.

“What are you making this time?”

“A tree house for Lilly, my granddaughter. She’s four. How old is Shirley?”

“Seven. She’d like to use the tree house too, I imagine.”

“Well, she can if she likes. I don’t think Lilly would mind. Are they coming here today?”

“No, not until the weekend. Ken and Sue are working. I’m retired, of course. I’ll be here until tomorrow. The new mattresses are coming sometime this afternoon and I want to clean the house as well.”

“I see. Okay, let’s have coffee.”

“No, not yet. Show me what you’ve got out here, please. That boathouse and the caravan, they’re yours?”

“Yes. The edge of my property lies on the other side of them. There’s nothing much in the boathouse to see, nor the caravan. I used to sleep in it before the bungalow was built.”

“The dock looks new, like the deck. You built those?”

“Yes. I built the deck last summer.”

“And the greenhouse and shed?”

“Yes,”

“Didn’t you say your were a teacher? You taught carpentry?”

“No, mathematics. I just learned how to make things by trying. There are probably a lot of mistakes in what I’ve done but it’s held up, so far.”

“Looks good to me. I’ll hire you if I want something done. You do the gardening too? You don’t have a partner to help?”

“No. If you like we can go and have a look at each thing. Want to do that now?”

“Err, no, not now. Too much to do today. Soon.”

“All right. Then let’s go and have coffee.”

Tom made the coffee while Dot cut four slices of cake and they moved to the deck to enjoy them.

“I would like to look over the bungalow today, though. When we’ve finished. Can I?”

“Sure. Tell me about yourself, Dot. You’re retired, you said.”

“Yes. I used to be Dontone’s secretary. He’s the owner of a moving firm in Gananoque. Eighteen trucks, so it was a relatively big company. My husband died two years after Ken was born. Thrown from his motorbike when going too fast around a corner on a gravel road. He loved motorbikes. I never did, although I used to ride with him before we were married.”

“I’m sorry. It must have been a hard life.”

“It was, to begin with, until Ken started school. Then I got the job at Dontone’s and coped. My parents helped, although they lived in Hamilton. They sent me money from time to time and looked after Ken when I went on holidays with Norm. He was my boyfriend but we split up seven or eight years ago. He found another women, a younger one. You must have been married, what happened to your wife?”

“She left me for another man. Six years ago.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No.”

“Don’t want one now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Scared of starting a new relationship after that? I was for a while, until I met Norm.”

“I don’t think so. Just never found anyone, I suppose.”

“Okay. Show me your house then.”

Dot liked everything about the bungalow, the view from its lounge and kitchen, the size of the master bedroom and its en-suite, his study and the space downstairs. Everything except the cold room.

“It’s uncomfortable in here, Tom. Cold, of course, but damp and a bit claustrophobic. I guess it’d be okay for keeping vegetables in.”

“That’s what it’s for, next year, after I’ve enlarged the garden.”

“You should do something about the damp though. You know you can use calcium chloride? Hep used it, Hep Dontone. He used it in a cellar where he kept wine. I would order a bag of calcium chloride for him every year or two. He put some in a fibreglass mesh bag, window screening, that’s what he said, and hung it over a plastic bucket. I saw it there when fetching wine for him a couple of times. He’d have to empty the bucket every month or so and replace the chloride as it was used up. Cheaper than using a dehumidifier.”

“That’s a good idea. Where did he get the chemical from?”

“Forfar. Baker’s Feed and Seed. It’s used on the dirt roads to keep the dust down in the summer. Trouble is, it’s very corrosive and rusts the cars, so if you see a shiny road that looks a bit wet, drive slowly so it doesn’t spray onto the chassis.”

“Right, I’ll look out for it.”

“Okay, I must be off now. You can keep the cake and I’ll come over for some more tomorrow before leaving. Okay, Tom?”

“Sure.”

Once Dot had left, Tom returned to making the sides for the tree house. Thinking that Shirley might want to use the place he made the door four feet high even though he thought it would look nicer with a smaller one.

He nailed the walls into place after lunch, placing it in one corner of the platform, next to a tree. Then he made five trusses and fastened them to the top of the walls. All it needed now was a roof, a door, a protective railing around the two-foot wide deck, two or three windows, and a ladder. He’d make the railing, the door and ladder tomorrow and perhaps the auction sale on Saturday would have some glass for the windows and some corrugated iron.

He’d made the door Wednesday morning when Dot shouted. “Hi Tom. It’s ten and time for coffee. Can you come now?”

He looked up and there she was, walking along the top of his garden towards his deck.

“Yes, I can,” and he put down his plane. There were two more edges he wanted to smooth before coffee but he could stop now. ‘She must be used to meeting deadlines. Like I was, I suppose, when I was teaching. Wonder how long it will be before she relaxes.’

He broached the subject as they were eating the first slice of cake. “When did you stop working, Dot?”

“A month ago. Thirty years. That’s enough, I thought. Got a bit of a pension from the company and I’ll get CPP and OAS in two years, when I’m sixty five. How old are you?”

“Sixty five.”

“So you’ll be getting the government pensions too. Plus your teaching superannuation. You should be doing all right.”

“I’m okay, yes. Spending it, and more, on things for the house at the moment.”

“What’re you going to do when you’ve got the place the way you want it?”

“Oh, read and fish. I might go back to playing tennis. There’s a good club in Kingston.”

“I never played tennis but I did go fishing. As I told you, I don’t like it when they’re not biting.”

“That’s most of the time but the thrill when they do makes up for that, that is, if you don’t have to wait too long between bites.”

“Yes, that’s it. Well, Tom, I don’t think reading and fishing’s enough for you. You’d better find something else to do.”

“How about you, Dot, what do you do?”

“I know what I will be doing when things settle down. In fact I’ve already started one of them. I play bridge and I now go on Monday and Friday afternoons. When I was working I could only play in the evenings. That was on Wednesdays. Next month I’ll start delivering meals, you know, Meals at Home, for those who have some kind of handicap. Once a week to start with. I also like walking and cooking, of course. You should keep yourself busy otherwise you get depressed.”

“Well, I can’t deliver meals. I don’t think they have that around here. And I don’t play bridge. I walk though and I’ll start doing more of that when, as you said, things settle down around here.”

“It’s not enough, Tom. Find something where you get to meet people. There must be some kind of volunteer work. Look in the weekend paper or in the library. Where’s the nearest one of those?”

“I think there’s one in Portland. Bound to be one in Smiths Falls though.”

“Well, I’d start there. Now, I must be off. Things to do. Ken’s lot will be here at the weekend. I’ll be here next Tuesday for a night or two. I’ll bring you another cake. Take care, Tom.”

Tom stood and watched Dot as she walked down the steps and over to her cottage. ‘A busy woman. Wonder if she’s always been like that? Must have made a good secretary.’

He put the rest of the cake in the fridge and left the mugs and plates in the sink for washing after lunch then returned to sanding the edges of the door. He didn’t want Lilly to get another splinter.

Tom made the ladder and the railing during the rest of the week. When he was buying more beer in Portland he found out that Portland did have a library. It was closed when he went to the door but it would be open on Saturday afternoon. He decided to call in after the auction, borrow a few books and ask about volunteer jobs. The librarian would probably know if there were any.

Tom arrived at the auction at eleven, thinking that they’d sell all the household items before they sold things from the farm. There wasn’t much that interested him, but there were four storm windows which he bought for five dollars. The glass was bigger than he needed but it was regular glass, something he was sure he could cut with a glass cutter, although he’d never done such a thing before. He left after buying the windows and drove to Smiths Falls, bought a glass cutter, had lunch in a pub then drove to the Portland library. After joining the library and borrowing four books Tom asked the librarian about volunteer work in the area.

“What kind of work are you interested in, Mr. Alwen? Inside or outside activities?”

“I don’t know. What’s available?”

“We need someone to help people learn computer programs. Just once or twice a week for a couple of hours. I know that the Delta Mill wants volunteers to guide visitors, to do odd carpentry work or to make posters or paint. The primary school needs teacher assistants but that wouldn’t be until the fall and you need a security check to do that. The medical centre might need help of some kind. Any of these interest you?”

“The Delta Mill sounds interesting. I don’t know a lot about computers although I suppose I could teach someone how to use Word. Just the simple stuff, though. I don’t want to work in a school because I used to be a maths teacher and I’d like to do something quite different now.”

“The mill’s in the centre of Delta. You can’t miss it. Here’s a brochure, their phone number is on it. You can call them and ask what kind of help they are looking for.”

“I think I’ll visit them first. Thanks for your help.”

Ken, Susan and Shirley were working in their garden, cutting the grass and tidying the flower beds when he arrived home. Tom waved at them but didn’t disturb their work. He saw them again, sitting on their dock, in the evening and wondered about going over to have a chat then decided to let them enjoy themselves without him. They needed to get used to the place and didn’t need him to do that.

Sunday morning Tom removed the four panes of glass from one of the storm windows. That part was easy and so was scraping off the old putty that was attached to the edges of the glass. However, cutting the glass was tricky and he broke three of the panes before managing to cut a square that would fit in the door. He took another window and removed the panes and this time decided to leave them as they were and make the windows on the sides of the tree house the same size as the glass. Before doing that, he removed all the rest of the windows and stacked them together in the far corner of the shed. They’d be useful another time, he guessed.

It wasn’t difficult to cut holes in the sides of the tree house and he fastened the windows into place before tackling the door. That was harder to cut, for it was made out of deck planks and they were thicker than the plywood sides. This time he cut the hole the same size as the cut glass and small strips of triangular wood held it in place. It looked nicer than the other windows which were held in place by inch strips of wood fastened to the outside of the ply with another, wider, strip nailed on top of the first. He only wished he could finish the job by adding a roof and was tempted to buy new corrugated iron from the construction company but decided to try one more auction before doing that.

After lunch he drove to Delta. The mill was easy to spot and he parked on the street just past it. The mill, Tom discovered, was nearly two hundred years old and contained many working parts, some restored, many constructed by volunteers. Posters described how the machinery operated and he bought a loaf from one of the staff by the doorway and learned that she was a volunteer. She told him that the mill was run by a board of directors, volunteers like herself, and others who constructed and repaired parts, made the display signs, conducted groups, were guides, and maintained the building and grounds.

“We do need volunteers. As a volunteer, you work when you like, just let your co-ordinator know what days or times you can come. There’s a form you could look through and let us know what you’d prefer to do. Here’s our latest brochure. There are phone numbers on that. I’m Polly Tangle, by the way. My husband also volunteers. He’s an electrician and does that kind of work. What do you think you’d like to do?”

“I don’t know yet. Let me think about it.”

“You live nearby?”

“On the Old Kingston road, not far from Portland.”

“I see. Well, I hope you decide to join us.”

Tom dropped a five dollar note in the jar when leaving and headed to his car. ‘An interesting place. I could find something to do there, I’m sure. But not just yet, maybe in the fall or next spring, when there’s not so much to do around the bungalow.’

Tom used his rototiller for the first time on Monday. He removed the plastic sheets from two of the four covered beds and learned how to operate the machine on them. Once he had found how the rod at the back of the machine controlled the depth of cut it was easy. He set the rod and dug both lots down to about three inches, having first taken off the outside set of diggers so it was not so hard on the engine. Then he changed the rod setting and went over the same ground. This time the machine dug about six inches into the ground. Clumps of grass that grew where the plastic had torn or around the edges of the plot often wrapped themselves around the shaft holding the blades and he had to stop and cut them free with a sharp knife before he could continue. Once the second dig was finished he slid the outside set of diggers back onto the shaft and dug the same beds at right angles. He was amazed at how good the plots looked when he had finished. It was almost as if they had been raked as well.

Dot brought another cake on Wednesday. This time it was an orange cake with icing.

“Here you are, Tom. Let’s see how you like this. It’s my bridge friends’ favourite.”

“Hello, Dot. It looks lovely. I’ll make the coffee. How long are you staying this time?”

“Going back tomorrow, I’m going to a wedding on Saturday and want to buy a new top. What have you been doing since I was here last?”

“Putting windows in the tree house and digging the garden. Oh, I joined the library and borrowed some books.”

“What do you like reading?”

“Novels. Mystery, mostly. Coffee’s ready now. We’ll drink it on the deck. What are you going to do while you’re here?”

“Nothing much, just read, I expect.”

“Want to come fishing with me?”

“Maybe. When are you going?”

“How about after lunch? If we catch anything we can have it for supper.”

“Oh, are you inviting me for supper, Tom?”

“Well, yes, I guess so.”

“What if we don’t catch any fish?”

“How about hamburger and frozen fries? I’ve got lots of that.”

“Okay. I’m on.”

They fished along the shoreline of their bay catching perch and sunfish which they returned to the water. After twenty minutes Dot caught something big next to some weed beds but it broke free.

“You think that’s a bass, Tom?”

“Could have been. Or a pike. Too bad it got away.”

“I wouldn’t eat a pike.”

“No, nor would I, although I’m told they taste nice if you can avoid the bones.”

They fished for another half hour and caught more perch then they stopped and returned home.

“What time’s supper, Tom? “asked Dot as she got out of the boat.

“How about six?”

“Okay.”

They cooked the hamburgers together, each holding a can of beer, and ate on the deck, drinking more beer. Tom told Dot he’d do the dishes later and they just stayed in their seats, drinking beer, until the sun set.

“That was very nice, Tom. I can’t remember when I drank four beers before. I’ll say goodnight now.”

She stood up and leaned over Tom who was also getting up.

“Thank you,” she said, and kissed him on the cheek. “Want to have coffee at my place tomorrow?”

“Yes, please. About ten?”

She nodded and made her way down the steps and over to her cottage. Tom stood and watched her, wondering about the kiss she’d given him, then collected the empty beer cans and took them inside.

He took some tomatoes and a head of lettuce to Dot when he went for coffee. They drank it on her dock, where there was a better view than from the cottage’s low deck, and talked. Dot told Tom that she had got the money to buy the cottage when she sold her parent’s house and that they died just over a year ago.

“They were on holiday, celebrating their sixty fifth anniversary and took a helicopter ride. It crashed and everyone died. They were both eighty five. They had a good life. Dad joined the army during the second world war and lost his little finger, that’s the worst thing that ever happened to them until the crash.”

“I’m sorry. You must miss them.”

“Yes, I do. They were both fit and should have lived another ten or twenty years. I don’t want to die until I’m a hundred, that is, if I remain healthy.”

“Same for me,” said Tom, “although I sometimes wonder why.”

“Wonder why? What do you mean? That’s a funny thought!”

“Well, I don’t know why we’re here. What’s the purpose of life, I mean.”

“Purpose? To enjoy oneself, that’s my purpose. You don’t feel that, Tom?”

“Yes, I do, but I seem to want something more.”

“There isn’t anything more. That is, if you’re not religious. If you are you want to go to heaven when you die. You’re not religious, then?”

“No. I can’t see why people want to believe in a god. Other than to give them comfort, to give them hope for the future or for a life after death. It seems ridiculous to ask a god to help them, to let them win the lottery or to get them out of trouble. He, or She, never does that, although, I suppose, when something like that does happen by chance, they say that God helped them.”

“I don’t believe in that kind of a god, either, Tom. But how do you think the world, no, the universe, was created. Surely one needs a god to do that?”

“I don’t think so. There must be another way. If you say a god was necessary then you have to ask where did that god come from? Who created that god?”

“Yes, I suppose so. That makes sense.”

“You see, we just don’t know enough to explain how the universe was created, but scientists are working on it. I guess it’s the biggest question one could ask.”

They sat, drank their coffee and watched the ducks as they swam past. After a few minutes Dot stood up and told Tom she had to get ready to leave. They carried the tray back to the steps to her cottage deck where she stopped.

“See you next week, Tom. Next Wednesday. Try and catch a fish for supper!”

“I’ll try, Dot. Bye.”

The phone rang when Tom was eating his ham sandwich lunch that day.

“It’s me, Mrs. Strickland. Everything’s fine now. They have the money they need to buy my place and I can buy yours. My lawyer needs to get in touch with your lawyer now.”

“Oh, good. When will you close, Mrs. Strickland?”

“On August 31st. Well, it’s a chain. My house will sell first and the money, a bank draft, will go through my lawyer and be deposited in my bank. Then I’ll get a draft for what I owe you, give it to my lawyer and he will see your lawyer and hand it over. You’ll get your money from him in the afternoon.”

“Okay. Good. Here’s the name and address of my lawyer. I’ll call him now and explain what’s happened. Thanks for calling and, if I don’t see you again, I hope you enjoy the place.”

“I’m sure I will. Thanks, Mr. Alwen.”

There was another auction on Saturday and Tom was there early enough to look over everything before it started. He saw four rubber-tired wheels, about ten inches in diameter that he thought he could use to make a trolley for the boat. If he made one of those he could pull the boat into the boathouse without difficulty. There was nothing else he could use and he estimated the household items would take a couple of hours to sell so he’d have time to go to the lumber yard. He didn’t want to wait any longer before finishing the tree house and he would buy new material to finish the roof. Once at the store he found he could order green-tinted corrugated metal sheets cut to size he wanted. He ordered them and the cover for the top edge and a box of the screws to fasten them in place. They would be delivered in two weeks time. He returned to the auction and waited for the wheels to be auctioned. While waiting he ate a hotdog and looked through the boxes of miscellaneous items that were on a farm wagon. He found a box of oil lamps and glass shades and bought that when they were sold. Two other men were interested in the wheels when they were auctioned and Tom had to bid forty five dollars to get them, wondering if he could have bought new wheels for the same price.

The trailer he built to hold the boat was simple, a sixteen foot long two-by-six board with two five foot cross pieces. He screwed four large bolts into the ends of the cross pieces, reinforced by short lengths of two-by-sixes. Four, four-foot long vertical arms were fitted onto these ends to hold the boat upright on the trolley. Tom found he could pull the boat onto the trailer with a rope once the end of the trailer was pushed deep enough into the water. It was not so easy to haul the trolley with the boat on top up the slope and into the boathouse but he could manage it. Next thing he should do, he told himself, was to make some kind of a crank to ease that job.

Tuesday Tom drove into Ottawa to deliver the house keys and house purchase agreement to his lawyer and to cut the grass at his mother’s house for the last time. He stood by the tree where his father’s and mother’s ashes were scattered and said a thoughtful goodbye before putting the mower in his wagon and driving back to Whatfor.

Dot bought a cheesecake when she came for coffee on Wednesday. Tom told her what he had been doing and that he had just sold his mother’s house.

“Closing date is the end of the month and I’ll be glad. I thought I’d have to lower the price or wait until next spring to sell it. I didn’t want to pay the taxes all that time on an empty house either.”

“What are you going to do with the money, Tom?”

“Don’t know. Give some to Steven and put the rest in GICs or mutual funds, I suppose.”

“Use it for travel, too. That’s what I’m going to do with what I’ve got. Lots of places to see. I’ve not been to England or Europe or Asia. Have you been to those places?”

“No. Just to Florida. Over Christmas holidays.”

“Where have you been in your caravan?”

“Nowhere. I just bought it to have a place to stay in before the bungalow was built.”

“If I had a caravan I’d use it to explore Ontario or Quebec, maybe take it to the Maritimes.”

“I’m not sure it’d be good enough to do that. The tires, for instance, are no good.”

“You can buy new tires, Tom. That’s easy. What’s the rest like. Let’s go and check it. It’s a shame to waste it.”

Tom collected the key for the caravan and they walked over to see it. A couple of short branches hung over the edge of the roof, blown there by the wind, and one tire was flat and the other nearly so. Tom opened the door and they went inside.

“It looks okay to me. I’ve seen worse. Needs a bit of cleaning though. Have you got a mattress for it, Tom?”

“Yes. It’s in the bungalow basement.”

“Does the gas and water work?”

“Oh, yes. Everything’s fine. And the roof’s not leaking,” Tom said, after looking at the corner of the ceiling.

“Well, if I had it I’d buy new tires and take a trip. Why don’t you do that? Take a short one first and find out if you like it. Start exploring.”

“Well, I think I will. Not now though, maybe in the Fall.”

Tom locked the caravan’s door and they walked back to have another mug of coffee. This time, Dot did most of the talking, first telling Tom about her last bridge game, how she bid and made two grand slams and how mad her opponents were when they both made mistakes. Then she told him about her future job of delivering meals, the training program they had given her and the police check.

“I said I could deliver on Tuesdays. That fills my week, with bridge and coming here. Just Saturdays and Sundays free now.”

“What happens if you want to take a holiday?”

“Oh, they get others to look after your round. I don’t do it alone, of course, I’m always with another person.”

“I see.”

“Now, about supper. We have to go fishing. Let’s go for lake trout. Okay?”

“All right. After lunch, about two.”

Tom had the fish finder in place, the gas tank for the outboard full and the long-handled net ready when Dot came to his deck. She had her own fishing rod, just a normal spin rod and reel and Tom told her that she’d have to add a weight.

“They’re fifty or sixty feet down. This is what I use,” and he showed her his rod and the two ounce weight.

“Don’t worry. I’ve got some weights and spare swivels.”

Dot rigged her line while Tom looked through her tackle box.

“What lure do you want Dot?”

“Whatever you think will work. You choose.”

Tom pulled one out and tied it onto a three foot line that he attached to the three-way swivel.

“That should do. Okay, get in the boat and we’ll find out if we have fish for supper.”

Once they were at the north shore Tom watched the fish finder and when the depth dropped to eighty feet deep they let out the lines and began trolling. There were trout at various depths and they tried adjusting the length of their fishing lines, hoping that the lure was at about the right depth. They trolled backwards and forwards for about an hour without catching anything.

“The afternoon is not the best time to fish, I think,” said Tom. “Want to stop?”

“Yes. Let’s go back and have a beer. I’m thirsty.”

“Okay.”

Dot hooked something just as she started reeling the line in.

“I’ve got something, Tom. It’s heavy though and not wriggling.”

“Just a weed then, I expect. Keep the line taunt and I’ll wind mine in.”

He did that and watched as Dot slowly wound up her line. Suddenly the rod bent and was nearly pulled out of Dot’s hands. The line rapidly unwound off her reel then went slack.

“It’s a fish, Tom, a big one!”

“Great! Keep winding, Dot. Keep the line taunt, don’t let it throw the hook.”

The fish rose a few feet then pulled away, dragging line out. This continued until they saw it, some thirty feet away, just under the surface. It flicked it’s head sideways and suddenly the line went slack.

“Damn, it’s got away. Wow! That was a big one. Must have been ten pounds, don’t you think?”

“Could be. I’ve never seen one that size. All Jack and I’ve caught have been under five. Too bad. Want to try again?”

“No. That’s enough for now. But maybe we can go tomorrow morning before I leave.”

“All right. Okay, we’ll head home. What shall we have for supper now? How about a pizza?”

“Ah, yes. Okay.”

Tom fetched a medium vegetarian pizza, something they both liked and each added some hot pickled peppers before eating them on Tom’s deck. They talked about their children that evening. Tom didn’t know that Dot and her husband, Bill, had two. He’d met Ken, of course, but Dot told him she had a daughter as well.

“Her name’s Jane. She began using drugs when she was in high school and it got worse and worse. I didn’t know what to do. It was no good trying to keep her in after school for she refused to come home if I did that. She quit school when she was sixteen, moved to Toronto, then, I was told, to Vancouver. This was in 1990. I haven’t heard from her since she left Toronto. I don’t even know if she’s still alive.”

“That’s very sad. Ever thought of trying to find her?”

“I did, at first, then thought, what’s the point? She didn’t even try to do what I asked when she lived at home. She surely wouldn’t when she was older.”

“She might now though. She can’t have a good life.”

“She’s probably living with other addicts. But it’s one reason I didn’t move to a different house; she knows where to find home if she wants to.”

“I only have one child, Steven. He lives in Toronto. He works in a bank, some kind of analyst. Oh, he got a new job about a month ago and a big raise. He said they’re looking for a house now.”

“They’re expensive in Toronto.”

“Yes, I know. I’ll give him some money when I get the money from my mum’s house.”

They talked for another half hour then tidied up. Dot again kissed Tom on the cheek as she left and he watched her as she crossed his garden and climbed over the fence. ‘It’s nice to be kissed,’ he thought, ‘Maybe I should kiss her back next time. Would she like that? No, perhaps I shouldn’t. I don’t want to spoil our friendship.’

 

Chapter Twenty Five. 2005.

Saturday’s auction was held at a large farm thirty kilometres from Portland and many people attended. Tom initially thought it wouldn’t be worth staying but he liked looking at all the things that were for sale and it had become a bit of a Saturday habit now. There was a great pile of roofing tin but it didn’t interest Tom now, he’d already ordered what he needed. He wondered if he should approach whoever bought it and buy a couple of dozen sheets from him, they might be useful if he ever built another shed, but decided against doing so. The tin had come from a large barn that had been pulled down and there were huge piles of barn board and large wooden beams. Many people bid on the barn board and someone said theirs would wall their basement. Tom saw several bundles of thick rope and bought three, thinking that one day he’d make a rope slide for Lilly or a rope walk. He also saw a metal v-shaped device that was near a rototiller and stood nearby when the auctioneer sold the rototiller and found out that the device was used to hill potatoes. So he outbid the buyer when the device was auctioned and bought it, thinking he’d plant a full bed of potatoes if something like that would avoid hoeing them. It cost him twenty dollars, nearly half what he’d paid for his tiller. He also bought a plastic bucket full of glass jars for twenty five cents. He didn’t want the jars but he could use the plastic pail; it was just what he wanted to collect the dripping from the chloride bag. He went to Baker’s Feed and Seed on the way home and bought a twenty five kilogram bag of calcium chloride. Once home he put that and the pail in his cold room.

He tried the rototiller attachment on one of the empty beds Sunday morning. After ten minutes practice he was able to cut a v-shaped trench and, with the two additional extension arms fitted to the unit, he could push earth up high on either side. This showed him how wide he’d have to separate the rows when he planted. He removed the device and rototilled the bed to return it to its level and smooth condition. That afternoon he bought six new plastic tarpaulins before shopping for groceries and beer.

Gardening, reading, fishing and walking filled Monday and Tuesday with Tom looking forward to Dot’s arrival. He fished for over two hours on Tuesday, determined to catch a lake trout for Wednesday’s supper and, eventually, caught a four pound one. He cleaned it on newspaper besides his kitchen sink, thinking he should make a fish cleaner near his dock so he could clean them by the lake as Jack used to do. He’d do that tomorrow morning but then remembered he didn’t have a long enough hose to carry water that far and added ‘hose’ to his list. Maybe he could buy one at the next auction.

Dot came with six colourful and tasty cupcakes. They were perfect with the strong coffee they both drank. They reviewed what they had done that week and Dot talked about her bridge friends, their husbands and what they did, and their children.

“They’re a fun bunch, Tom. You should come and meet them.”

“How can I? I don’t play bridge and it’s a ladies group anyway.”

“No, not when we’re playing bridge. At our party. We have one each year, at the end of the summer. Their husbands or partners will be there too.”

“Oh, but I’m not your husband or partner.”

“That doesn’t matter. Just come, you’ll enjoy it.”

“When is it?”

“September 4th, the Labour Day weekend. We’re having it at Josie’s, not far from my house. It starts at five. You must come, for I’ve told them all about you and they want to meet you.”

“What did you tell them about me?”

“That you used to teach mathematics in an Ottawa high school and that you lived next to my cottage. And that you fished and had a garden. Things like that.”

“If I come won’t they think we’re going out with one another?”

“They might. Would you mind that?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Dot laughed. “Well, I’m damned. I never thought we’d get together like that. Come and give me a kiss, Tom. You old devil.”

They both stood up, moved together and carefully kissed.

It was the first time Tom had kissed anyone since Pat left. It was a nice, comfortable feeling, and he realised how much he missed it. They kissed several times but stopped when Dot said she must sit down.

“That was fun, Tom. Did you like it?”

“Yes, I did. I didn’t know how much I missed it until now.”

“Well, let’s just take our time. There’s no hurry. I’d like another coffee, though.”

“It’s all gone but I’ll make another pot. Stay there while I make it.”

Tom took the cafeteria to the kitchen and cleaned it while the kettle heated more water. ‘How did that happen? Boy, it was nice. It made me feel like I was twenty again. You know, I bet she wouldn’t have minded if I had kissed her the other evening.’

They drank more coffee, ate another cupcake, thought then talked about supper.

“I have a nice lake trout in the fridge, Dot. I stayed out last evening until I caught one. How should we cook it?”

“Let me have it. We’ll eat at my place tonight and I’ll cook it. I’ve some new potatoes and fresh corn. We’ll have them with it.”

“Corn on the cob? Yes, I guess the corn is ready now. But it’ll be messy, eating them all together.”

“No, we’ll eat the corn first. How many do you want?”

“Two, that’s plenty.”

“Okay. Give me the fish and you come over about six.”

Tom wrapped the fish in aluminium foil and gave it to Dot on a plate and kissed her before she walked back to her cottage. ‘I’ll get some champagne to celebrate our going-out-together! I’d better get it now so that it’s cold tonight. Wow!’

They kissed and laughed then kissed again when Tom brought the champagne over. Dot made martinis and was dismayed when Tom, when asked how he liked them, said he preferred a whisky, wine or beer.

“Oh dear. I don’t have any whisky. But I’ll get some. What do you prefer?”

“Glenmorangie. It’s a malt not a blend, and expensive so I seldom drink it. You prefer martinis then.”

“Yes. Or a gin and tonic.”

“I like those. Haven’t had one since Pat left. She drank them.”

“If I switched to G and T would it remind you of her?”

“No. I’d look at you and be quite happy.”

“Oh, Tom. Give me another kiss. I’ll bring some next week.”

After several kisses and hugs Dot went to the kitchen, heated a pot of water and turned on the oven. Tom followed her and asked if he could help.

“No, nothing to do. It’s all prepared. Want a beer while waiting?”

“No, thanks. I’ll just sit here and watch you. Oh, is the corn shucked? I can do that.”

“It’s already done, Tom. Just relax.”

They ate corn on the cob then Tom opened the champagne and Dot brought in the trout, baked potatoes and a dish of sour cream.

“I baked the trout, Tom. I thought that you probably fried them so this might be a change. Just the fish, lemon juice, black pepper and onions. I should have used shallots but didn’t have any. How do you like it.”

“Wonderful,” said Tom, with his mouth still half-full of his first bite. “I’ll have to try cooking like this. As you say, I usually fry them. Can I have the recipe?”

“Just put them all together in a casserole and bake for twenty minutes at 400.”

They drank and ate, smiling at each other. Tom had a second helping of fish but ate only half of his potatoes.

“That was lovely, Dot. Thanks.”

“There’s rhubarb pie for dessert. Ice cream too.”

“Just a small piece Dot. I’m full.”

They drank coffee and the last of the champagne on Dot’s deck afterwards. After putting his empty cup in its saucer Tom reached over and held Dot’s hand, wondering how far things were going to go that night. As if reading his mind Dot looked at him then said, “I think we should go slowly, Tom. There’s no hurry. Let’s leave things as they are for a while. Okay?

“Yes, Dot, if you say so. But I can’t help thinking.”

“Same for me, Tom. Soon.”

Tom helped Dot clear the table and wash the dishes. Afterwards they stood, hugging and kissing each other on the deck, then Tom walked back to his bungalow.

During coffee next day Tom told Dot that he had a season ticket for the Thousand Islands Playhouse.

“Do you go there?”

“Not often. Maybe twice a year.”

“Well I think the next one is a comedy. Want to come? I go the last Friday of the month but I could change the date.”

“That’s next week. Yes, I’d like that.”

“Okay, I’ll get another ticket. We’ll not be too close to the front though. Most of them will be gone by now.”

“Never mind. As long as we can see and hear it’ll be all right.”

“I’ll pick you up. Where do you live?”

“On Brock Street. You follow highway fifteen then thirty two to get to Gananoque. Well Brock Street crosses the thirty two. It’s about four streets down. Turn right when you see it and keep going. My house has an orange garage door. You can’t miss it. It’s the only one with a garage door like that.”

“All right. Shall we go to dinner first?”

“That’d be nice. Yes, please.”

“Then I’ll be there at six. You choose where we should eat, you know Gananoque much better than I do.”

“All right. That’ll make a very nice evening.”

“It will, if the show’s good.”

There were no auction sales that weekend. Tom returned his library books and chose more, bought a long hose, a faucet for the end and made a fish cleaner. He used it when he caught a bass and dropped the waste into a bucket rather than letting it fall into the lake next to his dock and the sand. He thought about adding the offal to his compost pile but it would only attract animals so he walked along the shore and threw them into the lake when he drew near Dot’s lot. A gull must have been watching him for it, then three others, dropped onto the remains and they quickly disappeared. He could have thrown it from his own dock if they always did that.

The roofing metal was delivered on Monday and Tom spent the day roofing the tree house and filling-in the triangular ends. Once done, he crawled inside and looked around. It was light enough, even with the door closed, but it needed more to make it comfortable. ‘I’ll make two chairs and a table. And a shelf or two. Lilly can tell me if she wants anything else.’

He made the table and chairs on Tuesday then fished, hoping to catch something for supper but caught nothing and bought himself a pizza, thinking he’d cook hamburgers for Dot on Wednesday.

“So you’ve put a roof on the tree house, Tom.”

“Hi, Dot. Didn’t hear you arrive,” said Tom, who was in his shed coiling the ropes ready to hang up on the two-by-fours he had fastened to the back wall.

“Yes, did that on Monday. Want to look inside?”

“Yes, I’d like to. Give me a kiss first.”

They kissed, slowly then more quickly and hugged each other.

“Okay, Tom. Enough for now. Let’s go to the tree house.”

Dot climbed the ladder, opened the door and looked inside.

“Oh, chairs and a table too, lucky girl.”

She pushed the door fully open, bent her back and moved into the house.

“It’s nice, Tom, but the windows need curtains. I’ll make some. What size are they?”

Tom, who was standing at the bottom of the ladder, told her. “Anything else it needs?”

“Maybe some flowers or a couple of pictures on the walls.”

“I’ve probably got some pictures for it and I’ll look for a vase. Lilly can pick her own flowers when she’s here.”

“Okay. I’m coming down now. Look out,” and she descended the ladder.

“How often does she visit?”

“Just once a year. In the summer, she has her birthday here. The house is her birthday present for next year.”

“How old is she? I’ve forgotten.”

“She’ll be five next year. Her birthday’s July 19th.”

“Ah, yes. Shirley will be eight. Perhaps I can arrange for Ken to bring her here that day.”

“I’ll let you know when they’re coming, it doesn’t have to be on her birthday, they come for a week. Okay. Let’s have some coffee. Did you bring a cake this time?”

“No, I made butter tart squares.”

“Oh, lovely. Mom used to make those.”

As they drank and ate a couple of squares Dot told Tom where they’d go to eat that evening.

“I’ll take you to the restaurant Bill and I frequented. I haven’t been there since he died so I don’t know if it’s still run by the same people. Back then the food was good and it wasn’t expensive.”

“All right. I’ve got hamburgers and chips for tonight. I couldn’t catch a fish.”

“I’ve got something, a lasagne. It’s frozen and I was going to put it in the freezer for Ken. They’ll be here this weekend but we can eat it and I’ll give them something else.”

“Do you often cook meals for them?”

“Well, they’re both working and don’t live far from me. If I do I put it in their fridge or freezer and leave a note for Susan or call her.”

“It must be nice living near your son. Steven’s so far away.”

“You might want to move nearer when you get older. Then he could look after you if you were ill.”

“I suppose so.”

They ate supper on Dot’s deck, for there were no mosquitoes and it was a warm night. Four candles lit the table and the kitchen light added just enough to make it easy to get around. Tom brought a cabernet and they finished the bottle before starting the lemon mouse dessert.

“More coffee, Tom?”

“No, thanks Dot. That was a great meal. Ken and Susan are lucky you cook for them.”

“I enjoy it. You can have the rest of the lasagne. Don’t freeze it, just put it in your fridge.”

“Okay. What time should I come on Friday?”

“Oh, six o’clock should be fine. No, make if five forty five, the restaurant might be busy.”

“Right. Let me help wash the dishes.”

“No, I don’t want to do them now. Let’s just sit in the lounge chairs and relax.”

They got up and moved to the chairs which were on the other end of the deck.

“Move yours closer to mine, Tom. I want to hold your hand.”

They sat down, put their feet up and Tom felt Dot’s hand moving into his.

“That’s nice. I like holding hands and hugging.”

“Yes, I do too. And kissing, of course. Can I kiss you now?”

“Why not?” and Dot lent towards him. They kissed and Dot moved her head back.

“That’s nice, but not as nice as when we’re standing. No, Tom. Don’t get up. Just relax now.”

They lay, looking at the stars. There were many of them for the kitchen light didn’t shine on this part of the deck. After a few minutes Dot said, “Tom, do you want to stay at my place on Friday night?”

“Sleep over or sleep together, Dot?”

“Sleep together, you daft thing.”

“I’d love to. But, if you’d like to do that, why not now? Tonight?”

“I want to look forward to it, mostly, but I don’t want to use Ken and Susan’s bed.”

“You could use mine.”

“Not this time, Tom. Maybe in the future. Friday night, okay?”

“Oh, yes, please.”

“Then you’d better go now. I don’t want to change my mind.”

“Stand up then, Dot, and we’ll kiss properly.”

They did that. For several minutes. And stopped, just in time.

“Go, Tom. Go now. Go while you still can. I’ll come for coffee tomorrow.”

Tom slowly removed his arms from Dot, stood back and looked at her.

“I think I’m falling in love with you, Dot. Do you feel the same?”

“Well, it’s a bit too early for me to say for sure, Tom. It’s a lovely feeling when it happens, isn’t it?”

“Yes. It’s as if I was a teenager again. So strange.”

“Yes, I remember. Perhaps it will come to me too. Soon, I hope, if it comes. Go, Tom. I want to dream about all this. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“All right, I will. Bye, Dot. Bye.”

“Bye, Tom. Bye.”

Coffee the next morning was different from before. They kissed when they met but it was a short kiss, as if neither knew how to behave. They ate squares and talked about fishing, how they’d have to go early or late in the day to catch something bigger than perch and what kind of food each one liked. As Dot stood up to go she looked at Tom and smiled.

“That was a bit boring, wasn’t it? Looks as if we have forgotten how to talk to each other.”

“I’ve got other things on my mind, Dot.”

“Yes, so have I. That’s probably why it was so strained. Kiss me Tom. Properly.”

He did that and they laughed.

“That’s better. Okay, I’m off. See you tomorrow at five forty five.”

“Yes. You bet. Bye, darling Dot. Bye.”

“Bye, Bye, Tom, darling.”

They laughed again.

“Aren’t we daft,” said Dot.

“Yes we are. And I love it.”

They walked to the restaurant on Friday. It was not far away, on King Street, close to Stone Street, the road that would led them to the Playhouse. Supper was nothing spectacular. The restaurant had changed hands since Dot and her husband had been there although the menu was much the same. The food was not as tasty as she remembered and they didn’t plan to return.

The play was a comedy and the theatre was packed. Jenny and Letty were there and Tom introduced Dot to them during the intermission. They talked about the actors, several of whom had been in many plays before. Janet didn’t mention mental activities to Tom and he was relieved. She smiled in what Tom thought was an encouraging way when they parted after the intermission was over. He explained to Dot how they’d met when they were waiting for the second act to begin.

They walked back slowly after the show had finished, neither wanting to hasten the night. Asked if he wanted a drink when they arrived at Dot’s home, Tom said no and began kissing her. She broke away after a minute or so and, keeping hold of his hand, pulled him towards the stairs.

“This way,” she said.

When they reached her bedroom Dot suggested he use the bathroom first if he wanted to use the toilet. He did and when he emerged she said, “I’ll go now. Don’t undress. I’ve been looking forward to doing that.”

It was a long and a short night. Sleep interspersed making love, time and time again, something Tom had not experienced since he was first married, many years ago. He awoke at seven with Dot staring at his face. She kissed him and brushed his cheek with her hand.

“How did you sleep, Tom?” she asked, with her eyes shining.

“Did I sleep? I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”

They laughed and laughed.

“You devil, Tom. I don’t know how you feel but last night was wonderful for me. We’ll have to do it again.”

“Tonight? Yes, let’s. It was wonderful for me, too. I love you, Dot.”

“I’m beginning to feel I love you too, Tom. Now, I must get up. Need to go to the bathroom.”

“So do I.”

“No, you don’t. Me first,” and she dashed out of her bed and into the hall.

Breakfast was bagels and cream cheese. Tom ate two. They spent the day walking, hand in hand, around Gananoque and bought sandwiches which they ate in the park looking at the ducks on the river. They went to bed in the afternoon, telling each other they needed a nap, which they had, eventually. The walked to the Gananoque Inn for supper and back again, this time to sleep most of the night.

Sunday they drove along the Thousand Islands Parkway and had lunch in Brockville in a restaurant that was near the river. They drove back along the 401, had an early supper at an Indian restaurant, watched television documentary then went to bed.

Dot told Tom to go home after breakfast on Monday.

“The bridge group is meeting here this afternoon and I’ve got to get ready.”

“All right. Wednesday night you’ll sleep at my place?”

“You bet. And we’ll catch some fish, too. Right?”

“Yes. And just in case we don’t I’ll have one in the fridge ready for us.”

“You cook it this time, Tom.”

“I will, on the barbecue.”

Tom realised, while driving home, that Wednesday was the thirty first of August and that his lawyer would have a cheque for him. ‘Well, I’m not going to tell Dot I can’t see her. I’ll phone and tell him I’ll collect it Thursday afternoon.’

Thinking back to what Dot had told him a few weeks ago Tom jacked up his caravan on Tuesday, removed the wheels and unfastened the spare. He took them to Canadian Tire and they installed new tires and inner tubes. He installed them and refastened the spare then pulled the caravan to the small turn-area near his garage door and washed the outside. After a rest he began cleaning the inside. He took all the sheets, pillow cases and towels to his basement and washed them. He then removed all the dishes, washed them and put them back. Finally he replaced the mattress on the bed and made it. ‘Now, I wonder if Dot will take a trip with me. I’ll ask her tomorrow.’

Tom fished for bass that evening and caught one, not a very large one but he kept it, hoping to catch another but failed to do so. He cleaned it and put it in his fridge and went out again at six o’clock on Wednesday morning, this time catching two, three-pound bass. ‘Now we certainly will have fish tonight!’

Tom was picking tomatoes when Dot climbed over the wire fence. They kissed a few times then Tom told Dot to follow him and he walked to the front of the house and showed her the caravan.

“Look, new tires, and I’ve cleaned it, inside as well as outside. What do you think? Want to take a trip with me?”

“Love too. When?”

“Next week? How about that?”

“No, make it the week after, I’ve got to let everyone know I’ll be away. For how long?”

“I thought it should be a short one to begin with. It’s mainly to test out the caravan, see if it’s good enough for a longer trip. I’d like to take it to Nova Scotia or PEI if it was.”

“This year?”

“Why not? You said one should travel and we can if you like.”

“I didn’t mean in an old caravan, Tom. But I’m willing to give it a go.”

“Good. We’ll have coffee and look at the calendar. Oh, I’ve three fish in the fridge so we will have fish tonight. Now, what’s that in the bag?”

“Ginger and raison muffins.”

“Lovely,” and Tom kissed her again. “Let’s eat and drink.”

After some discussion they chose to leave on Monday, September 12th, and come back on Friday.

“Four nights should be long enough to try the caravan don’t you think, Dot?”

“Sure. It might be too long. The bed is a bit small.”

“Yes, I’d thought about that too, but it’s bigger than a tent and lots of people sleep in those. How about going to Silver Lake? It’s not far away and we can easily come back if something goes wrong.”

“It sounds okay but can we try the caravan before going?”

“Sure, tonight, if you like.”

Tom barbecued two fish for supper, one of the large ones and the small one, and warmed fries in the oven. A salad, made of vegetables from his garden, accompanied them. Instead of offering ice cream for dessert he opened a tin of peaches and served them with cream. They drank beer with the meal and had a cognac afterwards with coffee.

The caravan was small as they quickly found out when they started to undress. Before long Tom sat down and watched Dot then he undressed as she used the tiny bathroom. Making love was noisy, for the struts did not stop the unit from shifting and they laughed as they tried to prevent it from rocking.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” said Dot, after they had settled down. “We’ll wake the neighbours.”

“There aren’t any.”

“Not here, silly, when we’re camping.”

“Oh, there. Yes, we might. What are we going to do?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out.”

It started to rain during the night and Tom got up to close the vent in the roof after the wind that rocked the caravan had woken him. The rain had made small puddles on the floor and he used one of the hand towels to mop them up. He’d have to pay attention to the weather when camping. And find an old towel to clean the floor. Dot slept while he was drying the floor and he snuggled against her when he got back in bed. ‘It’s nice having someone to cuddle against,’ he thought, as he drifted back to sleep.

They breakfasted in the bungalow for they hadn’t brought any food into the caravan.

“It was okay, wasn’t it, Dot? You’d still like to go to Silver Lake?”

“Yes, of course. It’s tiny but we can manage. Your friend, the one you bought the caravan from, and his wife used it didn’t they?”

“Bob and Jane. Yes, they did.”

“And your Outback can pull it?”

“Of course. It’s already done that.”

“No, I meant up long hills and for long distances.”

“They aren’t any between here and the camp site.”

“No, not this trip, other ones. If we go to the Maritimes or into the States.”

“Sure, no problem. It can pull more than my light caravan.”

“Then I’ll be thinking about where we go next if this holiday works out. We could go to Florida, couldn’t we?”

“I don’t see why not. Have you got a passport?”

“No, but I’ll get one. You have one, I suppose.”

“Yes, though I’ll have to check when it needs renewing. Wait a minute.”

Tom got up and went downstairs to his study to fetch the passport.

“It’s good for another year.”

“Right. I’ll get one and if going in the caravan isn’t suitable then I’d like to fly down with you when you go in the winter. Would that be okay?”

“Of course. It’ll be great.”

“Then let’s make a list of the things we should take when we go to Silver Lake.”

“You can put an old towel on the top of the list,” and Tom explained what happened during the night.

“We’ll make two lists, then. You make one for the maintenance things and I’ll make one for the food.”

They set to work and fifteen minutes later Dot had a long list and Tom a short one. They swapped papers and modified or added a few things.

“Good job you’ve got a station wagon, you’ll have to pack some of these things in the car. You sure we need to take things like the fishing net?”

“Why not? As you say, there’ll be room for it in the car.”

Tom drove to Ottawa after Dot had left, collected the bank draft from his lawyer and deposited it in his bank. He then bought a draft for fifty thousand dollars made payable to Steven and two GICs, one maturing in three years and the other in five years. He planned to use the money from the sale of his mother’s house to provide capital for discretionary use. He already had enough mutual funds and the market seemed high to him, not a good time to buy more funds. He put Steven’s draft in an envelope with the letter he had written and posted it before shopping and driving home.

There was a big auction sale that Saturday and Tom bought three large rolls of heavily insulated wire that had a large steel strand running through it. He did this because he’d noticed that the ropes that held the dock in place were wearing and he thought this kind of wire should be strong enough to hold it in place. The plastic coating told him it was meant for outside use. The three rolls cost twenty dollars so, if it didn’t work, he’d lost little. He also saw an old metal crank which was about two foot wide. It had a wooden handle on one end and a two-piece clamp on the other. This, he thought, could be fastened to a rod and he could use it to pull his boat into the boathouse. He bought the crank for five dollars although he could probably have bought it for two because no one else bid on it.

Sunday Tom showered and put on a smart but colourful shirt, following dress orders that Dot had given him, and drove to her house arriving at four thirty. She was dressed in a frock, the first one he had seen her wearing for she usually wore jeans or trousers. She had a basket of food on the kitchen table and Tom put his cold box that held two bottles of Riesling next to it.

“Are we driving there, Dot?”

“No, it’s only a few hundred yards away. We won’t take your cold box. Wrap the bottles in that towel,” and she pointed to one hanging on the oven door handle, “and put them in the basket.” Tom did that.

“Now, here’s a list of their names. I haven’t added any of the children, just try to remember the adults’ names. There are ten of them.”

“It won’t be easy unless I know something about each one. It was the same when I was teaching, I couldn’t remember the names of students unless they had a personality or something I could associate with them. Sometimes it was just their seat position.”

“Well, I’ll tell you about them as we walk. Shall we go?”

Dot told Tom a little about each of her bridge partners and their husbands but without a face he thought he’d never remember what she said and was surprised when they entered the side door into the kitchen that he immediately knew he was facing Wanda because she had red hair. Her husband, he assumed, had his hand on her shoulder.

“Hello Tom. Welcome. I’m Wanda. We’ve just been discussing you. Hi, Dot. Put the basket on the table Tom. Josie and John are outside, doing things to the table and chairs.”

“Hello, Wanda,” and Tom shook her hand, “and this must be Larry,” as he held out his towards him.

“My, yes, it is. You already know our names? Oh, yes, you used to be a school teacher.”

“Yes.”

“Guess who the others just coming in are.”

“I can’t, you or Dot will have to introduce me.”

The Bayley’s and the Dunlop’s came into the kitchen and were introduced. Tom joined the husbands while the women took the food they had brought and some out of the fridge into the garden. Larry filled a big cold box with ice and the men put the wine and beer on top then carried the box outside and put it next to a side table.

It was a large garden and at far end a glistening cascade of water fell over the edge of a tiny pond that lay at the top of a four-foot high mound of rocks and earth into another little pond and then from that into a pool at the bottom. Tom and Jim went over to look at it.

“John made this during the summer. I haven’t seen it before,” said Jim. “It’s nice. I’d like something like that but my place isn’t big enough. I guess you’ve got plenty of room, Tom. You live near Portland, I’m told.”

“Yes, I’ve got room to have one but I’ve got the lake, the Big Rideau, at the bottom of the lot.”

“Lucky you. You go fishing then?”

“Yes, for bass and lake trout, usually.”

“I go with friends from work once or twice a year. On a charter boat, in the St. Lawrence. We fish for salmon but catch more lake trout than salmon.”

Two men joined them, carrying several cans of beer.

“Hello, Jim,” one of the men said. “Here, I’ve brought you beers. Hi, Tom. I’m John Peterson and this is George Grant. What do you think of my waterfall?”

“I love it,” said Jim. “How long did it take to make it?”

“A month. I could only work on it on the weekends. Digging the pond was the hardest, the land’s pretty rocky around here. The water re-circulates but also evaporates so I have to refill the pond every two or three weeks.”

“So you had to run hydro out to here?” asked Tom.

“Yes. I buried the cable and there’s an outlet behind that big rock near the top.”

“I had to do that at my place,” Tom said, “after I built a greenhouse and shed.”

“You like building things? Did you build your house?” asked George.

“No. Too big a job for me.”

“It’s on the Big Rideau, I hear,” said John. “It must be nice.”

“It has been, so far. I don’t know what it’ll be like in winter though. I only moved in last month.”

“How do you heat it?” asked John. “Oil?”

“No, wood, or electricity, when I’m away.”

“I hope we don’t get another ice storm then, like we did in 1998. That was pretty bad. You’d be in trouble if you weren’t there.”

“Yes, I know, although I could drain the water from the pipes before leaving.”

“Come and get something to eat, boys,” shouted Josie. “Larry says the hamburgers are ready.”

They ate with their chairs pulled into a big circle and talked between eating and drinking. Afterwards the chairs were moved to the side of the patio and some of them danced to music from a boom box. Tom, who seldom danced for he only knew a couple of steps was forced to by Dot. It wasn’t too bad.

The party broke up at seven when Kathleen told them she must leave. “The girls want to go out so we have to look after Toby. Bridge is at my place on Friday. Bye, now.”

They said goodbye then others said they should also be going.

“We’ll help you put the dishes in the machine,” said Dot. “We’re not in a hurry.”

Tom helped John stack the surplus chairs on a shelf in the garage then they sat on the patio enjoying the garden.

“Who looks after the garden, John?”

“We both do. Josie does most of it though. She has more time and it’s one of her hobbies. Do you garden?”

“Just vegetables and a few flowers along the front of the bungalow.”

“Or, it’s a bungalow. I thought it was a house.”

Tom explained that it was built on a slope and that, from the back it looked like a house, but, from the front it looked like a bungalow.

“So you can take your pick. To me, it’s a bungalow. I call it Whatfor.”

“What? You call it Whatfor?”

“Yes.”

“That’s a funny name. Why do you call it that?”

“It’s a long story, but, simply, it’s because I don’t know what I should do, now that I’m retired.”

“What you should do? Just relax and enjoy yourself, that’s what. That’s what I’m planning to do when I retire. Another six years for me, isn’t it, Josie?”

“Six years before you retire? Yes,” said Josie who had joined them. She and Dot pulled two more lounge chairs up and sat down. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“Tom says he doesn’t know what he should do, now that he’s retired.”

“Well, as I told you, John,” said Tom, “it’s more complicated than that. You see, everyone has to make decisions every day. Constantly. Every action is based on wanting to achieve something. It’s clear at work, there are targets to meet. I had targets when I was teaching, to help each student learn, to learn mathematics. It’s the same for you, John. While you’re working you’ll have plenty of targets or goals to meet and meeting these governs your actions. They decide what you should do. It’s the same for Dot and Josie. They want to get things done, they have targets, although they might not think of them as targets. Look at this garden. There’s tons of targets there; to put that bush in that spot, to plant these kinds of flowers right here. So my trouble is, I’ve got plenty of time now that I’m retired and I don’t know what to do. I have no long-term target, nothing to achieve, no long-term goals. Oh, I’ve got plenty of little things I can do each day but what for? That’s why I call my bungalow Whatfor. I don’t have a long-term goal and that makes me unhappy.”

“Oh, I think I can understand that,” said John. “But why do you need a long term goal or target? I don’t have one. I don’t know anyone who has one.”

“Well, many people do have them, that is, if they’re religious. Their goal, for Christians, is to get into heaven. That’s their long term goal and it governs some of their actions. Not, of course, every action, but some, probably the most important ones, like how should I behave in this situation. Moral problems, things like that. Oh, dear. This is getting too complex. We don’t want to end a very nice day talking about long term goals. I think it’s time we should be going.”

“Wait a minute,” said John. “I’m interested. I ran into a work friend last week in a pub at lunch time and I asked him how he enjoyed retirement and he said he was bored. He said he didn’t have enough to do. I thought he was drunk as he was saying that and that he filled his days by drinking. I see what you mean, Tom. If he had something significant to do he’d be much happier. I guess that’s one reason they suggest that one should do voluntary jobs after retiring.”

“Probably,” said Josie. “I’m already thinking about what you should do when you retire, John. I don’t want you hanging around the house all day.”

“I’ve just done that,” said Dot. “I deliver meals once a week.”

“But it’s more than that,” said Tom. “Those are fill-ins. They keep you busy, occupy your mind when you think about them, but they’re not a long term goal, are they?”

“No,” said John. “But do I need one, that’s the question. I don’t think I do.”

“Again, it’s not that simple, John. How do you solve a moral problem? That’s where one needs a long-term goal.”

“Why?”

“Well, tell me how you solve moral problems and we’ll take it from there.”

“I just abide by the laws. I do what’s right.”

“Abiding by the laws isn’t solving a moral question, it’s keeping out of trouble. Doing what’s right is more difficult. How do you know what is ‘right’?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? You don’t harm any one. That’s the way to do what’s ‘right,’ I guess.”

“What about abortion? Is it right to have an abortion? That could be said to be harming someone, the unborn child.”

“Well, it’s right in some circumstances. When the mother is very young, a girl of twelve, say. It’d be right if having the child would kill her. Or if there was no family or anyone to look after both of them. In that kind of situation it’d be right, wouldn’t it?”

“I can’t be the one to say yes or no. You have to do that. You have to make the decision by questioning your long term goal. Does giving the woman an abortion meet the conditions that achieving your long term goal demands?”

“I don’t follow. What are you talking about?”

“Think of someone who’s a Christian, a Catholic, for simplicity. Abortion is wrong for them. Why? Because the Pope said so and he’s infallible. He sets the goal. In this case, if you’re a Catholic, you can’t endorse abortion.”

“Many don’t accept what he says,” said John.

“Sure, but it’s an example. Take the Commandments. They’re statements of long term goals. Don’t do these things, they say, or you won’t get into heaven.”

“Ah, this is getting complicated. Let’s leave it to another time,” said Josie. “It’s becoming too religious and I’m not a religious person.”

“Neither am I,” said Tom. “I’m an atheist, I’ve decided. That’s why all this is so complicated. Without a goal like ‘going to heaven’ I have nothing to guide me when I’m trying to make a moral decision.”

“I’m beginning to see,” said John. “Okay. Let’s stop now and talk about it another time.”

“Yes,” said Dot. “It’s time for us to go, Tom.”

“Don’t forget your basket,” said Josie, as Dot and Tom stood up. “It’s just by the back door.”

“Thanks for a lovely party,” said Dot.

“And thanks for inviting me,” said Tom. “I much enjoyed it.”

“That was a bit much,” said Dot, as they were walking along the road towards her house. “I didn’t know you were so consumed by that kind of thing.”

“I’m not, really,” said Tom. “I hardly ever think of it. It’s just something that cropped up when I was teaching,” and he gave her a quick summary of how he had been involved with the Philosophers Club when he was teaching.

“It all just comes to mind when the conversation veers that way. You don’t really think I’m obsessed by it, do you?”

“No, I don’t suppose so. You haven’t mentioned it before, at least, to me.”

“Good. Where am I sleeping tonight?”

“With me, if you want to.”

“Of course I want to. I’m just never sure.”

“Oh, come on. It’s a pity you didn’t bring any work clothes. You could help me tidy the flower beds. Look,” Dot said, as she walked up the driveway towards her front door. “The geraniums need heading; I want another blooming.”

“I can do that, it won’t hurt these clothes.”

“Good. Then can you do that tomorrow morning before leaving?”

“Sure, no problem. Anything else?”

“Not that I can think of now. It might be good if you kept some old clothes here.”

“All right,” said Tom, wondering what jobs Dot might have him do in the future.

 

Chapter Twenty Six. 2005.

Monday afternoon Tom tended his garden. He pulled out the eggplants and put them in the compost heap. They hadn’t produced anything. He’d try peppers next year and plant them at the end of May. Come to think of it, it was probably early frost that spoiled the eggplants. He could try them again next year for he loved the way they tasted in Thai cooking. He dumped the remaining sawdust from the plastic bag onto the compost heap and dug it in with his fork.

Tuesday he fastened the crank he’d bought at the auction to a wooden pole and made loops of two ropes to hold the pole near the back of the boathouse. His trailer was already in the boathouse and he fastened a rope to it’s front then opened the doors and pushed the trailer into the water until it just began to float. He then tied the other end of the rope to the middle of the pole and turned the crank. The rope slipped but held firm after he’d driven a nail through the rope into the pole. Turning the crank now pulled the trailer out of the water, up the slope and into the boathouse. It was an easy but slow process. ‘It’ll be harder with the boat and motor on the trailer, but it’ll work. I’d better use a metal pipe, though. I don’t think the pole will be strong enough.’

He drove to town first thing on Wednesday and bought an eight foot long metal pipe and a metal clamp. Once home, he replaced the post with the metal pipe and fastened the end of the rope to the pipe using the clamp. He then greased the holding ropes where they ran around the pipe to lessen friction when it was turned.

Dot brought some donuts she’d made for their coffee and they discussed the bridge club members, their husbands and whether they’d go fishing in the afternoon.

“I’d rather we fished in the evening or early in the morning, Dot. That’s when they’re more likely to bite.”

“Then let’s fish in the evening, it’s nice to cuddle in bed in the morning.”

“All right. We’ll eat at six and fish afterwards. Oh, Bob, the guy who sold me the caravan and is a fishing friend, phoned me this morning and asked if I’d like to go fishing with him today. I told him that you’d be here so he invited us for lunch. I said we’d come. It’s at twelve thirty. It that okay.”

“Sure. You’ve met my friends, it’s about time I met some of yours.”

“That won’t take long, Dot, I don’t have many.”

Jane and Bob had made a chicken salad for lunch. They ate it with the Chardonnay that Tom gave them and had some of Dot’s donuts for dessert with ice cream on the side.

“Do you fish Dot?” asked Bob.

“Now and again. I don’t usually catch anything and that puts me off.”

“You caught a really big one the other week,” reminded Tom.

“Yes. That was thrilling.”

“Yes, that’s what I like,” said Jane, “and it doesn’t happen often enough so Bob usually fishes alone.”

“Dot goes back to Gananoque tomorrow. I’ll be free after that, Bob. Just call me to set a time. Do you have my cell phone number?” Tom asked. “Oh, it’ll have to be this week, we taking the caravan to Silver Lake on Monday.”

“Our old caravan?” asked Jane.

“Yes.”

“Have you got new tires?” Bob asked. “The old ones won’t go that far. And you’ll need to licence it.”

“Oh, damn. I’d forgotten about that.”

“Well, it’s easy enough. There’s an office in Smiths Falls. Just fill in the papers. I gave you the ownership papers, didn’t I?”

“Yes, I’m sure you did.”

Tom found the papers when they returned to the bungalow and he and Dot took them to the office in Smiths Falls. Afterwards they walked around the park and watched boats going through the locks for a while then stopped at the Dairy Queen and had a Blizzard. Not wanting to go home and cook afterwards they ended up in a pub besides the river and ate fish and chips. Two beers made them sleepy so they didn’t go fishing after returning home but had a coffee, watched television then went to bed. Making love in Tom’s king size bed was much more enjoyable than in the caravan.

After Dot had left the next morning, Tom was at a bit of a loss; there didn’t seem anything to do. There was nothing much to be done in the garden. The remaining cabbage and broccoli would last another two or three weeks. He’d eaten all the cauliflower. There were tomatoes on the vine, but many had still not reddened so he’d leave them where they were. He could plan next year’s garden but he really wanted a job outside for it was a warm sunny day. Then he remembered the caravan’s roof; he could give it another coat of sealant.

He used the ladder to wash the top then left it to dry. Finding there wasn’t enough sealant in the can he drove to the motor home dealer in Kingston and bought a can. Afterwards he drove downtown, parked the car near the tennis court and walked inside. Jenny wasn’t there, which was a pity, for he thought he’d take her to lunch. Four of the courts were in use and he sat and watched the play, thinking he could beat most of them if there was a competition. ‘Do I want to play again,’ he wondered. ‘I used to enjoy it so much. Funny how I haven’t thought about playing tennis this year. I was certainly too busy to play, but I didn’t think about it and didn’t even miss it. Strange.’

He got up and walked to Princess Street and found a deli where he had a ham and cheese roll then drove home. He checked the roof of the caravan and found it dry enough to paint so he put on his working clothes and gave it a coat.

Bob called that evening and they arranged to go fishing for lake trout the next day.

“We’ll go before breakfast, Tom? Say about seven? That’s the best time. We’ll catch some big ones then.”

“Who’s boat?” asked Tom.

“Might as well use mine. I’ve just filled the tank with gas.”

They trolled the north shore. Bob, using minnows caught one then Tom, using his favourite lure, caught two. They released his second one for it couldn’t have weighed more than a pound whereas the first one he caught was closer to four.

“Come and have supper with me tonight,” said Tom, as they were cleaning the fish. “I’ll grill my fish, it’s big enough for the three of us.”

“I’ll just check with Jane,” said Bob, and he carried his fish to the cottage. Two minutes later he came back.

“Yes, we’ll come. Thanks. Jane said she’ll bring the dessert.”

Tom cooked all the food on the barbecue, the fish filets and the vegetables, which he cleaned, cut into pieces and wrapped in three pieces of aluminium foil. Jane asked him how he kept them so moist as she was eating them and he told her that he had put an ice cube in each packet.

“I’ll have to try that. They’re delicious. You also added some butter?”

“Yes. I learned about using ice in a cooking book I got from the library. I’ll be taking it back tomorrow if you want to check it out.”

“No, I won’t do that. I’ve plenty of cooking books that I still haven’t looked through.”

Jane’s dessert was a large strawberry and lemon tart, sweet and sharp, not needing ice cream which Tom offered. They talked about the caravan and places that were worth visiting after supper and they left about nine.

Tom spent the weekend cutting the grass, reading, changing his library books, filling the wagon with gas and topping up the propane tanks.

Dot arrived after lunch on Monday with food that she added to the food Tom had put in the caravan’s fridge and freezer. She also bought a suitcase of clothes.

“I’ve got a good dress in case we go somewhere nice one evening. Did you include a suit, Tom?”

“No, I didn’t. Should I?”

“I think so. There’s not much to do in the evening when camping. I thought we should go to Perth for dinner and to movies on other evenings.”

“Oh, all right. I’ll get one.”

“Don’t forget shoes and a tie,” said Dot, as Tom stepped down from the caravan.

‘Hmm, it’s like being married,’ thought Tom, as he walked towards the front door. ‘Worse. Pat never told me what to wear like that. I don’t much like it. We should have talked about what we would be doing earlier. I hope she wants to fish while we’re there.’

He put his suit, socks, white shirt, tie and shoes in the caravan then checked that all the windows and doors on the bungalow were closed and locked. Dot closed the caravan door, Tom pushed up the steps, ensured it was properly in place, then drove the Subaru along the road towards the highway. It was the first time Tom had pulled the caravan any distance and the gravelled and winding road caused him to drive slowly. He pulled to one side when the road widened to let a car overtake him and was glad when he reached the Old Kingston road where he could speed up.

There was just one other caravan at Silver Lake when they arrived. At the office they were told that the camp grounds would close the following Sunday, which didn’t affect them, and that they could use any spot that was open. They chose one that was not far from the washrooms for Dot wanted to use them rather than the tiny space they had in the caravan.

“They have showers there too, Tom. I guess this place is empty because the kids have gone back to school. I’ve a lasagne for supper. Did you bring the hamburgers?”

“Yes, and the buns. Ketchup and mustard and dill pickles are in the fridge. Want to try fishing before supper?”

“Okay. Where?”

“We can rent a canoe. I’d like to try that.”

“Do you know how to handle one?”

“It shouldn’t be too hard. Kids do it all the time.”

“Well let’s not do both. Fishing in a canoe we don’t know how to handle could be dangerous. We’ll fish another time. Do you swim, Tom?”

“Oh, yes. And you?”

“Sure. Good thing it’s warm enough to wear a swimsuit. I don’t want to fall in wearing clothes.”

They were shown how to paddle and steer the canoe and set off, following the shore in case they tipped over. They went slowly to begin with but soon increased speed and were doing very well until Tom, who was in the front, saw a log floating in their path and tried to swerve out of its way. He did this so suddenly that the canoe tilted then tipped over, throwing them into the water. Tom still had his paddle in his hands when he resurfaced and he pushed it under the canoe so it didn’t get lost. Dot’s paddle was some ten feet away moving out to the centre of the lake.

“Are you okay, Dot?” he shouted.

She spat out some water and nodded her head.

“Yes.”

“Then hang on to the side of the canoe and we’ll push it to the shore.” This took several minutes and they were tired when they finally reached there.

“Help me turn the canoe over, Dot. My paddle should be underneath.”

It was and, after a short rest, Tom got in the canoe and made his way to the other paddle. Luckily there was no wind and it hadn’t drifted very far. He headed back to the shore and Dot climbed in.

“That was a bit of a shock. What happened? Why did we tip over?”

“There was a log in the way and I swerved to avoid it. Did it too quickly, I guess. Good thing we’re wearing life jackets. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Oh, yes. Apart from the sudden dumping I’m all right. Let’s head back. I want a shower. I got all muddy as we walked ashore. You too. Take a look. Your legs are covered.”

They handed back the canoe then collected towels and clothes and went to the washrooms. Once clean and back at the caravan Tom said, “I’m going to have a beer. Want one Dot?”

“Have you got any gin? I’d rather have a G and T after that.”

“Sure.”

“And we’ll go to Perth for supper? I don’t feel like cooking now.”

“Okay.”

They found a comfortable restaurant besides the Tay river, sitting inside for it was turning cool and tried the restaurant’s schnitzels. They were large, really too big for both Dot and Tom, but they finished them. It was too dark to enjoy walking the streets so they headed back to the campsite.

Sleeping was not easy for either of them. The bed was too small and it was hard not to bump into each other as they turned over. Awake at six, Tom got up and went to the washroom, there’d be less sewage in the caravan’s tank if they always used these, he thought. Dot was up and dressed when he returned.

“I thought you’d sleep in, Dot”

“I was awake when you went out so I got up too. I’d like to have toast for breakfast. Do you have a toaster?”

“There’s a metal thing I found in the caravan when I bought it. I’ve never used it but I can see how it works. It should be in the third drawer.”

They linked the wire uprights together and placed it on one of the gas burners.

“It takes four slices so put two on for me, Dot.”

The toast wasn’t evenly cooked but it tasted like toast. It was an enjoyable change for Tom, who usually ate cereal.

“So what do you want to do today, Dot? Want to fish?”

“No, don’t think so. The man in the office said that the park has lots of walking trails. Let’s try one of them.”

They walked for two hours that morning. In the afternoon they sat on the beach, swam for a while, then met another couple and chatted with them for an hour. They were driving and camping their way across Canada and had started from Vancouver, where their home was. Once they reached Nova Scotia they would leave their car at a friends house and fly home. They would reverse the trip the following year and return through the States much of the way. Dot was most interested and told Tom she’d like to do the same as they were eating lasagne in the caravan that night.

“Do you have any friends in Nova Scotia or Vancouver, Dot?”

“My daughter was in Vancouver the last time I heard from her but I don’t know if she’s still there. Nor where she lived when she was there.”

“Then we’d have no where to leave the car. We could go there and back the same year. Sharing the driving would make it easy enough. But I’d rather drive to Vancouver in the fall, spend the winter there and drive back next spring. How about doing that? It’s much warmer by the west coast.”

“Might be nice.”

“We should take the caravan if we go, it’d be much cheaper.”

“Think you could sleep in it for three or four weeks? I don’t think I could. It isn’t too comfortable although we might get used to it. I’ll think about it. Do you want more coffee?”

“No thanks. Let’s wash the dishes and read.”

“It’s a pity you don’t have a television here.”

Wednesday they spent much of the day in Perth, walking the main street and through the town’s park, eating lunch in a nearby restaurant, drinking coffee and enjoying an afternoon’s ice-cream, even though a cool wind blew across the table they chose, one that faced the tiny lake that lay in the centre of town. They fished that evening, from the shore, for neither wanted to have another canoe trip, and caught a couple of sunfish which Tom returned to the water. Thursday they decided that they’d had enough camping and drove back to Portland after breakfast. Sleeping in a narrow bed was wearing them out. Once back at Tom’s place they unpacked, ate some of the remaining food for lunch then Dot drove back to Gananoque, thinking that if they ever drove to Vancouver they wouldn’t take the caravan.

Tom was parking the Subaru in his garage after returning the caravan to it’s spot next to the boathouse when a car drove into his drive. It was Ann, Jack’s daughter, and her husband, Peter.

“Hello Ann, Peter. How nice to see you.”

“Hi Tom,” they both said.

“Hope you don’t mind us dropping in,” added Peter.

“Not at all. How are you doing? Have you bought a house? Let’s have a beer on the deck. Want to stay for supper? I’ve lots of hamburgers. Just came back from camping and we didn’t use all of them. Hey, listen to me, can’t stop talking. Come in and I’ll get the beers.”

After sitting down on the deck they began to answer Tom’s questions.

“Yes, we’ve bought a house,” said Ann. “It’s in a new subdivision, a couple of kilometres west of Kingston, just a block from the St. Lawrence. A detached house with a garden that we’ve been landscaping this summer.”

“I see you’ve been doing the same, Tom,” said Peter. “That’s a tree-house near the sand isn’t it?”

“Yes. It’s for my granddaughter, Lilly. I’ll show you it later, if you like. Tell me more about yourselves.”

“There’s not much to tell, Tom. I’m still nursing and Peter’s still teaching. Only one difference and that’s a big one. I’m pregnant, but that won’t change anything for another six months.”

“You’ll stop nursing them?”

“For a year, I think. We need the money and I like nursing. Dad said he’d help look after her or him, don’t know whether it’s a girl or a boy yet, and we’ll find someone else to help. Oh, Peter’s got something to ask you.”

“Yes,” Peter said. “It’s mainly why we came here today. I couldn’t find your phone number so we took a chance you’d be in. It’s a nice day and if you weren’t here we’d leave a message. How are the folks who bought Jack’s cottage? Are they okay?”

“Ah, yes. Dot’s fine. Dorothy Abraham, she bought it mostly for her son and his family to use. They come here some weekends. Dot’s a widow. We’ve sort-of hooked up. She lives in Gananoque.”

“Oh, great, Tom,” said Ann. “That’s nice. Are you thinking of getting married?”

“We haven’t discussed it but I don’t think so. Maybe.”

“So do you go to Gananoque to see her or does she come here?” asked Ann.

“Don’t pry, Ann. It’s not our business.”

“I don’t mind telling you,” said Tom. “She comes here Wednesday and stays until Thursday. I occasionally go to her place on the weekend. Now, how about another beer?”

“Not for me,” said Ann. “I don’t drink much now I’m pregnant.”

“I’ll have one,” said Peter.

After sitting down with two fresh beers Tom asked Peter what he wanted to ask about.

“It’s Queen’s. Their atheists’ club has just started publishing a journal and I picked one up when I saw it in the lobby. When I looked through it the other night I saw that the articles were a bit juvenile. It really needs some adult contributors. Then I thought about you and wondered if you’d like to submit something. They plan to issue one each month. I’ve got the first one for you to read, it’s in the car. What do you think about writing something for them?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m no scholar and no expert on atheism.”

“Nor are they. You’ll see when you read what’s in the first one. When I read it I thought that an outsider, someone not connected with the university, a mature man like you, might give them a better grasp of how an atheist thinks about life. Their articles are mostly arguments against religion. There’s nothing that say’s how an atheist might behave differently.”

“You want me to tell them how to behave differently from religious people? I can’t do that. I’ve no idea.”

“No, not that. Read the magazine and think if you could write something for them. That’s all I ask. Let me get the copy you’ll see what it’s like.”

“How’s your dad, Ann?” asked Tom, as Peter walked through the house on the way to their car.

“Oh, much the same as always. Plays with his railway with his friends, reads magazines about trains, does a little fishing now and again.”

“I hoped he’d come here so we could fish together.”

“I suspect he might feel bad about selling the cottage or that it might remind him of the times he and mom were here. Why don’t you call him and ask him to come. Here, let me give you his phone number.”

She was writing it down on a piece of paper when Peter returned.

“Here’s their journal. The Atheists’ Chat-Box, it’s called. Nothing erudite about that!”

“Thanks. I’ll look at it tonight.”

“I’ll give you my phone number and email address. If you do write something you can email it to me and I’ll pass it on.”

“Write it on here,” said Ann, and passed him the paper on which she had written her father’s phone number.

“Okay. Give me your email address too, Tom.”

They exchanged papers then Tom took them around the lot, showing them the inside of the greenhouse and shed, the watering system and the tree-house.

“It’s a pity there are no trees in our yard or I’d make one of those,” said Peter.

“The garden’s not really big enough,” said Ann, “but you could build a small one in a corner at the back.”

“Yes, I could. And I will, once he’s two years old.”

“And if she’s two?” asked Ann.

“Yes, dear. Of course.”

They didn’t stay long after that and Tom looked at the thin journal after supper. It contained two articles, one editorial and a quiz. “Why I don’t believe in God” and “Religions have Much to Account For” reminded Tom how some members of the philosophers’ club thought. The editorial called for people to come out of the closet and join the group. “Now is the time to learn about what you really think! That’s why you are in university,” it stated.

‘It’s a students’ paper,’ Tom thought. ‘They wouldn’t want outsiders chipping in. And what would I have to tell them? I can’t see what Peter’s getting at. I’ll email him and let him know.’

Two days later Peter replied to his email with a phone call.

“Hi Tom. I spoke to the editor about an outsider contributing to the journal and told her who you were. Guess what, she knows you. Her name’s Susan. You were her maths teacher and helped her and a friend, Jim, I think he was called, run the school’s club. Well she said she’d be honoured if you contribute an article. About anything, anything related to their club’s activities.”

“Susan! Well I do know she went to Queen’s. Is Jim there with her too?”

“There was no boy there when I spoke to her.”

“Well, if it’s Susan that’s publishing the journal I’d like to help her in some way. Do you have her telephone number?”

“No. Didn’t think of asking for it. I’ll find her again and tell her you’re thinking about writing an article. If you do I guess it’d have to be sent in by the end of the month to be included in the next issue. There’s an email address somewhere in the paper, don’t know where but you’ll find it, I’m sure. Send me a copy of anything you write, Tom. Bye now. I’ve a lecture to give.”

‘Susan Chambers! I wonder if she’s taking maths? Well, well, well! Then I think I will write something.’ Tom, funnily, was getting somewhat bored with his life at Whatfor and was now rather glad that Peter had suggested contributing an article.

He’d cleaned up the garden, putting the remaining vegetables in the cold room or blanching them and storing them in the freezer, and rototilled the garden. After cleaning the equipment there seemed nothing to do. He walked for an hour most mornings. That was invariably interesting, for the wildlife differed from day to day. He carried a pair of binoculars and Sibley’s Birds of Eastern North America and was beginning to recognise the species he saw most frequently. He sometimes saw deer and several times saw a fox, twice with four young ones. After his walk he had a coffee then read. He read again after lunch but was becoming dissatisfied with what he was doing. He thought about going to Delta and offering to help but guessed they were closed for the winter. The idea of writing something for Susan began to feel attractive. But what? What would a group of teenagers find interesting? Surely they’d not want another lecture.

Tom thought back to the topics the philosophy club spent time on. How could he clarify those issues? Surely they’ll still be the ones students have trouble with? And the idea that Dr Sewell proposed, he should include that and the discussions he had with Peter and with the husband of Dot’s bridge friend, John. He’d try to combine all of that in some kind of article. That would be an interesting thing to work on. A mental exercise, that’s what it’d be.

Gradually a way of presenting the ideas came to mind. He’d write a short story and explore them by way of a conversation between two people.

He wrote the first draft Sunday afternoon, looked at it again on Monday morning and made a few corrections. He had another look at it in the afternoon then emailed it to the journal’s editor who, of course, was Susan. He sent a copy to Peter.

He heard nothing for two days then Wednesday morning, when he checked his email there was a reply from both.

Peter wrote that he thought Tom should write a book. “It’s easy to read and likely very useful.” Susan wrote that she was delighted. “It reminds me of the Tuesday meetings at Hillson. You must have listened to all we said. Thank you sir. I’ll put it in the next issue. Can you let me know your address and I’ll send some copies of the journal. Here’s my phone number. Perhaps we can meet if you’re down in Kingston one day. Thanks again, Susan.”

When Dot arrived, two hours later Tom handed her the paper he’d written. “I’m about to become a published author, Dot. The atheists club at Queen’s University is going to publish this in their next issue. Of course, it helps to know that the editor is Susan, the girl who ran the club at Hillson that I looked after.”

“Congratulations Tom. I’ll read it now as you make the coffee. And I’ve made a lemon cheesecake to go with it.”

 

Chapter Twenty Seven. 2005.

The article that Tom wrote was as follows:

 

If Purpose, then Meaning.

 

Hello Cal. Come in, come in. It’s good to see you again.”

Hi Gerry. Thanks. I was out for a walk and was thinking about what we talked about last week and decided to drop around and see if you had time for another chat.”

Glad to. Come in and let me take your coat. It’s getting cold these evenings, isn’t it. Like a scotch?”

Yes, please.’’

Well, take a seat and I’ll get it.”

Okay.”

Here you are. Cheers.”

Thanks. Cheers to you too.”

So what were you thinking about Cal?”

Meaning. What is the meaning of life if there’s no God? That’s why people want a God, isn’t it? That’s why I want to believe in the presence of a God. If there’s no God then what’s the purpose of living?”

Yes. I recognise that problem. It’s very hard to accept the fact that life has no meaning. Most people can’t handle the idea and avoid thinking about it. It’s one of the reasons why the ancient prophets dreamed up a God. Or, more likely, the idea of a God was forced upon them when they tried to solve moral questions that their mind posed.”

What do you mean by the ‘moral questions their mind posed’?”

Well, think about it. How do you answer the moral questions you come across? How do you answer this one, for instance, ‘Is it wrong to help my dying, badly-suffering friend to die?’ The law in most countries usually says it’s wrong to do that and you would be jailed if you did so. But is it actually ‘wrong’ to help someone die who’s in terrible pain and is dying anyway? Surely that’s a good thing to do?”

My religion says that it’s not right to do that and that killing anyone, even yourself, is wrong.”

Yes, I know. You are guided by your religion. But, if you think as an atheist would, a person who had no religion to guide their thoughts, what would you say? Is it right or wrong to help someone die who wants to and has some very good reasons for wanting to end their life? For me, as an atheist, it is right to help them, if that’s what they really want.”

You’d think differently if you had a religion, I expect.”

I might. But that’s where I think religions need up-dating.”

Updating? What do you mean? What needs updating?”

Everything Cal. Their premises and their injunctions. Let’s start right at the beginning. Many religions base their requirements upon the belief that those statements were provided by a God. Yet there’s no proof that there is a God.”

Well the majority of people think there is one.”

I know, but why do they think there is one? I’ll tell you why, because their parents and most of the society they live in think that way. One thinks the way one is told how to think. If you live in Italy you’ll probably be a Catholic simply because that’s the prominent religion there. You’d probably be a Muslim if you lived in Iran. Which reminds me of another reason you’d believe that way, because there are two powerful organisations in every country that say there’s a God; the churches and the politicians. However, just because the majority think or state that there’s a God doesn’t mean that it’s correct. Centuries ago almost everybody believed that the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth but we know today that both are incorrect.”

Okay. Let’s assume for a moment that there is no God. Then how did it all begin? Where did the universe come from?”

We don’t know. Scientists have proposed several theories, one being that there wasn’t a beginning. Some think that the universe expands, contracts and expands again and goes on doing that forever. Other scientists, the majority, think that the universe expanded from an infinitely small singularity and there is much evidence that supports that hypothesis. Other scientists think that this singularity came from some earlier universe. In addition, we don’t know if our universe is the only universe. Some theoretical scientists think that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.”

But none of that tells me where it or they came from.”

I know. But how does believing that the universe was made by a God help us understand what happened? All that does is tell everyone to stop trying to answer the question. Just accept that God made it. But that’s no help; if you say God made it, I’d ask ‘where did this God come from? What started Him?’”

It’s simpler to say that God started it than try and understand all those conjectures.”

I guess so, but it doesn’t answer the question. Hey, I’m ready for a top-up. Want one?’

Yes please Gerry. Thanks. Okay, I’ll think about what you said later. Let’s go back the question that worries me most. What’s the purpose of life if there’s no God? Believing in God provides a purpose because He offers a heaven or a paradise to go to after we are dead. When I die I’d like to go to heaven, not hell. And I know how to behave if I want a chance to get there; the Bible tells me how to behave. So if I follow my religion’s commandments I’ll have a chance of getting into heaven. Thus, my religion gives me a purpose. It tells me how to behave and following my religion gives meaning to my life. Once I have a purpose, once I have something I want to accomplish and once I work to accomplish that my life feels meaningful. You must have noticed that, Gerry. Don’t you feel during your work at the office that what you are doing is important and that, by doing it correctly, trying to achieve the organisation’s purpose, made you feel your work is meaningful and that then makes you feel that your life is meaningful?”

Yes, of course. I think everyone feels like that. If we live our life trying to achieve a goal that’s important to us then, concomitantly, our life feels meaningful.”

I’m glad we’ve found something we agree on!”

Right. What we don’t agree on is what we believe is important enough to guide our behaviour. Getting into a heaven isn’t good enough for me because there’s no proof that there is a heaven.”

But it’s better to think that there is than think that there isn’t because if there was a heaven and you behaved as if there wasn’t one you’d end up in Hell. So, smarten up Gerry!”

I can’t, Cal. My whole way of thinking is based upon what I believe is true. Just as yours is. That’s why our discussions are just that, discussions. There’s no hope of my changing how you think nor of you changing how I think. We built our personal beliefs years ago, when we were teenagers. We’d have to be brain-washed to change our beliefs now we’re in our sixties.”

I guess so. You’ll always be an atheist and I’ll always be a Christian.”

Yes. Here, talking about what religions tell you to do, did you know that religions change what they teach over the years? What most religions teach now is quite different from what they taught a few centuries ago. For instance, centuries ago some religions sacrificed girls to placate their God and, not so long ago, Catholic Inquisitors thought that non-believers should be burnt at the stake. They don’t believe or teach those things now-a-days. So how can what was thought to be the ‘right’ way to behave be ‘correct’ one time and be ‘incorrect’ now? If that’s what happens then what the religions tell us is the ‘right’ way to behave these days might be the ‘wrong’ way to behave tomorrow. Therefore, Cal, how can these instructions come from God? Isn’t God supposed to be infallible?”

Ah! Gerry. You fuddle my brain. I understand what you say but I hate what you’re telling me about religions. Let’s skip what I believe and talk about what you believe. Why do you think your life is meaningful?”

Because I’ve got a purpose to strive towards, just like you. I invented one. I knew I’d have to have one for the reasons we have just discussed and I needed one in order to solve problems. I discovered that solving moral problems could be done the same we solve practical problems.”

What do you mean?”

All right. Let me demonstrate how we solve a practical problem first, then I’ll explain how we solve a moral problem. Say you’re at home and want to buy a magazine. Okay. So now you have a purpose and that tells you how to behave; you go out the front door, turn left and walk to the corner shop. Right? Well, while you’re doing that your life feels meaningful, just like we said. You were solving a practical purpose in this case. Now moral problems are solved in just the same way. You’ve just said you can’t help your friend die because your religion forbids it. Now think what you’ve done to solve that moral problem. You’ve consulted your belief or purpose, which is to get into heaven and to do that you have to obey what your God dictates. So you can’t help your friend. Basically, we determine how to behave by knowing what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ To buy a magazine it’s ‘right’ to turn left at your front door; to get to heaven it’s ‘right’ to refuse to help someone die.”

Yes, I guess so. So what’s your purpose? Is it Communism? Is doing things to make a perfect community what you believe in?”

No, no. It’s not Communism. That’s not a big enough idea. The meaning of life has to be something big and something very important, important to everyone, important to life itself. Something everyone wants to achieve, something life itself wants to achieve. It’s not something like ‘doing the best for everyone in the state or in the world.’ That would mean it’d be okay to kill every being on a different planet if we wanted to colonise it. Surely that can’t be right. The purpose I’ve invented is a universal idea, something every entity, throughout the whole universe, would want.”

That’s what God offers as well. So what purpose of yours replaces God’s purpose Gerry?”

It took me a long time to realise what it should be. I eventually recognised that two things are critical to all life. The first is that life evolves; the second is that helping it to evolve is the most important purpose there can be.”

I don’t understand how that helps. Evolve? Evolve to what?’

I don’t know what it’ll become but I can speculate. Life has evolved ever since it began and slowly, over many, many millennium, it has become smarter. I think it’ll continue to do that. I think it’ll eventually learn how everything in the universe works. It, life itself, including us, if we continue to be part of life and aren’t wiped out by some calamity, will eventually know everything there is to know, although perhaps not how the universe began.”

So it gets smarter and smarter. So what? Why is that so important?”

Ah! Being smart isn’t all that happens. As we get smarter we learn how to control more and more things. A century ago we learned about electro-magnetic waves, so, a few years later, we built radios and televisions. We now have computers which become smarter each year; artificial intelligence is just around the corner. In the last two or three decades we’ve learned a lot about genetics and might soon be able to cure cancer and heart disease.. Don’t you see, as we become smarter and smarter we learn how to control more and more things. Eventually, I believe, we’ll be able to put ourselves to sleep, to hibernate for long enough to go to other planets. We’ll expand, we’ll have to, in case something happens to the Earth, just so we can survive. We, or if not us, other species, maybe from other planets in the universe, will eventually colonise the whole universe, joining up with the other species that live within the universe. Eventually those living things will know everything that every species has ever learned and will be able to do anything.”

Okay, I can just about buy that. So that’s the purpose of life, to be able to do anything, and you want to support that activity. Why? Why bother, if it’s going to happen anyway?”

I bother because it gives me a meaningful purpose; to help life do this. And that allows me to solve moral problems.”

How does it do that? Give me an example.”

Simple. Here’s one. ‘It’s ‘wrong’ to pollute because that harms life.’ Here’s another, ‘it’s ‘right’ to tell the truth because that helps us understand what life’s about and knowing that tells us how to behave in a way that helps life to evolve.’ And so on. Just about every moral question I’ve thought about can be answered by following the behaviour that helps life evolve.”

Hmm, I’ll accept that for now but tell me why you think helping life to evolve so it can understand and control everything is so important. Why is it that important?”

I don’t know why it’s important but, as I said, I can speculate. First, I think life would combine every living thing into just one entity. It seems the best way of combining everything, of combining knowledge, understanding and control. Now, if I was in that position and knew everything I think I’d be lonely. I’d be the only living being. Every living thing would be absorbed into one entity, me. All the knowledge, ideas, feelings that others would have had would be within me because I’d know everything, remember? Second, I don’t think there’d be anything else to live for. What could there be? I now know everything. There was nothing more to learn or do. So I think I’d commit suicide.”

What! Then everything is pointless!”

No, it’s not, and I’m not finished yet, Cal. Before I die I think I’d modify the laws of physics that govern the behaviour of matter and energy and then start a new universe, one that would be better for life than it is now. Perhaps one that would allow things to travel faster than the speed of light. That’d make it easier for life on one planet to get to another planet. Who knows what I’d do, remember I can do anything!”

An intriguing idea. But why bother? Why do that?”

I only suggest this ending because I think that it is the act of living that makes life so glorious. Learning about yourself, your society, its history, the world, the universe. Learning things like that and experiencing all the joys of being alive, your feelings and emotions, are really what matters to everybody. So I think that this omnipotent being would simply restart a new universe and let life begin all again.”

A fantasy, Gerry. A fantasy.”

Yes, I know Cal. But it’s fun to believe something like that could happen. It gives purpose to life, and to me, to think that life could do this. And it tells me how to live.”

Well, well, well. You know Gerry, you’ve given me a lot to think about but I still think I’ll stick to my own religion.”

I’m glad. I didn’t want to try to convert you. I don’t think that is a good thing to do to a mature individual. It would be too upsetting.”

I don’t think you could convert me Gerry.”

You don’t think so? Want me to try?”

If you like. You won’t succeed.”

Okay, I’ll have a go. Think about all the religions in the world, Cal. I read that there’s over a million of them, many being subsets of older ones of course. Then think about what they believe in. We’ve got the one-god lot, the Jews, Christians and Muslims. Then we’ve got the many-gods lot, the Hindus. Then the no-god lot, the Buddhists. Now which one of them is correct? Which one’s got the right answer? I’d say none of them for they’re all based on what some prophet said centuries ago and trying to understand what he meant by reading translations of what he did or said, many of the records probably biased by the beliefs of the translators. Because of that and because they differ from one another I doubt if any of them are the ‘real truth.’ They’re inventions, originally formulated by a man who wanted to help his society live a better life. He wanted to teach them how to live and he reinforced his sayings by attributing them to a god or to some kind of revelation. Maybe he didn’t believe that what he thought actually originated from his own thoughts but they did. Surely, deep down, you must realise this. Don’t you think so?”

Perhaps some of what you said is correct. But how is your idea different from theirs? It’s your speculation that’s all. No better than the statements from the prophets.”

Not quite. I think my idea is ‘truer’ than theirs. Why? Because it’s based on fact, not myths and stories. Consider what I said earlier. You agreed when I said life has evolved and that, as it does, it understands more and can control more. Let me reinforce that fact by giving you another reason why life won’t stop doing this. It can’t stop until it knows everything because the resources it will need to continue living will get harder and harder to find as it consumes them to live. We’ll have to learn how to move to another planet to obtain resources and food. What else will we do when the world runs out of oil, coal and gas, and the forests have been cut down, the fish in the sea eaten or killed by pollution? We’ll have to colonise other planets because we will have used up everything we need on this planet. How do we do that? We can’t do it at the moment but, if we learn enough and learn how to control things more, then we will be able to do it.”

Okay, I see that and agree that it’ll probably happen.”

Then which theory of what life’s about is correct, Cal? One of the existing religions, that looks backwards for ideas about how to behave, or mine, one that looks forwards to see what’s coming and can then determine how to behave and avoid certain death?”

Damn-it Gerry. Don’t say any more. I don’t want to think about that.”

Then I’ll stop. Here, have another drink and we’ll talk about the weather.”

 

It took Dot a while to read this. She drank half the coffee Tom had set before her and eaten a slice of the cake by the time she had finished.

“That’s an awful lot to think about Tom. You must have spent a lot of time thinking about the topic.”

“I have, on and off. You heard me discuss some of it after the bridge party when John and I were talking.”

“Yes. It’s easy to read. Have you ever thought about writing a novel?”

“A novel? You think this could be part of a novel?”

“No. it’s just that I think you write well.”

“I see. Think I could?”

“Why not? What are you going to do in the winter, anyway. Writing a novel would pass the time.”

“I’ll think about it. Want another coffee?”

Dot was very quiet during the day, apparently having nothing to say. She didn’t want to walk or fish and they stayed indoors, reading books, although Tom noticed that Dot was mostly staring out of the window rather than reading. They watched television after supper and went to bed early. When she left the next day Dot told Tom that she’d not be coming next week.

“Oh? Why not? Is it too cold here now?”

“No. Norm phoned me Monday night. His girl friend left him two years ago and he wants to see me again. I don’t know what to do. You’re very nice and I enjoy being with you but I really loved Norm and it was hard to get over what he did. I told him I didn’t want to see him again but I can’t get him out of my mind. That’s what I have to do now. Find out what I really think. Is it best for me to keep seeing you or would I eventually become unhappy if I didn’t see Norm and cleared up my thoughts.”

“My god, Dot. Don’t do this to me. I love you. I told you that. I thought you were beginning to love me too.”

“Well, I thought I was beginning to but I can’t forget how it was with Norm. I have to decide what to do. That’s why I’ll not come up next week. In fact, I won’t come up until I have decided. It’s not fair to you.”

“Oh Dot, Dot.”

“No, Tom, don’t hold me. No. I have to go.”

Tom stood at the door, watching Dot as she walked slowly back to her car, got in, closed the door, started it, reversed and drove out without looking once at him. He shut the door then sat in his chair as his eyes slowly began to fill with tears.

He sat there until he had to go to the bathroom where he washed his face, blew his nose and said, ‘Damn. It’s not fair. First Pat and now, probably, Dot. What’s wrong with me?’

He cut a slice of ham and made a sandwich for lunch, finishing the coffee which he drank cold. He walked the roads that afternoon, coming back as the sun began to set. Supper was a heated TV dinner and he went to bed, mopping the tears that often came to his eyes. Eventually he slept.

He was more cheerful the next morning, accepting that Dot hadn’t said goodbye, she’d only said she had to think about what was the best thing for her to do. ‘She might completely reject Norm, the bastard. I’ll have to get busy and try not to think about it until I hear from her. Okay, what can I do?’

It took Tom a few minutes to concentrate but he eventually remembered he hadn’t drained the water from the caravan. He collected the key from the rack in the kitchen then picked up the tool box from the bench in the garage and walked over to the caravan. He took his time whilst working, ensuring everything was done carefully, knowing that after he’d finished this job there was nothing more for him to do than wash the sheets and pillow case. He did that after a long coffee break when he, like Dot, mostly stared out of the picture window. What was he going to do now?

He tried to think about writing a novel that afternoon, forcing his mind back to possible plots. ‘A thriller? A detective story? No, I can’t write something like that. I know nothing about what detectives do other than what I’ve read in novels. Even if I tried, I don’t have a story to tell. Life of a school teacher? I do know lots about that but who’d want to read about it? What’s really interesting about a school teacher’s life?’

Thinking this way made Tom feel he’d lived an uneventful life, even a boring life, one no one would want to read about. ‘That was why Pat left me, of course. She thought me a boring person. That’s what’s going to turn Dot to Norm, she’ll think I’m a bore compared to him, whatever he does. I must be a bore to everyone.’ He sat and thought, feeling more and more uneasy as depression set in. ‘What can I do about the way I am? Nothing, I guess. It’s just me. And it’s going to get worse living here, there’s nothing exciting to do, just read, walk, fish and garden in the summer. And what am I going to do in the winter? I was mad to build this place. I should have stayed in Ottawa. Oh, God. What am I going to do? There’s nothing to do here. There’s no one to talk to. Winter will be dreadful. I might as well be dead.’

He sat, staring at nothing, wondering if a stiff drink would help but immediately knew it would only make things worse. ‘What the hell am I going to do all winter, stuck in this empty bungalow? Damn, oh damn.’

Slowly he pulled himself together. ‘It can’t be that bad. I’ve got to get over it. It’s just the thought of Dot leaving me, I guess. Well, she hasn’t said she would yet. Maybe she’ll find me more interesting than Norm what’s-his-name. Damn him.’

He sat then, suddenly, snapping out of it. ‘Right. I’m going to get up and cook a big supper for myself. Then, afterwards, I’m going to decide how I’m going to spent the rest of my life. Yes. That’s it. I’ll make a curry and have just one beer then decide. I’m not a bore. I’m sure I wasn’t at school or in the tennis club. I’ll show them.’

Tom stood up, went to the freezer and found a steak and thought about cooking it but remembered his plan of making a curry so he thawed it in the microwave, removed most of the fat, cut it into chunks then quick-fried them in a frying pan. He removed the chunks, chopped up an onion and fried that, adding a curry sauce towards the end, returned the meat and added a can of chopped tomatoes and left the whole thing to simmer. He cooked some rice, wishing he had a naan instead, found the half empty bottle of mango chutney and laid the table, something he normally didn’t do, preferring to eat his solitary meals from a tray on his lap.

Half-an-hour later he put half the curry on a plate and a dollop of rice, took a beer from the fridge and a glass from the cupboard and started his meal. “Right,” he said out loud, after he had finished. “Right, now I’ll wash the dishes, put the rest of the curry and rice in the fridge then decide what I’m going to do.”

But he couldn’t. He sat in the chair and thought. So much depended on what Dot decided. If she said she’d like to stay with him then what? Should they get married? She might not want to and he didn’t think it would make any difference. It didn’t for Pat. She left him anyway. No, that would only complicate things. No, he didn’t want to marry again. If she said she was going to share her life with damnable Norm then he was alone again. In that case, what would he do? Sell this place and move to Toronto seemed the best plan. Be near Steven and Lilly. Watch her grow up, that would be nice. And there’s lots of things to do in Toronto, theatres, groups to join, lots of things. ‘There’s no need to return to Ottawa. There’s only the tennis club and Jim, his tennis partner, there. Toronto would be much better.’

Time passed as he thought through these ideas. ‘When will Dot tell me what she’s going to do? A week? Two weeks? How can I live through the days until I hear? I’ll have to do something. What?’ He thought and thought, eventually finding an answer. ‘I’m going to take a holiday. I’ll go as soon as I can. I’ll not tell Dot, no need to disturb her or pressure her one way or another. She has to make up her own mind without worrying about me. I’ll go to a travel agent tomorrow and see what they’ve got. No, I can do that right now, on the internet.’

He was immediately more cheerful and rushed downstairs to his study where he turned on his computer. Thinking about where he might go while it warmed up Tom remembered Elderhostel, a site for older people that offered learning holidays. Someone at school had talked about the courses they had taken with them and how interesting they were. ‘Elderhostel, well I’ll check them first. But I’m not taking any of their courses if I have to sleep in dormitories. I’m too old for that.’

Elderhostel, it turned out, used hotels, three or more star ones, for accommodation and many of their offerings interested Tom. The ones in Europe or further away were fairly expensive but the ones in North America were often less than a thousand dollars, for a six-day program with many meals included. He searched for holidays that were within a thousand kilometres, thinking he’d drive to them and found several but only two began in the next two weeks. The first was held in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where actors and directors discussed their life and participants visited theatres and went to a couple of plays. The second was a bus tour that crossed Vermont and where they visited farms, cheese factories, chocolate makers and gardens. Both programs interested him.

Friday morning he called the Elderhostel office and learned that the Vermont program was sold out but there was room for two on the Niagara one.

“It’s just me,” Tom told the lady.

“Then there’s a single supplement if you want a room to yourself. However, you can avoid paying that if you say you are willing to share your room with another man. I’d recommend that because it’s unlikely that another man will want to join the program at this late date. What do you want to do, Mr. Alwen?”

“I don’t know. Well, I’ll try sharing a room, like you say. It’s an en-suite room?”

“Yes, it is. Okay, then I’ll take your credit card details.”

She did that, then told Tom she’d send an information package to him but, if it didn’t arrive in time, the guide would have one for him when he checked in. She told him what hotel they were using and that he should arrive between three and five p.m. on Sunday, October 2nd.

Tom put the phone down. ‘It’s done. No matter what Dot tells me I’ve got something to look forward to. Something I’ll enjoy. And if Dot’s going to stay with me then she might come on this holiday too. That’d be great. Hmm, I’ll email Steven and invite myself for lunch on the way to Niagara.’ He did that, telling him that he was on his way to a week’s learning holiday and would be passing by Toronto between eleven and eleven thirty. Could he come for lunch? ‘Let’s hope so. It’d be nice to see them and Lilly again. Now, what shall I do until the holiday starts?’

Nothing came to mind so he went for a walk. ‘I can’t walk and read all the time, I’ll have to find something else to do or I’ll go mad, waiting to hear from Dot. I’ll have to try writing, like she suggested. Write about what, though, that’s the problem. Crime stories are not my thing. Love stories? If I don’t know how to handle my own, how could I write about other’s love affairs?’

Twenty minutes and another kilometre later he had an idea. ‘I’ll write about the bungalow, how it was built and how I, myself, built the deck. I’ll use the photographs to illustrate progress. I hope there’s enough of them. At least, that’s a topic I could write about until a better idea comes along.’

He began that afternoon by transferring all the photographs he’d taken from his camera to the computer. He deleted duplicates and those that showed nothing of particular interest then copied those that related to the bungalow or structures he’d built onto another file. These he rearranged in chronological order and printed the file using black ink. There was no point in using colour, he only wanted them as reminders at this stage. They filled five pages. Thoughts of Dot occasionally flickered across his mind but organising the photos quickly pulled him back to his task.

Saturday he began writing, describing how he’d learned that the lot was for sale and his meeting with Mrs. Derwent. After coffee he wrote about his discussions with the architect, Harry Gregory. He took the sketches and plans from their file and photographed them; he’d add these to the story as well.

He rested in the evening, watching television, refusing to think about Dot. Sunday he wrote, describing what Harry’s contractors had done before he took the first photographs.

The photographs helped him work his way through the construction of the bungalow. His memory was good enough to describe how he’d built the greenhouse and shed, then the deck and other things. He also had photographs of those additions to add to the story.

Wednesday came and went. Dot didn’t show up and Tom was tempted to call her but refrained, knowing it was her decision and he wanted it to be clearly hers, not something contaminated by his appeals.

The story was finished on Friday morning. He used the spelling checker, corrected the faults it found, read it through again and rewrote poorly expressed sections and finally printed it. This time he used coloured ink, though the photographs were reduced to take up no more than a quarter of a page. All together he’d produced a book of thirty-six pages.

‘Not bad for a beginner,’ he told himself, as he looked at it. ‘It needs a cover and a fastening together. I guess the easiest way is to put it in a binder.’ And that’s what he did, punching holes in the pages, inserting them in a binder and placing it on one of the shelves next to his television. ‘Now, if someone asks about the bungalow, I can give them this.’

He shaved and had a shower in the afternoon. Shaving, now he was retired and living by himself, he did only twice a week or when going out. He wondered if he should grow a beard but decided against it. Before leaving for the Playhouse he printed a copy of the article he’d written for Susan and put it in his pocket, planning to give it to Jenny.

In Gananoque he turned down Dot’s road, not intending to stop but if she was in the garden he’d wave. She wasn’t there but a pickup was parked in the driveway. He wondered whose truck it was as he drove past. ‘It’s probably Norm’s. If so, he’s still with her.’

Tom looked over at Jenny’s seat as soon as he was seated in the theatre. Neither she, nor Letty were there and their seats were occupied by a middle-aged couple. ‘Maybe she’s on holiday again. Too bad, it would have been nice to talk to her. I’d like to hear what she thought about the article.’

The play was a comedy and Tom laughed at most of the jokes. Some he couldn’t hear clearly and he wondered if his hearing was degenerating. On his way home he side-tracked along Dot’s road again. The pick-up was still in the driveway, downstairs was dark but the lights were on in Dot’s room. ‘It must be Norm’s truck. I guess that answers the question. She prefers him. Oh, well, I thought it might be that way. Damn and blast him.’ He drove home feeling sad and lonely again. Ignoring his earlier resolution he sat in his easy chair when he got home with the bottle of cognac besides him and drank two glasses before going to bed. He slept easily that night; at least he now knew where he stood.

Saturday morning Tom worked on storing his dock and boat for winter. First, he rowed the boat to be above one of the stones in the lake that held the dock’s fastening rope, reached over to grab the rope and lifted the muddy stone into the boat. He then put the stone and it’s rope on the end of the dock and did the same with the other stone. Next, he ran the boat over to the trailer which he had placed outside the boathouse door, half-way in the water, and climbed out of the boat onto the trailer with a rope tied to the bow in his hand. He used this to pull the boat until it was half-way onto the trailer. He then fastened the rope to the front of the trailer and left the outboard motor running until it had used up all its gas. Once it stopped he pulled the boat fully onto the trailer and tied it down. Using his hand-crank pulley he hauled the trailer and boat into the boathouse. This took a while, for the rope was winding around a thin, two-inch diameter pipe, but it was a relatively easy job. After securing the trailer he pulled the drain plug out of the boat and removed the battery. That he carried to his basement.

His next job was to pull the dock onto land. He untied the wet stones he’d put on the dock and carried them to shore. Next, he removed the wide gangplank that connected the dock to the shore and pulled it on land. Then he unfastened the ropes that held the front of the dock to stones on the shore. This freed the dock. Using an oar and holding the front ropes he pushed the dock along the bank until it lay in front of the sandy slope and as far up as he could. Backing the Subaru towards the dock he fastened the two inside ropes to the car’s trailer hitch and pulled the whole contraption, the dock and the plastic barrels that supported it, up as far as he could. He had to do that because the lake had been lowered, something that was done every year so that it could hold the water the rivers added in the spring. If he left the dock near the water it might float away next spring, but, when he thought about it a little longer, it would probably be safe if he left near the edge if he tied the ropes to big stones on the shore. Well, the way he was doing it was probably safer.

He parked the car in the garage then sat on the deck to rest for a while. It was a pleasant day, much different from the drizzle he’d driven through when returning home yesterday evening. The shore line looked quite different without the dock and boat at the water’s edge. Perhaps he should also try drawing or painting to pass the time.

In the afternoon he packed for his holiday, taking a suit, sweaters, sports jacket, shirts and two ties, not knowing what clothes would be most appropriate. He reviewed the websites description, for he’d not received anything in the mail from Elderhostel. He used a coloured marker to highlight the route he’d take to the hotel on his Southern Ontario map and guessed it’d take about six hours to get there. ‘I’ll leave around eight o’clock, that’ll give me plenty of time to see Steven and I’ll stop for coffee along the way.’ He charged his cell phone overnight and put the charger and cord in a plastic bag which he packed alongside his toilet bag. He checked the fridge and drank most of the milk, leaving just enough for breakfast. Everything else in the fridge would be okay because he’d be back the following Friday.

Steven had replied to his email, saying that they’ll all be going with friends to the ROM on Sunday. ‘We’ll be in at ten o’clock and I’m sure we’ll be finished by twelve. Can you meet us at the front door? There are lots of restaurants nearby. You’ll find parking two or three blocks north of Bloor.’ Finding a place to park wasn’t as easy as Steven had suggested but Tom had arrived at the museum half-an-hour early and he eventually found a spot.

He watched them come out of the museum and say goodbye to their friends then they walked over to him. Lilly was overjoyed to see him.

“Hi, grandpa. Hi.”

“Hi Lilly,” Tom said, as he picked her up and hugged her. He smiled at Stella and Steven. “How did you like the museum?” he asked Lilly.

“Too many old things, grandpa. Not much fun, zoos are much nicer. Are we going back after lunch, mom?”

“No, we’re going to the park.”

“Good. Are you coming with us, grandpa?”

“Not to the park but we’re having lunch together.”

Holding Lilly’s hand they walked along the street until they found a restaurant that sold spaghetti, a sudden favourite of Lilly.

Over lunch Steven told Tom that they’ve been looking at houses and found several they could afford to buy now.

“Your fifty thousand made all the difference, dad. We’ve been looking in the north of Toronto.”

“In places near good elementary schools,” said Stella.

“Have you decided on an area?”

“No, not yet. We’ll be looking again next weekend. I think prices might go down as winter gets nearer.”

“Well, good luck. I hope you find a nice house.”

Elderhostel’s hotel was in Niagara Falls, not in Niagara-on-the-Lake, presumably because it was cheaper to use one of the many hotels in Niagara that were near the Falls. Tom parked the car, wondering if the parking fees would be covered by the program, and took his bag to the lobby. There he saw a small table set on one side with a flip-chart that stated ‘Elderhostel.’ He walked over and a lady who was siting behind the table stood up.

“Hello, are you attending the Elderhostel program?” she asked.

Tom nodded, “I’m Tom Alwen.”

“Hello Tom. My name’s Claris Shanks. I’m the leader. Let me check you off the list. There you are, at the bottom. You’ve only just joined the group, I see. I’ve the full itinerary in this package, in case yours didn’t arrive,” and she gave him an envelope.

“You’re lucky. No one else has joined the group after you and you have the room all to yourself. You’re in room 204, the key’s in the envelope. We start with a get-together in Meeting Room B, it’s down that corridor there,” and she pointed to the right of the reception desk. “It’s at five thirty. Please wear your name tag for that meeting and when we have talks in the hotel. That way, everybody will get to know each other. Have you been on other Elderhostel courses?”

“No, this is my first.”

“Ah, all the others I’ve met so far have attended others. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine, you’ll enjoy it. Oh, here’s two more, I think, I’ll have to check them in now, Tom. Can you manage your bag?”

“Oh yes, no problem.”

Toms room was nothing special, two double beds, a desk, television, one easy chair and a bathroom. ‘Good thing there’s only me in here,’ he said, after the first look. ‘Won’t have to fight about who has the chair.’ He was tempted to use the small coffee machine to make a cup but refrained, as it was now nearly five o’clock. He unpacked then opened the envelope Claris had given him. It contained several stapled sheets. The first set described, in detail, what would be happening each day of the program, the others gave a short biography about the lecturers. There was also a history of the two theatres they’d be visiting. He skimmed what they would be doing that evening and the one for Monday, pinned his name tag to his sweater and went to the meeting room.

He was early but there were others already in the room. Claris was at the front talking to a group of four and several other people sat in the chairs. He chose a seat at the side of the back row. The room filled up and, a minute past five thirty Claris began by welcoming everybody.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she continued, “and I think you’ll have a great time. Let’s start by getting to know a little about everybody. Please stand up in turn, state your name, say where you’re from and a little about what you’ve done in life. Oh, also tell us how many Elderhostel programs you’ve been on before this one.”

They started at the front row. Tom was surprised to find out that nearly everyone came from the United States and only two had never attended another Elderhostel program. There was a couple from Calgary and another two ladies from Vancouver. Why would they travel all this distance to come to this program Tom wondered. Like him, many used to be teachers or nurses or had some kind of professional background.

After everyone had introduced themselves, Claris went through Monday’s program, answered a few questions then took them to the dining room. They were seated in an alcove and five tables were set for the attendees and Claris, twenty nine places in all.

On Tom’s table they began talking about the program and their reason for coming. All, of course, were interested in the theatre. Three were amateur actors in their home town, one of them also did some directing. Everybody except Tom came from the states.

“You said you’re from Ottawa, didn’t you Tom?” asked a woman.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Then you have a great Arts Centre in the city. I’ve been to it, saw an opera, Tannhauser, about five years ago. It must be nice to live in a city like that.”

“Well,” said Tom, “I said Ottawa because I’ve spent most of my life there but now I live in the country, near a small place called Portland. That’s a village on the Big Rideau Lake. Where do you live, Nancy?”

“Johnstown, Pennsylvania. We drove here. We’re staying on afterwards and seeing a bit of Ontario. Might even go to Ottawa, eh, Phil?” and she looked at the man sitting nest to her.

“I guess so. I haven’t been there since the seventies. It must have changed a lot since then.”

The talk turned to how times and places had changed over the years since they were young. Most, Tom imagined, were over sixty.

Supper was nothing interesting; salad, chicken and vegetables, followed by an ice cream. Tom was a bit disappointed, since all dinners on this course except one would be taken in the hotel. He expected the breakfasts to be better because they were buffets and he could help himself. Lunches were on your own except one, which everyone would attend and it would be in a restaurant.

Supper finished around eight and Claris reminded everyone that the next day’s session would begin with a talk in the meeting room at nine o’clock.

Breakfast was definitely better than last night’s supper, for there was a large choice ranging from cereals, fruits, waffles, cold meats and cheeses and hot trays of bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages and hash browns. Tom cut a bagel in half and put it on to toast while filling a plate with the hot food. He didn’t know what he’d be eating for lunch and thought he might as well eat enough to last until supper.

An assistant director from the Prince of Wales theatre gave the morning’s lecture in the meeting room. He briefly described how he moved from being an amateur to becoming a professional actor then how he became a director, working in two towns before moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake. He then told tales about some of the famous actors he had worked with and, finally, what it was like to work at the Prince of Wales. He spoke for three quarters of an hour then answered questions. Claris thanked him then reminded everybody they’d be seeing him tomorrow, before their tour of the theatre.

“There’s a coffee break now for half an hour. You’ll find coffee and tea on tables in the hall, help yourself. We’ll drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake afterwards where we’ll walk along Queen Street. That’s the town’s main street and the theatres are on it. Meet me at the front door at ten forty five and the coach will take us on a little tour first.”

After the tour they were dropped off at the Prince of Wales theatre but they didn’t go inside. As they walked along Queen Street Claris pointed out the restaurants she liked. When they came to the Royal George Theatre she told them that they should meet here at one thirty. “I’ll be here and will give you your tickets. Now, I’m going to have lunch. I’ll be eating in the Italian restaurant that we just passed. You can join me if you like or eat elsewhere. Okay? See you all, here, at one thirty then.”

Tom had no preference about where he would eat and he joined the small group with Claris. He had a tuna salad for lunch and a coffee. They talked about the morning’s speaker and his life and Claris compared his experiences to other’s that had given similar talks. Lunch finished, they had fifteen minutes before joining her at the theatre. Tom walked along two of the side streets before returning to the theatre.

The afternoon’s show was Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Several had seen it before but it was new to Tom. Shaw’s depiction of the life of women in the Victorian age and of prostitution was not new to Tom for he had read novels that dealt with that age but he loved the way Shaw had turned the topic into an enjoyable tale. He readily understood why the play was originally banned in England and New York, a fact that he had learned over lunch, and decided he must read more of Shaw’s works.

Supper, back at the hotel in Niagara Falls was a little more interesting than the previous night, with a choice of pork chops or grilled fish. Tom chose the fish. He sat at the same table he was at on Sunday night but was joined by new people who discussed plays they had seen and Shaw’s life.

After supper, Tom joined Claris and most of the others to walk down to the gardens and along to the Falls. Colourful lights illuminated the water and they watched from the rails close to the water’s edge for several minutes. Afterwards Tom joined the group that wanted to go for a drink and they climbed the stairs to the bar that overlooked the falls.

Tuesday morning the coach took them to the Prince of Wales theatre. The play they would be seeing that evening was Shaw’s You Never Can Tell and two of the play’s actors outlined the story then enacted several of their interchanges. Following that they were taken to the stage. Stage hands were setting the scene for the first act and they watched from the stalls as they moved furniture setting up a dentist’s office. After a coffee break they were taken on a tour of the theatre’s workrooms, seeing dressmakers sew costumes, wig makers prepare wigs and carpenters constructing sets. Tom was surprised by the number of people working there.

Following lunch, which Tom had with another couple in a nearby pub, they were taken on a tour of three wineries, two of which included wine tasting. Tom bought two bottles at the second stop, where they also saw the equipment used to squash the grapes, the large containers where the juice was fermented, the strainers and bottling equipment.

While they were eating dinner that night Tom’s cell phone rang. He excused himself and went in the hall to answer it. It was Dot.

“Tom, I have decided. It’s Norm,” she said. “I can’t help myself. Deep down I think I never fell out of love for him. I’m sorry. I thought for a while we had something good happening but, seeing Norm again has changed that. I’m really sorry, Tom, but that’s what I’ve decided. I won’t come to the cottage tomorrow, nor for a little while. Perhaps we can still be friends?”

Tom didn’t say anything. What he’d guessed must have been true; it was Norm’s truck he saw in the driveway last Friday.

“Tom? Are you there?”

“Yes, Dot. I’m here. I’m sorry, very sorry, for me, that is. I hope it turns out okay with you and Norm this time. Yes, I’m sure we’ll still be friends. Call around when you are up next time and we’ll see. Don’t bring Norm though. I must go now. Bye,” and he shut off the phone without waiting for her reply.

He sat in one of the chairs in the hallway and felt miserable. Although expecting it, when Dot actually told him she preferred her old boyfriend it hurt. Several minutes later he stirred himself and walked up the stairs to his bedroom and sat in the chair feeling unhappy. A knock on the door disturbed him ten minutes later.

“Are you all right?” Claris said, when he opened the door. “I saw you leave and not return. Can I do anything?”

“I’m okay, Claris. Just some disturbing news. I didn’t feel like eating after hearing it. Thanks for checking.”

“Well, all right. You’ll be with us in the morning?”

“Oh yes, of course.”

“Good. Then goodnight, Tom.”

“Goodnight, Claris.”

He stood at the door after closing it. It was early, not quite seven, too early to go to bed. No point in trying to read or watch television, his mind would only return to thinking about Dot. He decided to go for a walk.

He followed the steps they had taken on Monday night and stood with the crowds, looking at the Falls for fifteen minutes, hardly seeing them. At last he turned away and walked slowly back to the hotel where he had a shower and went to bed.

Sleep came unexpectedly quickly, and returned again, after waking at one o’clock, when he went to the toilet. Wednesday, when he awoke, he was almost back to his normal self. Dot preferred Norm. That was it. Period. He no longer needed to worry about it. He’d think of the future without including her. He’d look for another holiday when he got home. He’d write. He’d enjoy himself and forget her. Now. Let’s go and have breakfast.

Talks, a visit to the Botanical Gardens, a lunch at one of the wineries, a free afternoon and two more plays, one a matinee, filled the rest of the week. They broke up after breakfast on Friday and Tom drove home. He’d enjoyed the holiday and planned to take more Elderhostel courses; it was a good way to learn something new and everyone was friendly, about the same age as he was and the programs didn’t cost too much. A quick calculation told him that he could take three or four each year and not have to cash in any of his savings, that is, if he continued living the way he did. His superannuation, CPP and OAS would cover everything. He’d look for another holiday, somewhere in the states, one he could go to before Christmas, as soon as he got home.

 

Chapter Twenty Eight. 2005.

Tom collected his mail from his lock-box in the Post Office as soon as he got to Portland, something he usually did on Saturday for he received little mail. This time the box was full, for five rolled copies of The Atheists’ Chat-Box were crammed in. He thought about opening the roll right then in the car but didn’t; it would be nicer to sit down with a coffee and read one when he got home.

Once home he left his suitcase on his bed and made a pot of coffee, taking out the package of cookies that he had bought to share with Dot so many days ago. Sitting down he opened the journals. There was a note from Susan inside.

 

Hi Mr. Alwen,

The club’s president wants me to tell you how much he enjoyed your article and wonders if you can submit one each month. ‘It adds tone,’ he said. I don’t quite know what he means by that! Others have told me that it made them think and that’s what we’re about. So, how about it? Please say yes.

Yours,

Susan (Chambers).

 

Tom flattened the roll and opened one of the journals. His article started on page one, under a short statement from the club’s president about the club’s next meeting and one from the editor, Susan, explaining why the following article had been included. He read through what they had printed. Nothing had been altered. There were two other, shorter, articles after his then five letters from readers. There were several advertisements, from Queen’s clubs, two bars and a restaurant. ‘I guess these help pay for the printing, it can’t pay for itself if they only charge a dollar a copy.’ He read the other articles and the letters.

‘Well, I wouldn’t mind writing something else. One a month shouldn’t be too hard,’ thought Tom. He got up, unpacked his suitcase, took his dirty clothes to the washing machine then sat at his desk, thinking. ‘What should I write about next? About all the troubles religions have brought to mankind? No, I don’t think so. I’m not interesting in laying blame. What am I interested in, then? Helping young people think for themselves, I guess. Finding a way to live a good life? What ‘good’ is? Maybe.’

He got up and went to the fridge, wondering what he’d have for supper, still thinking. Finding half a Shepherd’s pie in the freezer Tom collected a cabbage from the cold room. The room was damp and moisture was condensing on the walls. ‘I’d better set up the chloride bag. It’s sure to get much worse during the winter.’

Twenty minutes, that was all it took for Tom to set up the moisture-catching chloride bag. He used a row of staples to fasten the sides of a length of fibre glass window screen to make a bag about fifteen inches wide and thirty inches long. He put it in the plastic pail he’d bought at the auction sale then carefully opened the top of the calcium chloride bag. Using a scoop made from the bottom of a plastic dishwashing container he half-filled the mesh bag then tied it’s top together with a rope. Strong paper clamps held the turned-over top of the chloride bag together and he put that in the corner of the room, out of the way. Lastly he moved the bucket until it was next to one of the shelves then raised the mesh bag until it was just above the top of the bucket and held it in place by tying the rope to one of the shelf supports. He’d check it tomorrow to see if it worked. The rest of the day he read except for a walk he took in the afternoon. A cold wind was bringing up a storm and he hurried, thinking much of the time about what he should write.

‘If they like what I write then I should probably continue with another talk between Cal and Gerry, but about what? What more should be added? I can’t think of anything. Maybe there’s nothing more to be said.’

It was cold and raining hard on Sunday and the first thing Tom did was to light the wood stove. It’s heat quickly warmed up the top floor but the basement was cold when he went down to check if the chloride bag had worked. It had, for he saw a drip fall from the bag and the bottom of the pail was wet. Shutting the cold room door Tom realised why the basement was cold, he’d forgotten to turn on the blower fan. He did that then went downstairs to see if hot air was coming from the vents. It was but he estimated that he’d have to wait a couple of hours before it warmed up enough for him to use the computer comfortably.

After breakfast he dusted the upstairs, had a coffee and three more cookies from the package. He wondered how Dot was getting along then forced his mind back to thinking about what he would write. Nothing came to mind so he refilled the stove and was about to return to reading when he realised he hadn’t ordered any wood for the winter. Collecting the name and phone number from his desk he found the basement already warm enough to sit in so he rang the farmer who sold wood and ordered a load of wood. When asked if he wanted a cord or a half Tom ordered a full cord. He wanted to see if he had made enough shelves in the garage to hold that amount of wood. If he needed more shelves he should make them now, before it got too cold.

Tom turned on his computer and after it had booted he used Yahoo to research religions, thinking he could write about those. Quickly he realised that it was too big a topic and that it needed a scholar to reduce the whole gamut to a single, short article. ‘So it can’t be religions. What about atheists?’ There was much less written about this topic. There were various kinds of atheism he discovered, several atheist groups, some in the states and others in England and Europe. ‘Am I the best person to write about this? All I’d do is summarise what’s on these websites. I don’t know anything more than that and it’s something they’d probably already done for themselves, if they’re interested. No, atheism as a topic’s no good.’

Before turning off the computer Tom emailed Steven, told him a little about the Elderhostel program, asked if they’d found a house yet then asked if they’d like to stay with him over Christmas, adding, ‘I’m in the basement now, in my study. It’s cold outside, as I guess it is with you, too, but it’s quite warm here, as the stove and blower do a good job. It’ll be fine for me to sleep in the basement. Think about it and let me know. Love, Dad.’

He switched off the computer, stood up and stretched. ‘I wonder if they’ll come? Maybe Pat won’t be visiting this year. Or maybe Steven will bring the family for the New Year. I should have asked him if that was better. Damn. Should I send him another email? No, not now. Let’s see what he says when he replies.’

The wood was delivered Monday morning and Tom found he could stack all of it on the garage shelves. Near the door he placed it in the four cardboard boxes he had, rather than directly on the shelves. He’d carry one of the boxes inside and place it by the stove. That way there would be little dirt to clean up.

When he’d taken his garbage to the dump several weeks ago Tom had found two discarded forty five gallon metal barrels and he bought them home. He cut the tops off both of them and used one to hold the ashes from the stove. The other one he used to burn paper and cardboard in. It was placed upright on stones and had several holes knocked in around the bottom to let the air in. Recycling had not yet begun in the village.

He received an email on Wednesday from Steven in which he wrote, ‘Sorry to be so long in replying, dad, I had to contact mom to know if she was coming to see us at Christmas. Net result of our discussions is that we’re spending the time from Christmas to New Year in New York with her. They’re renting a bigger apartment now and it has room for us. So sorry, dad, we’ll be in N.Y. It was nice having lunch with you the other day and we’ll be with you next July. Hope you are well. Love, Steven.’

‘So that’s that. They won’t be coming and won’t even be in Toronto where I could visit them. Well Christmas is going to be a bit lonely then. I don’t like the thought of that.’ He sat in his chair feeling sad again, sad about Dot leaving him and the way his life was turning out. Nice house but no friends and family too far away. Then he shuddered and pulled himself together. ‘I’ll have an early coffee and finish all the cookies. Then what? Try to write something for Susan? No. nothing to say. I guess I’ll have to go for a walk.’

Thinking about his life over coffee Tom remembered his plan to go on more holidays. ‘Why don’t I take a holiday over Christmas. Something not too expensive. In Europe. Perhaps.’ Cheered he topped up his mug and returned to his computer.

Two hours later he stopped thinking about a trip to Europe. Holidays for two weeks over Christmas and New Year were available but were expensive, especially when the air fare was included. Hoping to clear his head from all the depressing thoughts that were hovering there he went for a walk and returned after half an hour with another thought. ‘Why not take a cruise?’ He’d seen advertisements in the weekend paper about the cost of cruises. Even if he had to pay to fly to where the ship left from many of the cruises, especially those in the Caribbean, were quite cheap. That is, if he took an inside cabin, one without a window. That wouldn’t matter because he could spend most of the time in the lounge. He’d eat the same food as everybody else, enjoy the same entertainment, have as much fun. Why not do that?

He returned to the computer after lunch and researched cruises, finding four different lines offering ones that would cover both Christmas and the New Year. Two left from New York and two from Fort Lauderdale. He checked the prices to fly from Ottawa and from Toronto to both cities. It would be cheaper to fly from Toronto although it was a longer drive to get to that airport. He’d have to arrive the day before, in case his flight was delayed due to bad weather and that would be an extra cost, but he’d have to do that. It would be terrible to miss the ship.

After much thought Tom decided to fly from Ottawa to Fort Lauderdale two days before the cruise began and spend the nights in a nearby hotel. He’d explore the city and it wouldn’t matter if snow delayed the flights for a day. He took all his notes upstairs to reread after supper. He’d book the cruise, hotel and flights tomorrow.

The woman he talked to about the cruise was very helpful. There were interior cabins left but the single supplement doubled the price, she told him.

“I’d forgotten about that. Can I call you back?”

“Don’t leave it too long, there are only seven interiors left.”

He’d have to change his plans. The supplement added nearly two thousand dollars to the price. He could take a shorter cruise but only the fifteen days or three-week cruises covered both Christmas and New Year. That’s what he wanted to do, something that would keep him busy and not thinking about Dot or the life that lay before him. He could afford the extra, though, so why not go? He dithered, wanting to save money, for he did not know how long he’d live nor if he might become incapacitated and eventually have to live in a nursing home and pay for it. If he had to do that he wanted to go to a reasonably good one. Maybe he should take his caravan and go to Florida. He couldn’t decide what to do so he went for a walk. Thinking seemed to be easier when he walked although it had it’s cost, he didn’t notice his surroundings. He left his binoculars hanging on the peg and set off.

An hour later he returned, still undecided. Passing Dot’s cottage a thought jogged his mind; why not phone Jack and see if he was interested? He wouldn’t mind sharing a cabin with him. Once home he put the kettle on to boil, fetched Jack’s number and called him. There was no reply.

Tom called several times and eventually reached him in the evening.

“Hi Jack. It’s Tom. How are you doing?”

“Fine, Tom. I’m fine. Keeping busy with the railway boys, mostly. That’s what I’ve been doing today. You can’t be calling about fishing, though. Just want to say hello?”

“Well, yes, but more than that. What are you doing over Christmas? Want to go on a cruise?”

“What? Go on a cruise? Why do you ask that? You’ve got a new job? Is that it? You’re a travel agent now?”

“No, nothing like that, Jack. I didn’t want to sit here by myself over Christmas. Steven’s going to New York to see his mother so I can’t go to him and I thought about taking a cruise. Have you ever done that?”

“Years ago, with Betty. Well, I’ve nothing planned. Would probably spend some time with Sue and Ken, that’s all. What do you have in mind?”

Tom told him about the cruise, that it was fifteen days long, although there was one that was three weeks long and how much it would cost.

“It’s a Holland American line. Look them up on your computer, it’ll give all the details.”

“Can’t, it’s broken. Not sure I’m going to fix it. Don’t use it much, just to play games on, really. Let me think about it Tom. I’m quite interested. I don’t want to spend my days here, mostly alone, either.”

“Well, why not come here tomorrow and I’ll show you what the ship’s like, what there is to do on board, where it’s going, things like that. Come for lunch?”

“It’s Friday tomorrow, isn’t it? I loose track of time these days. Yes, I can do that. Okay, be with you about eleven.”

“Great.”

‘Okay,’ Tom told himself, ‘that’s how I’ll decide what to do. If Jack agrees to go then that’s what I’ll do. If he says he won’t go then I’ll fly down to Florida and rent an apartment for a month. Now, what’s in the fridge for lunch?’

First thing Friday morning Tom dusted and swept the carpet upstairs then drove to Portland and bought some ham slices, two packets of cheese, and some fruit. He was back at his usual coffee time, ten o’clock. Jack arrived as he was clearing up.

“I’ve just had my coffee, Jack, but would you like a mug?”

“Sure.”

“Well, sit down while I make another batch. There are a few notes about the different cruises on the table. Look at those while the kettle heats up.”

“So the ship starts in Fort Lauderdale.”

“Yes. I thought we should fly down a couple of days early in case the flights are delayed by snow.”

“Leaving from Ottawa, I see. Why not Toronto?”

“Well, that was when I was thinking of going alone. If you’re coming we’ll leave from Toronto. There are more flights from there and it’s cheaper too.”

“So it’ll cost less than three thousand, including the nights in Fort Lauderdale and air fare?”

“That’s right. Bring your coffee and we’ll look at what’s on the computer.”

They headed downstairs to Tom’s study. He turned the computer on and fetched a chair from the spare bedroom. Two minutes later they swapped seats and Tom told Jack where to click to look over the ship, to see it’s restaurants and read sample menus, what their cabin would look like and the itinerary.

“Fifteen days, starting December 20th. So we wouldn’t be back until, what? January 2nd? Third?”

“January 3rd a Tuesday. I thought we might have to stay another night in the hotel when we disembarked in Fort Lauderdale. The flights might also be full for the third because people might be returning from Christmas holidays. We’d have to see when we try to book them. What do you think? Going to come?”

“Yes, might as well. I didn’t want to spend the Christmas holiday all alone, well, mostly alone, though I’d be seeing Sue and Ken several times. But I can do that anytime. Okay. Want to book now?”

“Okay. You’ve got a passport?”

“Not here, it’s at home.”

“Is it up-to-date?”

“Don’t know. I’ll have to check when I get back.”

“Okay. If she wants to know things from our passports we’ll tell her later.”

Fifteen minutes later they were booked on the cruise. Tom used his credit card to pay and Jack said he’d give him a cheque next time he saw him. Then Tom found a suitable Air Canada flight from Toronto and booked two seats. There were seats available for January 3rd but, since they might not disembark until noon they decided to fly the following day, choosing an early one that arrived in Toronto just before eleven. It’d be much easier driving home in the daylight if it was snowing.

“Now, let’s find a hotel,” said Jack.

There were several between the airport and the docks and they chose one with a restaurant and near shops and interesting places to walk. Once done, Jack leaned back in his chair and said, “Well, that’ll be a different Christmas for both of us. Hope we enjoy it. Let’s have a beer and catch up.”

They moved upstairs and Tom put more wood in the stove. He had thought of rearranging the furniture so that he and visitors could look at the flames but, although that would have been nice, it would be difficult to see the television or look out of the picture window. They sat, looking at the cold lake, the bare maple trees and the plastic-covered gardens.

“It’ll be cold here during the winter, Tom,” said Jack. “Not inside, that stove gives off a good heat, but outside.”

“Well, it’s cold anywhere in this part of Canada,” answered Tom. “We’re used to it, eh?”

“Ever thought about spending the whole winter in the south, in Florida, for instance?” asked Jack.

“Several times. Might do it next year. How about you?”

“We’ve stayed in Miami for a month but never longer than that.”

“Oh, yes. You told me. So you know Fort Lauderdale then?”

“No. We didn’t rent a car and didn’t go out of the city. I heard it’s an interesting place. Lots of boats.”

They had lunch and walked over to look at Jack’s former cottage before he drove off. It was much as he’d left it. Neither Dot nor Ken had altered the outside but furniture had been rearranged inside.

“Do you miss the place, Jack?”

“Yes, now and again. When I think about it. Miss the fishing too.”

“I thought you could do that in Kingston?”

“I can and do, but it’s not the same. I have to go with a friend who has a boat. It’s not as convenient as having my own.”

“You can always come here and use mine, your old one, when you like. Just come and take it, even if I’m not here.”

“Why, thanks, Tom. I might do that.”

“Just leave a note. No, you don’t have to do that, your car will tell me that you’re here.”

“Phone me, if anything changes about our cruise,” said Jack, as he got in his car. “Don’t use email, as I said, my computer needs fixing and I don’t use it now.”

“And check your passport. Renew it if you have to and phone me with the details so I can update our reservations.”

“Okay, I will.”

It was three days before Tom found a topic to expand into an article for Susan’s journal. After re-reading his first article he centred on the issue of why one could not change another person’s thoughts, thinking that this was one of the things members of the atheist’s club might like to do. He knew it was almost impossible to change another’s thinking so he researched the topic on the internet and then wrote the following:

 

_ Constructs._

 

Cal and Gerry were walking through the park early one morning, looking at the mist rising above a group of ducks paddling near the shore of the lake. Walking for an hour was something they did every Sunday, a routine set up two years ago when their wives joined fellow members of a reading club for a night at the leader’s cottage.

I’ve been thinking about our last Thursday’s discussion, Cal, and made a discovery.”

What? You now believe in God, Gerry?”

No, that’s not changed. No, but the last thing we discussed was why it would be hard to convert anyone. Remember?”

Yes. You told me that religions change over time. Sure they do. They’re behaving like life itself; they learn more and then behave differently. That’s all it is. The fact that they change or modify their beliefs doesn’t change the fundamental belief. New branches form, that’s all. That’s why we’ve got thousands of religions these days.”

Yep. Agreed, but what interests me is why it’s hard to change anyone’s fundamental belief. Your belief in a God; I can’t change that although you might modify some of your thoughts about how you could behave.”

That’s right.”

Well, I think I know why I can’t change your basic faith. I can’t, because it’s your core construct. Everything you believe about the world, about the universe, about life itself, is based upon that construct. It’s just the same for me. All that’s different between us is that our core construct is different.”

What’s a ‘core construct’?”

It’s the way we understand the universe, what it is and how it works. That’s all.”

That doesn’t help. Surely we believe the same things about the universe, you and I. It was created, expanded, stars and planets formed and life began. We’ve discussed this before and we both accept that, although I think God is behind it all and you don’t.”

Yes, but that’s only part of what I mean. You and I have different backgrounds, different experiences, different interests. That’s why our core constructs are different.”

You’ll have to be more explicit. I can see how that makes us different though. Your parents were atheists, right?”

One was, my dad. Not my mother. She went to church now and then, so I guess she believed in God. Neither tried to tell me what to believe. I had to decide for myself. It slowly came to me, during my late teens, that I thought dad was more right than mom. And my thoughts sort of got organised since that time. It’s that process, I’ve realised, organising my thoughts, that forms my ‘core construct.’ Now, whenever I think about anything of significance what I think is biased by my core construct. I can’t help it, it just happens.”

I still don’t understand. You mean, I do the same? I relate to mine? How?”

Well, you don’t knowingly refer to your core construct but that’s what happens, I think. You, me and everybody else does the same thing. It’s just what makes you be you, and what makes me be me. Our core construct develops and matures as we learn and experience things, as we expand our abilities and use our innate skills. It grows quickly during our teens and matures slowly after that. Look at that lady, over there. See how she dresses? Her binoculars? Her rucksack? I don’t know her, do you?”

No. But I’ve seen her before in the park.”

Guess what’s she’s doing.”

Looking for birds. That’s obvious.”

More than that. Guess why she dresses like that.”

Well, they’re clothes that she likes, I suppose.”

Yes, I expect so, too. Everything you see about her though is evidence of her core construct; the way she thinks about herself and about things that are important in her life. It’s just that kind of thing I’m talking about. What we wear, what we do, how we think, makes us unique because our core constructs are unique. The way she thinks is, of course, the key part of her. Her way of thinking makes her who she is. It determines what she believes and what she does. Deep down, it’s all based upon the core construct she has developed, grown around, during her life. You see?”

Yes, I do now.”

Well, it’d be pretty difficult to change her, make her believe in something different, wouldn’t it?”

No. I bet if the newspapers said that the bread she bought each day was contaminated she’d stop buying it.”

No, not about that kind of trivial thing. Of course she’d change her thoughts about buying bread. No, I mean the key things. Why she wouldn’t wear a tight skirt, perhaps. She wouldn’t because it wasn’t her. It wouldn’t suit me, she might say.”

Yes, I see that.”

Well, she wouldn’t change what she thinks is the proper way to behave now, would she? It’s ingrained in her. What she thinks is ‘the right way to dress’ will remain ‘the right way to dress’ for her, right?”

I see. That’s why you always wear those raggedy jeans when we go for a walk, Gerry?”

Ah, they’re comfortable.”

But it makes you look like you. You’re stuck in a rut, that’s what.”

So is everybody, once they reach our age, Cal. So is everybody. Stuck in the rut formed by their core construct. Worse, extremists, whose core construct is extremely strong, think everybody should think the way they do. They know that they are ‘right’ and that everybody not thinking the same way are ‘wrong,’ wrong enough to deserve death sometimes, if their belief is extraordinarily strong.”

Yes, I guess you’re right. It’s crazy, isn’t it? Crazy when it becomes extreme.”

Crazy and dangerous. That’s why religions, which have everything to do with the way people think, should be divorced from the state. Let the state look after the body and the religion look after the mind but don’t let the two command as one entity. That’s dynamite, likely to destroy civilisation.”

Ah, are you changing? Let religions look after the mind? My religion Gerry?”

No, sorry Cal. My religion. One based on fact not one based on centuries-old statements. One that looks forward, not backwards.”

My religion is one that’s grown and prospered over those centuries Gerry. Yours has no followers. Just you, so what good is it?”

Nothing, right now. But so what? If it’s correct then others will come to the same realisation sooner or later. If it doesn’t happen this century maybe it will in the next one. Or even in a thousand years. It doesn’t matter when, its truth will win out. That is, if humans survive long enough.”

I bet we won’t be around to see it.”

No, I guess we won’t. Let’s have a coffee, Starbucks is on the next corner.”

 

After checking the story the next day, Tom emailed it to Susan with a note:

 

Hello Susan,

If this is acceptable I’d like a copy of your journal but one copy would be enough. Thanks.

I hope your studies are going well,

Regards

Tom Alwen.

 

Susan replied that evening, thanking him for the article, saying that it would be in the November issue and saying that she was doing all right, so far, and passing her exams.

 

Chapter Twenty Nine. 2005.

Sunny days interspersed cloudy and rainy days. Tom walked most days, wondering how he could spend his future life. He wasn’t depressed, only subdued, a tiny bit sad that his life now seemed empty. He read, drove to Kingston and Ottawa occasionally, adding shopping to give some direction to the journey, and thought about what he should do. He knew he’d have to do more than read, walk, shop and wait for the next holiday to pass the time.

Early in November he decided to try writing a book. He’d thought about doing so several times but couldn’t find a topic. It would have to be something he knew enough about.

One morning things changed. He was sipping his coffee and thought back to the dreams he used to have when he first entered university. Then he thought how nice it would be if he could become a university professor after he graduated. That didn’t happen, his grades were not good enough and he became tired of studying and never took a master’s degree, a step towards getting a doctorate. By the time he was finishing his degree all he wanted to do was earn money, marry and raise a family. The usual kind of idea parents inadvertently pass to their children. He’d write a novel about a man who became a professor and how he lived his life. That shouldn’t be too hard, he knew what university life was about and he had read several novels about students and academics. Mysteries on television set in universities added features he could draw on, not that he wanted to write a murder mystery. A simple story about a life well lived was all he had in mind.

Not knowing much about writing a novel Tom tried to outline a plot. It would start when the hero entered university. He’d be handsome, clever and popular, things that Tom knew didn’t apply to him. If he was going to write a novel centred around his dreams he’d make it a real novel, things he had wished he could have but didn’t. The hero, he’d call him Roger, would have many girlfriends while at university, go to many parties, succeed in playing tennis, no, better make it football, and be top of his class in every exam.

Writing such a story filled much of his thoughts during November and December. Susan sent him a copy of the November issue of The Atheists’ Chat-Box. His second story was again featured on the first page. Two letters referred to his first story, One said the journal should be written by Queen’s students, not by outsiders. They other said that he’d cut it out and posted it on his frat’s notice board. ‘One against and one for what I wrote, not too bad,’ and Tom chuckled to himself. When he didn’t offer a piece by the deadline for the December issue Susan phoned him and asked if he would be submitting one for the January edition.

“No, I don’t think so, Susan. I found it difficult to find something to write about the last time so perhaps you can ask someone else.”

“That’s a pity, Sir. Your stories greatly improved the journal. Do you know of anyone who might write something?”

“No, I don’t think so. Though you might try Peter, Peter Leroy.”

“Oh, yes. He’s interested in what we write. Okay, I’ll ask him. Well, thanks Sir, for the ones you sent us.”

“You’re welcome, Susan. You still doing all right?”

“Yes, I am. I enjoy life at university.”

“I did too. Well, goodbye, Susan. All the best.”

Two days before he and Jack were to start their cruising holiday Tom had drafted fifty pages of his novel. He could have written more each day but preferred to write in the morning and walk or do other things in the afternoon. And writing, he discovered, at least for him, was slow; there were too many things to consider in between each flow of words.

His periods of depression faded away. He no longer had fears of what his future life would become while he was writing. Instead thoughts about what the novels characters would do or what might happen next were always coming to mind. Any slight worry about his own life could easily be turned into a worry about where he should take the plot in the next chapter. He began reading books differently, he was now figuring out how the author changed the point of view or invoked a feeling. Reading took longer, for there was more to do than enjoy the novel; how did the author achieve such an integrated story or capture the beauty of a summer day so vividly? These and many other things he had to learn if his story was to be worth reading.

He packed his suitcase the day before leaving. The weather forecast indicated that the next day would be a clear sunny one. The last snow had fallen on Friday and all the roads, including the country road where he lived, had been cleared. Their plane didn’t leave until two o’clock but he’d arranged to collect Jack at seven, just so they had plenty of time for the drive and to go through airport security. He phoned Jack just before leaving then left his cell phone on the kitchen counter. There was no point in taking it where they were going.

They left the car in the long-term parking lot at the airport and caught the shuttle to the closest entrance to the Air Canada’s counter where they queued for twenty minutes to collect their boarding passes and check their bags. More waiting to pass through security and US immigration control then a longish wait in the boarding area. They bought plastic-wrapped sandwiches and coffees then ate them sitting where they could watch planes landing and taking off.

The flight to Fort Lauderdale was uneventful. They collected their bags and took a taxi to their hotel then collapsed on their beds.

“I’m tired out,” said Jack, “and all I’ve done is sit on a seat or stand up all day. It looks as though you feel the same.”

“I do. But we’re here. No need to worry any more that something might go wrong.”

“That’s right, though I wasn’t worried about the journey. Your car’s nearly new, there was no snow and planes fly all over the world every day and there are seldom any crashes, so I was pretty sure we’d be okay. Let’s unpack, have a beer then supper. It’s six o’clock and we haven’t eaten much today. At least I didn’t, just a bowl of cereal for breakfast and the airport sandwich.”

“Same for me. Okay, let’s do that.”

They ate in the hotel that evening for it was getting dark and they didn’t know the surroundings or where else to eat then they returned to their room and watched television until the nine o’clock news had finished when they went to bed.

Monday they walked along the Strip and admired the many boats moored in the harbours, sat at shaded tables and watched people pass by, bought ice creams and enjoyed the warmth that Ontario lacked this time of year. Tom told Jack that he’d earlier thought of taking his caravan south that winter but changed his mind.

“Though I might do it next year.”

“Pity it’s not got two beds so I could join you. I think it’s a good idea. I might do something like that but it wouldn’t be as much fun as it was when Betty and I came here.”

“No, I guess not. Maybe I won’t go either. It takes two to enjoy that kind of thing.”

“Yes.”

They sat there, sipping a beer, waiting until it was time to find a place to eat supper.

Tom expected another long wait when they arrived at the boarding shed Tuesday afternoon but, even with more than two thousand passengers it was well handled. When the taxi dropped them they handed their luggage to one of the waiting stewards who asked Tom his name and told him and Jack to go to the desk under the sign A to D. Once there, Tom and Jack gave the attendant their documents and their passports. Next, they were photographed and a plastic boarding pass was printed which was given to them. They were told that they should keep it with them at all times and to see the purser in the next day or two to register a credit card.

“The card can then be used to pay for sundries, drinks or items from the stores. You must also present it every time you leave the ship and when you re-board.”

“What about our passports,” asked Tom. “You’ve still got them. Don’t we get them back?”

“No. We need them when we dock at the ports. They have to be inspected by the countries’ immigration officers. You’ll get them back at the end of the cruise. Have a good time, sir. Next please.”

Five minutes later a steward took them along the gangplank and they boarded the ship. Their card was scanned by a man standing at the entrance then the steward led them down to their cabin.

“Your bags will arrive soon,” they were told, and the young man left.

The cabin was small, maybe a hundred and fifty square feet. It had twin beds, as they had requested, a closet, a desk, some drawers, a television set, two tiny arm chairs and a bathroom with a shower. There was no bath.

“Won’t be easy sitting in these chairs,” said Jack, after trying one. “They’re a tight fit for me.”

“We don’t have to spend much time here so it won’t matter. Well, there’s not much to do until the luggage arrives. Let’s explore the ship.”

They had a reasonable idea of the ship’s layout for there were deck plans on the internet that they had looked at. They started with the main deck and found the theatre and a bar. Exploring deck by deck they discovered a small casino, more bars, lounges, dining rooms, shops, swimming pools and an exercise room.

“Did you count the number of bars they have, Tom?”

“Nope, but there must be a dozen or so.”

“The one I’m going to use has a bit of a dance floor. Do you dance?”

“Not really. Do you?”

“Yes, love it. Betty and I used to dance a lot. I’m going there after supper tonight to see what it’s like. Want to come?”

“Sure.”

They used the elevator to return to their floor and found their two bags waiting outside the door. They unpacked and were sitting in the chairs wondering what to do next when their was a slight lurch.

“We must have cast off,” said Tom. “Let’s go and see what’s happening.”

They took the elevator to the observation deck and stood, with forty or fifty other passengers, watching the shore. Passengers waved at friends standing there as the ship gradually moved away from the deck.

“We’ll see a lot of that on this cruise,” said Jack. “Nine ports, isn’t it?”

“About that,” replied Tom. “Well, let’s go to one of the lounges.”

Twenty minutes later an announcement from a loudspeaker stated that there would be a lifeboat drill in ten minutes. They were told to read the instructions on their cabin door to find where they should go, taking their life jackets with them. Tom and Jack returned to their cabin and found their life jackets on the top shelf of their closet. When the call to muster came they walked into the corridor and found cabin boys or sailors standing at the end of each one who looked at the letter on their jacket then told them where to go next. They eventually found their life boat position and joined those who had already arrived. Some instructions were given about how to put on their jacket, how to fasten it properly and that a light would come on when it hit the water. A crew member checked that each jacket was properly secured and their names were checked off a list. Then they were dismissed.

At six thirty there was an announcement that it was time for the first seating, the one they had chosen. Tom and Jack went to the nearest dining room and joined others at a table set for six. There were many choices on the menu, as one would expect, but they had to pay for the wine they drank. They both chose steaks and ordered beers. Discussion cantered around travel, two at their table were taking their tenth cruise.

“We live in Fort Lauderdale and can get great discounts. All you have to do is wait until a few days before the ship sails before booking. They’re glad to sell a cabin at any price then,” they were told.

Jack nudged Tom and said, “That’s what you could do if you stayed here in the winter.”

“Yes,” said the other couple. “We live in Vermont but move to Florida, Delray Beach, during the winter. We have a condo there. Where do you live?”

“In Canada, Ontario,” and learned that the other couples had never visited Canada.

“You should try it,” said Tom. “You don’t have far to travel from Vermont.”

“I suppose so,” said the lady, “but there’s so many good things we haven’t seen in the states to go to Canada.”

Neither Tom nor Jack could think of any suitable answer to that statement.

After supper they went to the lounge where there was a dance floor. They ordered a couple of beers and waited until a small band started playing and couples got up to dance. There were, it appeared, two dance hosts, men who invited women to dance if they were without a man or who had been dancing with a lady friend.

“That’s the one I’m going to dance with, Tom. Look, see how she moves her legs and turns. She’s a good dancer.”

Jack approached her as soon as the next dance started and she joined him on the floor. It was as though two professionals had joined the group for many drew back and watched the two of them as they danced steps that Tom, at least, hadn’t seen before. Afterwards Jack brought her to the table where Tom was sitting. He stood up.

“This is Tom, my friend. Tom, this is Gloria. Can you get another chair, Gloria’s going to join us. I’ll fetch your drink, Gloria.”

“Hello Tom. Do you dance as well?”

“Afraid not, never learned more than a couple of steps in the waltz. It looks as if you do a lot of it.”

“As much as I can. It’s one of the attractions of a cruise for me, although there’s a dance each week where I live. Jack tells me you both live in Canada. Ah, thanks. Jack. Cheers!” and she lifted her glass and took a sip.

“We live in Ontario, but I guess Jack told you,” said Tom.

“He said he lived in Kingston and that he used to have a cottage next to your bungalow.”

“Yes, that’s right. Where do you live?”

“In Florida. On the west side, in Pelican Bay, Naples. We bought a condo there sixteen years ago but we also have a house in Maine. I go there in the summer, it gets too hot to stay in Florida then.”

“Doesn’t you husband like cruising?” asked Jack.

“He died six years ago so I’m all alone now.”

“Do you have any children?” asked Tom.

“No, unfortunately. Do you have any?”

“One,” Tom replied, “a son, Steven. And a grand daughter, Lilly.”

“Want to dance this one?” interrupted Jack, as the music started.

“Yes, please.”

When they got back she said, “You’re a better dancer than the either of the dance hosts, Jack.”

“Not as good as you, though, Gloria.”

“Well, I used to teach dancing. More as a hobby though. Dick was so busy and I had nothing much to do. So I took a lot of lessons then joined my teacher and started teaching. We entered competitions and won quite a lot. I don’t do any of that now, it needs more energy than I’ve got.”

They danced another couple of dances while Tom watched, then, getting bored, he told them that he be off to bed.

“Don’t wake me up when you come back, Jack. ‘Night, Gloria.”

“Bye, Tom. See you tomorrow.”

It was just after eleven when Jack came into the cabin. He closed the door without it making the usual click but Tom was awake, thinking about the holiday and the day.

“It’s all right, Jack, I’m awake. You’ve been dancing all this time?”

“Yes, we stayed to the end. I took Gloria back to her cabin but didn’t go in. She’s on the outside and I saw a balcony. It must have cost her a lot.”

“Planning to see her again?”

“Nothing planned but she said she’ll look for me after supper tomorrow.”

“That’s nice. She’s an attractive woman.”

“Yes, she is.”

They didn’t see Gloria during the day. The ship was so large and there were so many restaurants that looking was “not worth the trouble,” as Jack said. Since the ship was at sea all day they walked the promenade deck after breakfast, had coffee and cake in one of the lounges then Tom went to the library and chose three books. Jack went to the observation deck and talked to a couple that sat near him. They lunched together, trying a different restaurant and in the afternoon listened to a talk about Grand Turk, the island they would be visiting the next day

Tom accompanied Jack after supper when he went to the dance-floor lounge. They sat near the door, watching as people came in. Then Gloria arrived and Jack jumped up.

“Here, Gloria, we’re here.”

She joined them and Jack ordered the gin and tonic she asked for.

“How was your day?” he asked her. “We didn’t see you anywhere.”

“Oh, easy. Stayed in bed until ten, finished a novel. Had lunch, swam for a while then sun bathed. Then showered and had dinner. What did you two do?”

Jack told her, stopping as the master of ceremonies announced the first dance, although he’d not said what they’d done in the afternoon, looked at Gloria and asked her to dance.

Tom watched them as they joined one other couple on the floor. ‘I guess I’m going to be alone each evening from now on. That, or I’ll have to join one of the classes learning to dance. I’ll stay for a bit then go and read.’

This is what Tom did that night, leaving Jack and Gloria after they’d finished their second dance. He collected one of the books he’d borrowed from the library and sat in a corner of the piano lounge with a scotch, reading. He returned to his cabin at ten, had a shower, then went to bed. He wasn’t awake when Jack arrived, later that night.

“There isn’t much to see or do on Grand Turk,” Jack told Tom, as they were eating breakfast.

“Is Gloria joining us?”

“She’s been there before. She said the Dune Buggy tour was exciting and the Sting Ray boat ride was worth doing. Apart from those, or hiring a taxi to go around the island, there wasn’t much there. ‘Don’t try to shop there,’ she said. ‘Not much choice.’ What do you want to do, Tom?”

“I think I’ll go to their museum. The Turks and Caicos museum that the speaker told us about. What are you going to do?”

“Take the Sting Ray trip.”

“Have you signed up for it?”

“Gloria said you don’t have to, you can get the tickets on the island. It’s cheaper if you do that.”

“Oh. I see. When are you going?”

“This morning, we leave here this afternoon.”

“Oh, yes. I’d forgotten.”

It was hot walking to the museum, although Tom didn’t have far to go, and he was glad to get inside the cool, stone building. He spent an hour there, reading most of the messages found in bottles that had washed ashore on the island and looking at the coral reef display. Afterwards he headed to the beach and looked for bits of sea glass like the ones the museum sold after they had been made into chains and jewellery, but found none.

Back at the ship he showered and went to lunch, eating alone for Jack hadn’t returned. In the afternoon he read, watched the ship cast off then found Jack dozing in the cabin.

“You should have come with me. It was glorious, we snorkelled and I saw lots of beautiful rays. Was the museum interesting?”

“Sort of, it showed the history of the place and how they used to live.”

“Oh. I saw Gloria when I came on board. She’s going to join us for supper.”

“All right. You’ll be dancing afterwards, I guess.”

“You bet. Are you going to join one of the dancing classes?”

“Don’t think so. I’d rather read.”

And that’s what he did the rest of the afternoon, on a deckchair, in the shade, as the ship headed for Puerto Rico.

Tom went to the lounge with Jack and Gloria after supper, had a scotch and watched them dance, then took his book to the library and read it there. It was quiet, just one other passenger, reading in a corner. He finished the book, placed it in the returns box then went to his cabin. As he undressed he wondered if this really was a good idea, going on a cruise with Jack. ‘He’s having more fun than I am. Perhaps learning to dance wouldn’t be a bad thing. I don’t have to dance as well as he to find a partner. Lots of people don’t do much more than shuffle around. But they’re with their wives, I guess. Single women wouldn’t want to dance with a beginner. Dot made me dance at the barbecue. That was fun. It’d be great if she was here with me. Damn Norm.’ He put on his pyjamas, brushed his teeth then turned off the light.

The ship docked at San Juan at one o’clock, while they were still eating lunch. Following the advice of the morning’s speaker Jack and Tom explored the old part of the city, getting on and off the free trolley, exiting whenever they saw something they’d like to explore. They sat under an umbrella half-way through their wandering, eating an ice cream and saying how pleasant this was, compared to what it would be like at home.

“Wonder what it’d cost to spend winter in a place like this, Tom,” asked Jack. “I bet you could get an apartment for a month for what we paid for the cruise.”

“I’ll use Yahoo to find out when we get home if you like, Jack.”

“Would you be interested in doing that?”

“Maybe. There’s lots to see and do on this island, according to this morning’s guide.”

Dinner with Gloria and a couple celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary turned into a hilarious event. They kept the wine glasses full and Tom became tipsy and danced with Gloria and the man’s wife when the music started. As he kept drinking he found it easier and easier to dance and ended up laughing on the floor when he tripped over Gloria’s feet and fell. But, staggering up afterwards, he realised he was drunk and bid everyone goodnight as they returned to the table. He held tightly onto the backs of chairs as he made his way to the corridor and kept his hand on the rail as he walked to the elevator. Once in his cabin he sat on his bed, took off his jacket and shoes then fell asleep.

He woke up at eight with a fierce headache as the ship was docking at St. Thomas. He found the aspirin he’d put in his toilet bag and swallowed two, hoping they’d be enough. Finding he was still dressed from the night before he undressed and hung his trousers up, hoping they weren’t creased too badly. He had a shower then put on his shorts. His headache was still there but somewhat diminished. ‘Wonder where Jack is? He must be okay and gone for an early breakfast. I should do the same but toast and coffee is all I can handle.’

He was about to leave when the door opened and Jack came in, grinning.

“Oh, Hi, Jack. You had an early breakfast then. No hangover? I’ve got one.”

“Hi, Tom. Nope, I feel great. Let me change then I’ll come with you.”

“Change? Oh, you’re still in your suit. What happened? You been up all night?”

“More or less, but not on the dance floor. I stayed with Gloria.”

“You didn’t! Well, I thought you two got along all right but I didn’t think it had got that far.”

“Well, it did. And we’re both happy. She’s having her breakfast in bed and having a sleep.”

“I see. Well, I’m happy for you.”

Jack was changing as they discussed this then they walked to the elevator to go to a restaurant. Tom didn’t feel like using the stairs.

They both decided to take things easy that day and wouldn’t go ashore. Tom sat in a lounge chair on the shady side of the ship reading a novel and napping. Jack disappeared after a while, saying he was going to see how Gloria was.

There were few people on board when Tom found Jack and Gloria at lunch time. When he saw them in the restaurant he wondered if he should join them but Jack saw him at the same time and waved him over. Tom sat down, not knowing quite what to say. Gloria spoke first.

“Hi Tom. Jack says you have a headache. Want any aspirins? I’ve got lots.”

“No, thanks, Gloria. It’s getting better. Er, what time did you leave the dance floor last night?”

“Not until the other couple left, that was about ten thirty, wasn’t it Jack?” She looked at him and smiled.

“Probably. I don’t remember when.”

“Jack took me to my cabin and fell asleep in the chair when I was in the bathroom. So I undressed and went to bed.”

“You slept in the chair last night, Jack?” asked Tom.

“Err, not all the time. I woke up sometime in the middle, went to the bathroom and was about to leave when . . .”

“Ah, you don’t have to say any more, Jack. Tom can guess the rest.”

“I guess I can,” said Tom.

“I’m very happy that it happened. Jack’s a good man and I want to see more of him. How about you, Jack? Do you want to see more of me?”

“Sure do, Gloria. I told you that last night.”

“Well, good. I have a witness this time,” said Gloria. “Let’s have some champagne.”

“Oh, not for me,” said Tom. “Don’t think I’ll drink anything today. But I’m very happy for both of you.”

“How about you, Jack, want some bubbly?”

“Tonight, Gloria, let’s leave it until tonight.”

“Oh, okay. Give me a kiss then.”

Jack did then grinned at Tom.

“I’m very glad we took this cruise Tom. Thanks for suggesting it.”

“We’ll have to find you a girl friend now,” said Gloria. “I know a couple of women on board, met them on another cruise. Perhaps you’d like to meet them?”

“No, don’t do that,” said Tom. “I don’t want a girlfriend.”

“Tom’s just getting over one,” explained Jack, and he told Gloria about Dot.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Tom. But she’s left, so don’t give up hope, you’ll find someone else.”

“Perhaps, but not on this cruise. I’m not ready for someone else right now. Look, I’ll leave you two love-birds and go for a swim. It might help clear my head. See you later,” and Tom got up and left the restaurant.

The crowds returned that afternoon, laden with shopping. Tom joined Jack and Gloria for supper but left them and went to the theatre to watch the evening show when dancing started. He was happy that Jack and Gloria had found each other but felt a bit cut off. He wouldn’t be doing much with Jack from now on, so he’d better find other things to do. ‘If only Dot was here.’

The morning newsletter that was pushed under their door each night told Tom that there would be a Captain’s Cocktail hour at six that night. Jack no longer slept in this cabin but usually checked in about eight and saw Tom when he returned from his morning walk around the Promenade deck. Headaches from drinking too much had reduced the number of times he’d circled the ship to three. Jack came in just after Tom had showered with a small box in one hand.

“Here, Tom, a present from Gloria. Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas to you , too. A present for me? That’s nice of her but I haven’t got anything for her.”

“Never mind. Look what she gave me,” and he held out his arm. “A watch! Just what I needed, my old one was getting too hard to read, the hands were almost the same colour as the face. This one’s easy to read. She must have noticed me staring at it, trying to figure out the time. What did she give you?”

Tom sat down on the bed and opened the box. It contained a silver-coloured crest attached to a big paper clip.

“I don’t know. What do you think this is, Jack?” and Tom held out the clip.

Jack took it and looked at the crest, “‘A book in time.’ That’s what it says. Oh, it’s a book mark. To mark where you left off reading. She knows you read a lot.”

“Wow! That’s very nice of her. I must buy her something. Did you, Jack?”

“Yes, a brooch, from one of the shops on board. I don’t think they’re open today though.”

“Damn. Well, I’ll have to get something tomorrow. Going to change and have breakfast?”

“Yes. Won’t be long.”

The main corridors, lobbies, dining rooms and lounges had been transformed overnight and Christmas trees stood besides every entrance, decorated with balls and coloured lights. The breakfast buffet was enhanced and Tom and Jack added sausage rolls, some pork pie and a big dab of mustard to their plates to liven them up.

As they ate Tom told Jack about the cocktail hour that evening, for Jack hadn’t had time to read the newsletter.

“Gloria said there’s also a party for children this afternoon. What are you going to do?”

“Swim, I guess, and read. How about you?”

“Swim and relax after breakfast then Gloria and I are going to the theatre to see A Christmas Carol. Want to come with us?”

“Ebenezer Scrooge. Yes, that’d be fun. When does it start?”

“Two o’clock.”

“Ok. I’ll wait at the door if we don’t meet before.”

It was choppy that morning. Tom wondered if he’d be sick, especially after eating such a big breakfast, but he survived. Drinking coffee at ten he wondered how Steven was and went to the passengers’ computer room to email him. He wished them all a Happy Christmas then told him where he was. He’d check to see if there was a reply in a day or two.

The ship was at sea all day, heading for the Bahamas. Tom went to the talk about the island they’d be visiting the next day, Half Moon Cay. It had lovely beaches of fine white sand, clear blue water and lots of sun so, “take lots of sunscreen because you’ll need it. And there will be a barbecue lunch served for those who would like to eat on the beach.”

He stayed in the theatre to listen to a man who showed photos of the animals and birds that frequented or lived on the island or in the waters off the coast. He couldn’t find Jack or Gloria at lunch time so he ate fish and chips in the open restaurant on the upper deck. In the afternoon he arrived early at the theatre and waited for them to turn up.

“Hello Gloria. Thank you for the nice present. It’s just what I needed. I’m sorry to say I don’t have one for you but I’ll look in the shops tomorrow.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Tom. Happy Christmas to you.”

“Happy Christmas to you too,” said Tom, and gave her a hug.

The main lounge was full of happy children when Tom passed by on his way to the library after the film had finished. A Santa Claus had just given each one a present, presents that actually had their name on. Christmas carols were softly playing in the lobbies between decks. Tom was happy for the children and everyone else but all this happiness made him feel more alone. He was the only one to sit and read in the library and he wondered if he should sit in a lounge where other people were but decided against it. Jack and Gloria wouldn’t be there, they had gone to her cabin “to celebrate,” Jack had said.

Jack joined Tom when he was changing into his best suit before going to the cocktail party. They went together to Gloria’s cabin to collect her. She had a bottle of champagne waiting for them which Jack opened. Tom was impressed by the cabin’s size, it was almost a suite, and by the fact that Gloria didn’t share it with anyone. ‘She must have lots of money,’ he thought. ‘Lucky Jack.’

Small boxes of chocolates were given to everybody as they passed through the welcoming line at the door of the main lounge. Gloria had invited two of her friends to join them for supper and they brought another woman, making six around the table There was a choice of turkey, ham or goose. Dessert was a baked Alaska, although there was also a Christmas pudding for those who liked it plus other pies or trifle. Tom had the pudding, it was what his mother had always made, but it was filling. He wondered, as he finished it, how many pounds he’d have gained by the time he returned home. He refused the Christmas cake when it was offered at the end of the meal. He joined the conversation and drank a little too much during the meal. Afterwards they danced and Tom shuffled with each of the women who had eaten with them then said he was tired and left after half-an-hour. Getting into bed he decided that he wouldn’t take another cruise. ‘The next holiday I’ll take will be in a group, like the one I had with Elderhostel.’

On Boxing Day he again woke with a headache. Two aspirin and a breakfast of toast and coffee mostly cleared his head. Perhaps he was getting used to drinking a lot, not that he’d continue that once he got home. It was just an easy way to get through the evenings. If only Dot was here, she’d have made such a difference.

They arrived at Half Moon Cay at eight o’clock. Tom could see the beach, the trees that ran along the ridge above it, the glowing sand and the blue-green sea from the ship. They looked so inviting that Tom decided to spend the day on shore. He waited until the line to board the tender had become just a couple of dozen then joined the queue with a towel and a book. Once on shore he took a lounge chair, dragged it into the shade under a tree and stripped down to his swim suit. The water was warm and he headed out until he was waist deep although the water turned colder at that point. He turned around and faced the shore then swam, looking down to see if he could see any fishes. Not finding any he headed back to the beach. After drying himself with his towel he put his shirt on, took off his swim trunks and pulled on his underpants and shorts then sat down. He read for a while then must have fallen asleep for he was wakened by a young man saying, “Sir. Would you like a drink? And the barbecue lunch is ready.”

Tom refused the drink, not knowing if it was something the ship offered or if he’d have to pay for it and he had nothing except the ship’s boarding card with him. He stood up and walked to the end of the nearest queue. Although they had only just started serving there were already long lines and they moved forward slowly. Not wanting to spend what could be up to an hour waiting in the queue without a hat he decided to catch the next shuttle back to the ship and have lunch there. Once on board he showered and had a light lunch of a chicken salad. Afterwards he wondered if he should buy some time on the computer to see if Steven had replied but decided to wait until the next day, thinking that Steven would be too busy to have replied already.

He watched a movie in the theatre and finished another novel that afternoon then joined Jack and Gloria for supper.

This time they joined a table where three women were already sitting and introduced themselves. Talk was about the Christmas dinner and about cruises they had been taken and holidays that the women planned to take in the following months. It seemed to Tom that they had nothing else to do except take holidays and he wondered if that was to be his life in future; nothing to do except plan then take holidays. None of them wanted to join Jack and Gloria dancing afterwards, much to Tom’s relief. Two would watch the evening show and the other lady was going to bed. Tom went to the show then also went to bed. ‘I guess this cruise is another experience. Not one for me in future, though,’ were his last thoughts that evening.

 

Chapter Thirty. 2005.

Tuesday they tied up at the dock in Fort Lauderdale, the same one that they had used when they embarked. Passengers on the eight-day cruise left and new passengers joined the ship. There was no need for Tom or Jack to leave the ship so they spent the time with Gloria, eating lunch together and going to the movie theatre in the afternoon. The ship left at four o’clock, heading, once again, to Half Moon Cay.

Tom stayed on board Wednesday and they were at sea on Thursday so he was looking forward to visiting Georgetown on Friday. He took the tender right after eating breakfast. Once again, he went alone. Gloria was going to take Jack to the Turtle Farm and Marine Park, places she had never visited. She asked Tom if he’d like to join them but he refused, saying he wanted to see and touch the stingrays the lecturer had mentioned and “Jack told me how good his trip was.”

He took one of the boats to what was called the Stingray City, a shallow area about five miles from shore. The boat ride took about an hour. When the boat stopped Tom climbed out with most of the others and stood in water that was about three feet deep. There were many stingrays swimming between the anchored boats and standing people. He bent over and touched several rays as they swam by. One of the boat’s crew captured one and let others hold it. Back on the boat they moved over to the barrier reef and were told that the stingrays came here because this is where fishermen used to clean their catch and that the rays stay here now because “we feed them.” Tom took a mask and snorkelled, seeing and touching several rays and holding onto one to let it pull him along. There were other, brightly coloured fish to watch as well, something he enjoyed more than playing with stingrays.

The trip took all morning. Afterwards Tom ate lunch in one of the nearby cafes, trying conch fritters, something he’d never eaten before. Crunchy and filling, especially with the chips they were served with. A beer helped them down.

The attractive colours of the houses and shops invited him to investigate the town a little and he walked several streets gazing at the houses and into shop windows before catching a tender back to the ship. A nice place to live with friendly people, he thought, except for the hurricanes that sometimes blew by. After a shower and change of clothes he walked to the computer room to see if Steven had replied to his email. He had, lengthily. He and Sheila had decided what area they would concentrate on and had found two houses in November, both semi-detached, that they liked. They had taken the real estate agent’s leaflets with them to New York and shown Pat and Harry, who, once hearing that Tom had given them fifty thousand dollars, gave them the same amount as a Christmas present. ‘We’re making a bid on the one we like the most as soon as we return to Toronto. I’m sure we will be able to buy it. And, with our savings, we will be able to afford the monthly mortgage easily. The house has three bedrooms, so you can stay with us when you visit. Isn’t it great, dad?’ Tom emailed back, saying it ‘certainly was great’ and wanted to be kept up-to-date. ‘Send me a copy of the leaflet when you can, Steven.’

Jack and Gloria were also happy about Steven’s news when he told them over supper but the news led to Gloria asking why Tom and his wife had divorced. He told her, briefly, then changed the conversation by telling them how much he’d enjoyed the stingray trip and asking how their day had been. As usual, they danced afterwards. Tom watched the evening show before going to bed.

Tom was reading the daily newsletter before going to breakfast when Jack returned to the cabin.

“Hi Tom. Another great day! Gloria wants to take us to lunch at one of Cozumel’s restaurants, one she’s been to many times and is sure we’ll like. Do you have anything planned for today?”

“No. I was just going to explore the city, that’s all. And go to the party tonight. You’ve read about that?”

“No, but Gloria told me there’s always a New Years Eve party on these ships. What time does it start?”

“Eleven o’clock. There’s an announcement in the newsletter.”

“Right. well, I’m going to shower and change then call for Gloria. We’ll have breakfast together?”

“Oh, sure. Take your time.”

The ship had tied to a pier at Punta Langosta, which was so close to the town centre that they could walk there. They did that and stopped for a coffee at one of the attractive cafes before taking a taxi to La Cabana del Pescado. Gloria told them that the restaurant specialised in lobster but that there were many other dishes to choose from.

“Do you like lobster?”

“Yes,” said Tom, “but I’ve only had it two or three times.”

“Oh yes,” said Jack. “Betty and I had it once or twice a month when we were in Florida.”

“Good, because that’s why I wanted to come to this restaurant. It’s what I’m having. You choose the size you want before they cook it. You’ll love it.”

Gloria chose a medium sized lobster and the men chose sizes between the one she chose and the largest available. They drank beer while they were being cooked and Gloria talked to the owner who came over to their table a soon as he saw who was sitting there. The lobsters were excellent as were the vegetables and rice. They were telling Gloria how much they’d enjoyed them when she said, “The Key Lime pie is great here, too. It’s made next door. Do try it, but they give you a big helping. I’m just going to have some ice-cream.”

“Well, I’m nearly full,” said Tom. “Want to share a slice of pie with me, Jack.”

“Okay.”

Dinner was extra-special that night, six courses for those who could manage them, men in dinner jackets and ladies in fine dresses. Most of the men wore lounge suits so Tom and Jack didn’t feel out of place. Gloria, of course, looked fabulous. Jack and Gloria danced afterwards and Tom wondered what he’d do until the eleven o’clock party began. Not wanting to spend the time drinking and chatting to people who he’d never see again once the cruise was ended he went to his cabin and laid on the bed. Next think he noticed was Jack shaking his shoulder.

“Where did you get to last night? We looked all over for you.”

“Oh, Hi, Jack. What time is it? Is it morning? I guess I must have slept through the night. What was the party like?”

“Great! We were given noise makers and streamers to throw, Times Square countdown was shown on a big screen, free champagne and lots of snacks. You’d have enjoyed it.”

“Too bad I missed it then.”

“I’m going to undress and have a nap. Gloria and I stayed up until the music stopped at one. Wake me at noon if I’m not up by then.”

Football games were shown in several lounges that day as the ship headed for Florida. Tom, not a football follower, listened to the lecturer who outlined various activities one could do when they docked at Key West, then he read, woke Jack and had lunch with him and Gloria and went to the movies with them in the afternoon.

The ship docked at Pier B and they walked to Mallory Square after breakfast. They found a spot to have coffee where they could watch a couple of street performers and the wandering chickens. There were many shops but the place was so crowded and looking through what there was for sale was tiring to all of them. To get a feel of the place they took the Olde Town Trolley tour, got off at a less-crowded area and had lunch. Tom left Jack and Gloria afterwards since they were going to buy presents and he went to the Ernest Hemmingway Home and Museum thinking he might pick up a few tips about writing from seeing where the man wrote some of his books. He joined a guide and managed to stay close enough to him to hear most of what he said. Afterwards he explored the garden and sat in the shade for a while, thinking he’d be back home in three days and wondering if he could get back to writing his novel. He walked back to the ship and decided to pack his suitcase, leaving only what he’d need for the next two days in the drawers and closet.

When Jack joined Tom an hour before supper he had some news that upset him for a minute or two.

“Gloria has asked me to stay with her at her condominium, Tom, and I’ve said I would. So I won’t be flying back with you.”

“What? You’re going to stay here?”

“Not here, in Naples, the other side of Florida. At Pelican Bay, on the west coast.”

“Stay with her for good?”

“No. just for a few weeks, I think. I don’t know how long. It depends on how we get along, I suppose.”

“I don’t think you can change your return flight. You’ll have to buy a new one. And I don’t want to drive to Toronto to pick you up.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll catch a bus. And a flight from Fort Myers, that’s where Gloria said I would fly from, to Toronto doesn’t cost much. I’ll be all right.”

“Well, I’m glad for you. It’s getting serious then?”

“I think so and so does Gloria. We’ll have to see.”

Tom thought the same when he watched them at dinner that night. Smiles and looks told the story. It reminded him of how he and Pat were when they planned to get married.

 

Chapter Thirty One. 2006.

It was snowing when Tom landed in Toronto. His car was covered and it took ten minutes to clear the top and the windows. Traffic was slow driving across Toronto during the lunch hour but speeded up once outside the city. He stopped at the first Service Centre and had a tuna roll and coffee and filled the car with gasoline before driving off. Passing Kingston he began thinking about Dot, wondering how she and Norm were getting on, and decided to drive past her house when he got to Gananoque. Norm’s pickup wasn’t in the driveway and the curtains on the windows were partly drawn. ‘Perhaps they’re shopping in town. I’ll buy my groceries here and might see them. Not that I’d say anything but I’d like to see what this Norm guy looks like.’ They weren’t in the store where Tom went so he drove around the town looking for the truck but gave up after ten minutes and drove to Portland, stopping to collect his mail at the post office. The snow was still falling and he wondered if he could drive through the accumulation and into his garage. He stopped at his driveway and parked the car on the side of the road. The snow was clearly too deep for him to risk driving in so he stepped carefully through the foot of snow to the garage and started his snow blower. Twenty five minutes later his driveway was clear and he parked his car in the garage.

The house was cool but the baseboard heaters had kept it at eighteen Celsius. He unloaded the groceries and put his suitcase in the bedroom to be unloaded later. First thing was to light the wood stove. Once that was on and beginning to warm the place he made a pot of coffee, sat in his chair with a package of digestive biscuits and opened his mail. A couple of bills, some flyers which he didn’t want and would have to ask the post office to stop putting them into his box and three Christmas cards, one from Jenny, one from his Ottawa tennis friend Jim and one from Dot. Besides a ‘Happy Christmas’ Dot had written ‘Norm has left.’

‘What? What does that mean? He’s left for good? Can I believe that?’ Tom picked up his cell phone, which had remained on charge and checked his voice mail. Nothing from Dot. He called her but there was no reply. ‘She’s followed him? No, it can’t be that. She must have gone on holiday then. Is she trying to get over him? I’ll have to talk to her,’ and he phoned again, but still, there was no reply.

Tom unpacked and put his laundry in the washer and turned on his computer. No email, Steven would be back from New York by now but, presumably, hadn’t made an offer for the house they wanted. He phoned Dot again with no luck.

Supper was a frozen TV dinner and a slice of apple pie. There was nothing that interested him on television and Dot still didn’t answer her phone. After his second lot of laundry had dried he went to bed.

He got up as the sun rose. The snow had stopped and the skies had cleared. It looked like being a sunny day. He had breakfast then phoned Dot. Again, there was no answer. He tried to write, skimming though the fifty pages he had already written, trying to get back on track. What would Roger, his perfect alter ego, do next? After half-an-hour of imagining possibilities he gave up. Dot was occupying too many of his thoughts.

He called her again after lunch with no luck and decided to write to her to ask what she had meant when she said that ‘Norm has left.’ It was a short letter and he drove to Portland to post it but deciding on the way that he might as well deliver it himself and continued to Gananoque. Along the way he decided that, if she was not there, he’s ask Dot’s neighbours if they knew what had happened. Unfortunately no one was at home in either of her neighbours’ houses so he pushed the letter through her mail slot. Then he thought of her bridge friends. If anyone knew what had happened it would be one of them. He drove to Josie and John’s house. Luckily Josie was at home. She was surprised to see him but asked him to come inside when Tom explained why he was there.

“Yes, Tom. Norm is no longer around. He left just before Christmas. Dot didn’t tell me why.”

“Where is she now, Josie? Do you know?”

“Oh, yes I do. She’s in Vancouver. Jane, her daughter, died. You probably know she used drugs? Well, actually, she was an addict. That’s what killed her, an overdose. The police told Dot about her daughter’s death. She phoned me to say what was happening and that she couldn’t host the bridge this week. She left on Monday.”

“Do you know when she’ll be back?”

“No, but I don’t expect she’ll stay very long. She said she’d cremate the body. There’ll only be her daughter’s possessions to clear up after that, I suppose.”

“I see. Could you ask her to phone me when she gets back?”

“If I hear from her. You’ll be calling her?”

“I will.”

‘So that’s what happened to her. She’s not with Norm. Well, I’ll have to wait until she phones me, I guess. She’ll see my letter and Josie will tell her I was asking about her when they get in touch.’

Tom was sorry about what had happened to Dot’s daughter but couldn’t help feeling happy about Norm’s leaving. ‘Let’s hope it’s for good and that Dot’s finished with him.’

Dot called Tom Sunday night and they agreed to meet the next day.

“Come for lunch and I’ll explain what happened. That is, if you want to see me again.”

“Of course I do. You know that, Dot. What time?”

“If you’re sure you want to see me, come for coffee.”

“I’ll be there at ten.”

Tom carried a bunch of flowers when he knocked on Dot’s door at five to ten. He looked at her when she opened the door and almost dropped the flowers to hug her. She looked tired and sad, her hair was just combed back and held in place with a band and her eyes seemed on the verge of crying.

“Come in, Tom. Thanks for the flowers. Sit in the lounge and I’ll bring in the coffee. Sorry, I’ve only store-made cookies to eat.”

Instead of sitting down Tom followed her into the kitchen. Knowing where Dot kept her vases he retrieved one and filled it with water.

“I’ll put them in. You sit down,” he said, “I’ll make the coffee.”

“Thank you, Tom,” Dot said, as she sat on a kitchen chair. “I didn’t sleep much last night. Nor much this past week, either.”

“How can I help? Can I get you some groceries?”

“No, I’m all right. I’ve only been away for a week and the milk’s okay. I’ve got all I need for a few days. You know where I’ve been?”

“To Vancouver. Josie told me.”

“You’ve talked to her?”

“Yes. I phoned many times after I got your Christmas card but couldn’t reach you so I came down to find out what had happened. I thought you had gone on a holiday or had followed Norm somewhere.”

“Ah, Norm,” she sighed. “I’ll tell you about him later. Come, let’s sit in the lounge.”

Once Dot was sitting, Tom poured them both a mug of coffee and opened the bag of cookies and left them on the table between their chairs.

“So you know that Jane died?”

“Yes.”

“She overdosed. I told you she used drugs, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.”

“Well, that’s what happened. She took too many. I talked to Barb, the woman she lived with. Barb was a prostitute, as was Jane. That’s how they got the money to pay for the drugs. It was terrible where they lived, a depressing, damp apartment on a garbage-strewn back street in a slum. If only she’d come home it could have been so different. Barb told me why Jane had run away. Her long-time boy friend had dumped her and she followed him to Vancouver. But they never reconnected. He was a drug user, also. Her life went downhill from then. She managed to keep a job for a few years then she was fired. Poor, poor Jane,” and Dot began crying.

Tom stood up and put his arms around her shoulders, holding tight until she mopped her tears and shook her body.

“I must get over it. I suspected something like this would happen, it’s just worse when it actually occurs.”

“Yes, of course. It must be. How did you find out?”

“I had a phone call from the Vancouver police. Jane’s friend called them when she discovered Jane’s body and told them her name and where she came from,” and Dot started crying again.

“I can’t help it, Tom. It’s so terrible what she went through.” She shuddered and sat upright. “I’ll have to stop all this crying. It doesn’t do any good.”

“It’s all right, Dot. Take your time. It doesn’t matter if you cry.”

“Well, you might as well learn the rest. I had her body cremated and I scattered her ashes in the tiny park where they both used to sit on sunny afternoons. I had to do that in the evening, when nobody could see us. I didn’t keep the urn, all I kept was the photo she had, a picture of us when she was about five. Here, I’ll show you,” and Dot opened her handbag and pulled out a crumpled and bent photo of Dot and Bill, Ken and Jane sitting on a bench in a park. “I didn’t want anything else and gave it all to Barb.”

“I’m so sorry Dot.”

“It’s okay, I’ll get over it. Sit down again and I’ll tell you about Norm.”

Tom returned to his seat, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

“It was extraordinary when Norm first appeared,” Dot said. “It quickly seemed that he had never gone although I was upset about what you must be feeling. I couldn’t help returning to him but it gradually became different. One evening I found he was using drugs, he was sniffing cocaine in the bathroom. I confronted him and he bad-mouthed me. I knew it would get worse if he continued and told him so. He said he’d been using it since he moved out with Zinky, his teen-age girlfriend. I told him he’d have to stop if he was going to stay with me and he promised he would. But he didn’t. A week or two later he said he needed some money to have his truck fixed and I gave him four hundred dollars. That evening he came in stoned and fell down the stairs when he tried to walk up. It’s a pity he didn’t hurt himself, I could have taken him to the hospital and they might have knocked some sense into him. When I wouldn’t give him any more money he began hitting me. Then he stole it from my purse. Once I found that was happening I acted. I took the key to the house from his pocket when he was dreaming it off and put all his things in the truck. The next morning I told him to leave. He did, thank God, slamming the door behind him. I wonder now if he didn’t come back to me simply to get money. So, that’s what happened with Norm. I’m so sorry that it ruined everything between us Tom.”

“It hasn’t Dot. No, it hasn’t. It makes me so happy to hear what you said.” He jumped up and crossed to Dot, knelt down and pulled her towards him. “We can go back to the way things were before. It’ll be so nice. You know I love you, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. But I’m not sure how I feel about myself, now that all this has happened.”

“That’s okay. Let’s just be friends until you’re sure. That’s all I want for now. Can we do that?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Wonderful.”

“Tell me what you’ve been doing Tom. How was Christmas? Did you go to Toronto?”

Tom told her what he and Jack had done. How he, at first, enjoyed it but how he got a bit lonely after Jack had met Gloria.

“It would have been very different if you were with me, though. Gloria’s a nice woman, you’ll like her. Maybe we should take a cruise with them, that’s if they’re still together. She says she goes on lots of them.”

“We’ll see, Tom. Let’s first see how things are with us. Now, want more coffee?”

“No, thanks.”

“Then it’ll be a lasagne for lunch. That’s all I have. I think I’ll go shopping this afternoon.”

“Why don’t we go out for lunch, lasagne is more a supper thing than a lunch for me.”

“Yes, for me too. Okay, let’s do that.”

There was a five inch layer of snow on Dot’s driveway and her footpath so they used snow shovels to clean both before setting off in Tom’s wagon. They went to a Subway for lunch then returned to Dot’s home.

“Go home now Tom. Let me settle down for a while. I’ll call you in a day or two.”

“Okay. Maybe we could go to the movies or out to dinner then.”

“I’ll see,” and Dot kissed him on the cheek before opening the door to her house. “Bye Tom. And I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you again.”

“Bye, Dot. See you soon,” and he turned and walked to his car feeling very relieved and happy. ‘Maybe life’s going to be fun again.’

Sunday evening around seven o’clock Jack phoned.

“Hi, Tom. How are you?”

“Jack, is that you? You’re back home then. Said goodbye to Gloria already?”

“No, neither. I’m calling to see how you are. We’ve been talking and Gloria thinks that you were a bit depressed, what with me spending most of my time with her and leaving you alone. She wonders if you’d like to come and spend a couple of weeks with us.”

“She’s right about the last few days of the cruise but I’m fine now. Dot’s got rid of Norm and we’re friends, hopefully to become more than that when she’s up to it. Oh, her daughter just died, the one who moved to Vancouver. Died from an overdose of drugs. So she’s got a lot to recover from. No, I’m all right, thanks.”

“Just a minute, I’ll tell Gloria what you said.”

Jack did so then told Tom he was putting the phone’s loudspeaker on.

“Hi Tom. If you’re back with Dot why not come down with her? I’d love to meet her. Jack’s told me a bit about her. What do you think?”

“Hi, Gloria. That’s very nice of you to invite us but Dot’s not ready to go anywhere at the moment. She’s recovering from Jane’s death and from what happened between her and her old boy friend. Did Jack tell you about Norm?”

“Yes, he did. Look, it doesn’t have to be immediately. Anytime in the next three months. I’ll be here until April and Jack too, if he wants to stay that long. Think about it and see what Dot says. Here’s my phone number.”

“Well, thanks, Gloria. Thank you very much. I’ll tell Dot about it.”

“Tom,” Jack said, “give me your email address. Gloria’s got a computer and we can send you pictures of what it’s like here.”

Tom told him and asked if he wanted anything done in Kingston, if he was staying away that long.

“No thanks. I’ve told Ann and Peter what’s happening and they’re looking after the house. Do think about coming Tom. The weather’s great and we can hire a boat and go fishing. There’s some big fish in the sea here!”

“It’ll depend on Dot, I wouldn’t like to go without her. Right now I have to be here. But thanks, both of you, for the invitation.”

“Okay. Bye then,” said Gloria then Jack.

‘Lucky Jack,’ thought Tom. ‘How nice to be able to spend the winter in Florida. I wonder what it would cost to rent an apartment there for three or four months. Winter here is just too long. I hope things work out with Dot and we can visit them.’

Tom found it difficult to return to his novel. He began by rereading and modifying the fifty pages he’d already written. Now that Roger was beginning his masters degree and on to his sixth girl friend his life was becoming boring. ‘Who’d want to read all this stuff? If it’s boring to me as I write it then it’ll be boring to anyone who reads it. But if I’m not doing something like writing then how am I going to pass the time? What can I do? What I miss most are physical activities, I guess. Building things. That’s what I really like to do.’ A few minutes later he had an idea, something he needed came to mind. ‘I’ll make a pair of snowshoes.’

He closed his word processing program and searched for snowshoes on the web. Most were made of wood but some had a metal frame. Since he had no easy way to bend wood he’d make a pair using an aluminium frame. He noted what sizes suited different weights and how boots were fastened to the snowshoe then closed the computer and sat in his easy chair, sketching. Some three-quarter inch aluminium tubing and a long length of nylon or plastic rope, that’s all he’d need. He’d get them from Home Depot in Kingston tomorrow, the Smiths Falls lumber yard didn’t keep aluminium tubing as far as he knew. He’d have lunch there and do some shopping. Maybe buy a box of chocolates from Cooke’s and give them to Dot.

He found the tubing and rope he needed, had lunch in a deli and bought chocolates, old cheddar cheese and a bag of coffee from Cooke’s, planning to treat himself as well as Dot. On the way home he borrowed four books from the Portland library. Tuesday he carefully bent the tubing around a five gallon pail to shape the front curve then drilled a series of holes around the frame. This he did in the garage for it was warm enough to work there but he took the frames inside to thread the rope through the holes, sitting on a chair by the kitchen table. He used his walking boots when making the hole so the toe end of his boot would easily fit into it and made a loop to hold the front of his boots in place from more rope. The heals of the boots were free to move up and down and a length of rope tied with a knot held them firmly in the loops.

As soon as he had made the snowshoes he put on his boots, walked into the garage and fastened the shoes to his boots. At first he found walking difficult but he soon got used to swinging one leg around the other to avoid the shoe banging his shin as he stepped forward. Walking out of the garage onto the snow at the side of his driveway was tricky, for the snow was nearly a foot deep where the snow blower had dumped it but walking became easy when it levelled off. He snowshoed to the boathouse and back, congratulating himself on a job well done. He’d keep them in the wagon so it would be easier to move from the road to his garage if he was out when it snowed. He could also use them to go ice fishing once he had an auger to chop a hole through the ice. Perhaps he should buy one and try fishing. He dusted the snow off the shoes and placed them in the back of the car.

The rest of the week Tom walked along the road for an hour every morning seeing no one except passengers in the few cars that passed. Three driveways to cottages were cleared of snow suggesting that the owners had winterised the place but he saw no one. He read and thought how nice it would be if Dot and he did reconnect and if they did go to Florida. Now and again he thought about his novel but couldn’t think how to make the story more interesting.

 

Chapter Thirty Two. 2006

Dot phoned around eight o’clock on Sunday, asking if she could drive up for coffee on Tuesday.

“Yes, please. Or would it be better if I came to see you?”

“No, I’d like the drive. I’ll bring a cake. And I’m just coming for coffee and maybe lunch, if that’s okay.”

“Right, great. I’ve got some lovely old cheddar. Would sandwiches be all right or an omelette or a salad? What would you like?”

“How about cheese sandwiches and a salad?”

“You’ve got it. You’ll be here about ten?”

“Yes. It’d be nice to have coffee together again. See you. Bye Tom,” and she hung up.

Dot brought a marmalade cake, sweet but bitter and orangy. They both had two slices while Dot told Tom how she was recovering from the two events.

“I haven’t done much apart from clearing the house. I wanted to be sure there wasn’t anything that Norm had left behind and there wasn’t. And I emptied Jane’s bedroom. I’d kept it all these years the way she left it in case she returned. It was heartbreaking but necessary. It helped me to accept that she would never be coming home. The room’s empty now, except for the furniture. I’ve resumed playing bridge and deliver meals again on Thursday. Life’s getting back to normal. Now, tell me what you’ve been doing.”

“Nothing much, reading and a bit of walking. Oh, I made a pair of snowshoes. I’ll make a pair for you if you’re interested.”

“I don’t think so, Tom. Should we go for a walk now, it’s sunny although only ten or so degrees.”

“If your coat is warm enough, yes, let’s go.”

“It’ll be warm enough.”

As they walked Tom wondered if he should tell Dot about Gloria’s invitation to spend a couple of weeks with them in Florida. It would be exciting to discuss the idea with her but to bring it up now assumed too much, they would probably have to share a bedroom and Dot might not want to return to the intimacy they enjoyed before. He’d have to wait until she indicated how she felt. He hoped it wouldn’t be too long.

Dot left after lunch saying she’d like to come back next Tuesday, if that was alright.

“It is and will be,” said Tom.

The week continued, with Tom becoming more and more despondent about how he was living his life. There wasn’t enough to do in winter. Reading and a bit of walking just wasn’t enough. He’d have to continue the novel, bad as it now seemed to him. On Thursday he wondered if he could write something that the Queen’s atheists club might like, another article for their magazine. He sat in the lounge with a pencil and pad of paper. What would interest them that he hadn’t already written? Remembering the students in Hillson’s Philosophy Club and how little they knew about factors that influenced the way people thought. Maybe. He guessed that Queen’s students wouldn’t be that different, they were only two or three years older, although, on the whole, most would surely be smarter.

He made a list of points that students really needed to know about life and making decisions, points he’d already covered in his first two articles but more, what we know about how the universe started, how life evolved, exploitation, how we build mental constructs that determine what we do and who we become, how looking backward for moral guidance couldn’t find answers to some of the problems we were faced with today, thoughts that a forward-looking religion might be better, how it might be developed. So many ideas popped into Tom’s head that he knew it wasn’t an article he should write, it was a book. A book whose audience was inquiring teenagers, those who were looking for a way to solve moral problems if they couldn’t believe in a god.

‘That’s what I have to do,’ he reasoned. ‘I have to write a book.’ Then he shook himself. ‘How can I? There’s so much I don’t know in those areas. How can I write a book?’ Eventually he found that, if he really wanted to help teenagers he’d have a lot of work to do. He’d have to do lots of research. He’d have to read a lot and make many notes. He’d have to use the internet to do some of the researching. ‘In fact, I’ll have to do what Jenny suggested, exercise my brain, do some, no, do a lot of mental exercises. If I can do all that she’ll be very pleased! So would I, of course. Okay, I’ll try and put the ideas in some kind of order. I’ll have to draft a structure for a book then do the research.’

Structuring the book wasn’t easy. Tom could group ideas together but they formed themselves into at least three distinct parts. How people made decisions was clearly one part, the role religions played when solving moral problems was another and the idea that species evolved, learned and could do more, a third. ‘Okay, I’ll work on the first part and see where that gets me.’ He opened his word processor and named a new folder ‘Book.’ Then he made a sub-folder and called it ‘Decisions.’ In this sub-folder he put the lecture he’d prepared for the Hillson talk. ‘That’s not good enough to include but it’ll remind me how I tackled the problem then. Now, which parts of it need reworking?’ He thought for a while then made notes on a pad of paper. ‘I’ll have to define what thinking is, I suppose. The mind, what is it? How is it different from the brain? What happens in our mind when we think, I wonder what we know abut that? And how the things we learn affect our thinking. There’s so much that needs explaining and I don’t know half of it. I’d better read a few books about thinking to begin with. I’ll see what there is in the Portland library, perhaps they can order books for me from other libraries. Right now I’ll see what there is on the internet.’

Supper was late that night. It was seven thirty before he switched off the computer. Once started it was hard to stop. He read book reviews and abstracts, made a list of the books he wanted to borrow, read several articles and made lots of written notes under various titles. Keeping track of these would soon become a problem if he didn’t find a better way.

Tom was at his computer immediately after breakfast searching for information on the brain. He was sure he’d have to give an outline of how the brain worked and how the mind fitted into it before he could move on to problem solving for, surely, that was done in the mind, not the physical brain. More notes were taken, the list of books and journals he’d have to read or at least scan, increased. After his morning coffee break he drove to the Portland library, returning the novels he hadn’t started to read. He was after other kinds of books now. Unfortunately, the library had none of them. There were two books that might help, she told him, and he borrowed them. The librarian told him there was another library in Elgin. “But if you’re looking for these books you should go to a university, Kingston or Ottawa. They’re much more likely to have them.”

“Can I borrow from a university?” Tom asked.

“Yes, you can. There’s a small annual fee to pay, that’s all. And you can read the journals they keep, look at past editions and get help, too.”

“Great, then that’s what I’ll do. Thank you.”

He collected his mail then drove back to Whatfor, thinking he’d look through the books he’d borrowed first and go to Queen’s on Monday and see what they had. In the afternoon he read and made notes. He wrote the notes on a sheet of paper with the author’s name, book title and publication details at the top of the page, using the format he’d often seen when books were quoted, for he had already found three or four lines that might be suitable to quote in his future book. He used a pen and was careful to copy everything accurately.

The weekend passed quickly. Tom read, made notes and typed possible paragraphs and sections during the morning, walked after lunch and thought, read or typed for an hour or two after returning then relaxed, reading a novel, watching any activities in the garden, the birds flying and the occasional fox, coyote or deer as they crossed his lot. Some television and news in the evening then to bed, happy and ready for the next day.

Monday Tom drove to Queen’s university and visited the Education Library, explaining what he wanted. He was told he could use Queen’s library services but had to become an area member and pay the fee first. “You might find what you’re looking for in this library but Queen’s has several other libraries.” He joined and was then shown how to use one of the computers to search for the books he wanted. He wrote the reference numbers on a card then found his way to the shelves and started searching finding so many books that might be useful that he took them to a table and began skimming. Several times he found useful material and he put that book to one side, planning to borrow it when leaving. Three hours later he carefully re-shelved the books he didn’t want to borrow then checked out the useful ones. Feeling tired but buoyant he drove to one of the many pubs for a beer and lunch. He shopped at one of the supermarkets on the way home. After a nap he began reading and note-taking. This was exactly what he wanted to do, he thought, when he put down the book to make supper, to read with a purpose not just read to pass the time.

Dot brought a treacle square when she came for coffee on Tuesday.

“I thought about bringing some subs for lunch but wasn’t sure what you wanted.”

“I’ve got ham sandwiches already made so I’m glad you didn’t. And some soup to begin with.”

“Mushroom soup?”

“Yes, if you want it, I have that and tomato soup in the cupboard.”

“Mushroom for me. I hope you like the square, a recipe from England. I had to use corn syrup though. What have you been doing?”

Tom told her, saying he’d shelved the novel he’d tried writing as not being interesting enough.

“I think I’ll go to Queen’s every week. They have a tremendous selection of books and journals. Portland’s library doesn’t have what I want although the librarian said she could probably order them.”

“If you’re going to Kingston why not come for lunch at my place. Not Thursdays, though.”

“I’d like that. What day’s best for you?”

“The weekend, Saturday or Sunday.”

“How about Saturdays? It’d be for lunch, not coffee, I need time in the library first.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll not get there until about one. Will that be all right?”

“Sure.”

“Perhaps we could go to a movie afterwards?”

“If there’s anything interesting on, yes. Otherwise walking, if the sidewalks are clear enough. Want to walk now, before lunch?”

“Okay. Hey, I’ll show you my snowshoes. You could try them and if you like I could make you a pair.”

They put the coffee pot and mugs on the kitchen counter and the lid on the plastic box containing the rest of the squares. When outside Tom fastened his snowshoes to Dot’s boots and she tried walking in the garage.

“Can you tighten the straps, Tom. They’re too loose.”

He did so and Dot walked slowly out of the garage and onto the snow. She stopped after going a few feet.

“I don’t think I’d want a pair, Tom. I don’t find them very comfortable. Where would we use them anyway?”

“We could walk onto the lake and fish for ice. Or drive to one of the parks and follow a trail, or follow one of the snowmobile tracks around here.”

“I wouldn’t want to do that. They whip along at dangerously high speeds. You must have read about people being killed by them?”

“Yes, I have. Okay, we wouldn’t walk there.”

“No, don’t make me a pair. The road’s good enough. Take these off, please, and we’ll walk for a bit. I’d like to be home by two o’clock. The bridge girls are meeting to plan a party, it’s the tenth anniversary of our club. You must come. It’s on Saturday, February 11th at Rosemary and George’s place. I’ll let you know what time.”

‘Great,’ thought Tom. It looks as if Dot is thinking we could become a pair again. He removed the snowshoes and they began to walk along the road. Five minutes later he reached for her hand and held it as they walked for the next twenty minutes. Once back at his bungalow she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek then climbed into her car.

“I’ll see you on Saturday then. Thanks for the lunch, Tom.”

“Bye Dot. Yes, about one o’clock.”

He walked to the road to ensure there were no cars coming as she backed out of the driveway then waved as she moved off. ‘Wow, it looks as if everything’s going to be okay.’

Tom spent the rest of that week researching what was known about the brain and the mind, skipping information that was just too complex to understand by non-specialist readers like himself. He found that thinking and instinctive behaviour were quite different functions. That very simple animals possess instinctive behaviours and that the very simple amoebae, for instance, move away from acidic areas because it’s an instinctive behaviour for they are clearly too primitive to be actually thinking. ‘So I’ll have to write about that before starting to write about thinking.’ Researching this and reading explanations of how we think took much of the week.

Tom skimmed through several journals and magazines Saturday morning making a dozen pages of notes. When he checked out another six books, the assistant suggested he try the Bracken Health Sciences library if he wanted a wider selection of books on the brain. He told her he’d do that next week. It had just gone twelve when he left. He stopped at a flower shop and bought a dozen red roses then drove to Gananoque. Dot was removing the last six feet of snow from the path to her door when he arrived.

“Oh, you’re early. I’d hoped to have this finished before you arrived.”

“Let me finish it Dot,” Tom said.

“No need, I’ll be done in a minute. Had a good morning?”

“Yes, read some very interesting things and made lots of notes. How’s your week been?”

“Just the usual stuff. I’m not doing so well at bridge right now. I find it hard to remember what’s been played and let my partner down too often. But it’s fun and they forgive me.”

“Meal deliveries no problem?”

“No. It’s only hard when it’s snowed a lot or when there’s icy rain. Right, that’s all done. We’ll go through the back door, that’s where I keep the shovel.”

Tom reached into the car and collected the flowers before following Dot and offered them to her once they had got inside.

“Oh, thanks, Tom. I’ll open them when I’ve hung up my coat.”

Tom removed his and his damp shoes, as Dot opened the wrapping.

“Why, they’re roses! Red roses. Beautiful. Thank you Tom,” and she kissed him on the cheek. “Sit down while I put them in a vase.”

She did that and put them in the centre of the kitchen table. “I thought we’d eat here like we used to do. The dining room is too formal for lunch. It’s home made vegetable soup and a shrimp salad. I know you like shrimps.”

“Perfect!”

“Oh, you remember there’s a pot-luck at Rosemary’s house in two weeks? Well, I’m cooking a load of vegetables so you don’t have to worry about bringing food but could you bring a bottle of wine?”

“Sure. Red or white?”

“Red, I guess. Wanda’s making a beef stew.”

“Okay.”

“Come about five thirty. We’ll be having a drink before eating.”

Instead of going to the movies that afternoon they visited an art gallery then had tea and cakes in a little café before walking home.

“That was a nice afternoon, Tom. I’d like you to go home now and not stay for supper. I’m still thinking about us. I don’t want to make another mistake and upset you again. If you stay for supper we might drink too much and you’d stay for the night. Give me a little more time, Tom. I want to be sure.”

“All right, Dot. Take your time. Tell you what, let me take you out for lunch next Saturday. I’d like to do that.”

“That would be nice, okay.”

“I’ll come a bit earlier, how about twelve thirty?”

“All right.”

Dot kissed his cheek again before he left. As she shut the door he hoped she would want to kiss him on the lips soon.

There was a big snow storm the following week. Once it had passed Tom cleared his driveway and again after the snow plow had blocked his entrance on Thursday. Once it was clear he drove to Portland and bought milk, bread, chicken breasts and some vegetables. He then bought some beer and a two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, ready for the pot-luck.

During the week he made several attempts to plan how he’d tackle the topic of thinking, knowing that this was the mind’s most important activity, and failed. There was too much he didn’t know and the books and journals he’d studied so far didn’t help him sort out his jumble of ideas. So he just read and made notes. If it hadn’t snowed over Tuesday and Wednesday he would have returned to Queen’s and tried the Bracken library.

The Bracken was much more useful. There were many more relevant books and he found a particularly interesting one written by Ernst Cassirer over fifty years ago called Language and Myth. Cassirer wrote that there were different levels of thinking, something Tom had guessed but didn’t know how to articulate. The lowest level is absorbing information, not making memories, just observing the surroundings. The second level associates the incoming information with stored memories. ‘The minds of all animals do both,’ he read, ‘it’s how the mind helps the animals survive.’

‘That’s right,’ thought Tom. ‘Of course. But we can do more than other animals, we can describe what we learn to others. I don’t think other animals can do that, so there must be more to thinking than just checking new data with old memories and making decisions.’ More reading and more note-making filled out the remaining days of the week and Saturday morning Tom returned to the Bracken, borrowing more books.

He took Dot to the Gananoque Inn for lunch. There were couples at three tables next to the windows but there was space for them. There wasn’t much to see, just ice on the river and snow on the trees, grass and houses. They both chose the borsch, then Tom had Dover sole and Dot the lamb chops. Dessert was cheese for Tom and cream cheese cake for Dot. Both had two glasses of wine.

Tom drove carefully back to Dot’s house where she said how nice it had been then kissed him on his lips before opening the car’s door.

“I’m going to leave you now, Tom. But I want you to sleep over next Saturday, after the potluck. Drive home carefully.”

He did that, with a smile on his face.

He read most of the week, trying to sort out the differences between animal and human thinking. The main factor, he thought, was our ability to speak. But some of the books he’d read said that several animals had some ability to communicate, it was just that we couldn’t understand them, although others of their species did. What did this mean? How was talking related to thinking and could animals, some animals, that is, think like we do?

On Saturday morning Tom finished the last two books then walked for an hour after lunch. He showered and dressed carefully in grey slacks, a warm sweater and jacket and left for the library at two o’clock armed with the books to be returned.

Dot was ready for him when he arrived at five thirty. She had three casseroles, one of carrots, another of potatoes and one of Brussels sprouts keeping warm in a box.

“We’ll go in your car Tom, it’ll be warm. Can you put the box in the back? I’ll just get my coat.”

Five minutes later they were at the Grant’s home.

“Hello Dot. Hi Tom. Welcome. Oh, thanks for the wine Tom. Let me take your coats.”

“Hi, Rosemary,” said Dot. “Where do you want the casseroles?”

“On the kitchen table, please. The wine can go there also George.”

“This way,” said Dot, as she walked down the corridor.

George was an architect and had designed his home, with four bedrooms and a study, built on a large lot. The kitchen was a cook’s kitchen, with a row of copper pans and saucepans hanging from the ceiling, a six-burner stove and a marble-topped table complete with sinks in the centre. A breakfast table with seats for six sat in an adjacent conservatory.

“That’s where we usually play bridge,” said Dot, pointing to the conservatory.

Tom placed the box on the kitchen counter, looked around the kitchen then out into the hall as George was standing. “Are you having a good winter Tom?”

Tom told him that he was and also that he had been on a Caribbean cruise.

“Did you go by yourself?”

“No, went with a friend, Jack Higgins. Left Fort Lauderdale December 20th, returned January 3rd.”

“Rosie and I have taken three or four cruises but never over Christmas. Ah, here are the others. Hi gang! Let me take your coats. Tom’s here. You remember Wanda and Larry, Josie and John, Tina and Les, Tom?”

“Yes. Hi everyone. Happy New Year!”

There were a few “Happy New Year’s” in return, as they took off their coats.

“Hello Tom,” said Josie. She gave him a hug and whispered in his ear, “I’m glad you and Dot are together again.”

There were drinks and snacks waiting in the lounge where they sat, helping themselves to wine, beer, gin and tonics or other mixes which George prepared for those who wanted them. After everyone had something to drink Rosemary asked Wanda if they were taking any holidays this winter.

“Not until May,” she said.

“Too busy preparing tax returns,” said Larry, who was an accountant.

“We’re going to England to see my sister,” said Tina. “It’s my turn this year.”

“Yes,” said Les. “Last year we visited my family. They live in Washington, Tom,” he explained.

“We’re renting an apartment in Rocha Brava for March,” said Rosemary.

“Oh?” said Tom. “Have you done that before?”

“No, but George’s partner has done it. He’s there already but will be back before we go.”

“Have to update him on what’s going on before we leave,” said George. “Shall we eat now? Is everything ready, Rosie?”

“Yes, we can eat anytime. Everything’s laid out in the kitchen. Take a plate and help yourself.”

Supper was eaten in two groups, the women around the table in the conservatory and the men in the lounge. Tom was a bit surprised by this and Les, noticing his reaction, explained that the women were planning a trip. “They’re going to Syracuse for a shopping weekend.”

Larry, Les and George discussed ice hockey while they ate and drank. John joined Tom off to one side and asked him how his moral problem solving search was going.

“I’ve started to write a book about it, John, and it’s complicated. There’s so much I don’t know. The long term goal will be the same, the one Dr Sewell proposed, that life evolves to become an omnipotent, God-like, entity. So, like we discussed before, it’s ‘good’ to support the achievement of that and morality stems from that decision.”

“I think about that conversation sometimes and I guess you’re right, mostly. But there are still exceptions. The death penalty, for example. Is it ‘right’ to kill someone, someone who’s a serial killer? How does ‘supporting life to become omnipotent’ answer that?”

“I’m not sure, though I think the answer depends upon how much the killer might contribute to life’s evolution if he stayed alive. For instance, if he was also a gifted scientist who had discovered many helpful things and was in the process of discovering more it’d probably be better to keep him alive and working than to kill him. Each situation has to be resolved separately, there is no single answer.”

“Just like cases that are now resolved in courts of law.”

“Exactly.”

“So you won’t be giving universal answers in your book?”

“Just Dr Sewell’s suggestion. Individuals have to decide if it’s for them or not. The book’s for inquiring teenagers who think about these things and are not sure if an existing religion is right for them. The book can’t sell just that one idea, but it can suggest it as a possible alternative, I think.”

“I’ll buy a copy when it’s finished, Tom.”

“Ah, that’ll take many months, years, probably. I’m not even a quarter of the way through the first chapter and I’m sure that will have to be rewritten many times.”

The women surged into the room at that moment and Rosemary said, “It’s next weekend. We leave Friday evening and return Sunday. So you boys will have the weekend to yourselves.”

“Whose car are you taking Rosemary?” asked George.

“Your station wagon George,” said Rosemary. “We’ll all fit into that and it’ll have room for our luggage.”

“Not that we’re taking much,” said Tina. “It’s to hold what we bring back!”

“Do they do this every year?” Tom whispered to John.

“For the last three or four, yes.”

“Right. Anyone want to dance?” asked Rosemary, after the dishes had been put in the dishwasher.

”You bet,” said Wanda and Tina.

“Then can some of you help George move the lounge table to the side and roll up the rug.”

They pushed back the chairs and readied the room for dancing and Rosemary found a Victor Sylvester’s CD in a pile of disks and pushed it into the player. She pulled George onto the floor and Wanda and Larry joined them.

“Want to dance, Dot?” asked Tom. “I’m not very good but I could try a waltz.”

“Yes, please. There’ll be a waltz soon.”

Two or three couples danced at a time, it was a bit too crowded for more on the floor. They danced and talked until about nine. Dot and Tom were the first to say goodbye and Tom drove carefully back, carefully because of the wine he’d drunk. He parked in Dot’s driveway and carried the box of casseroles into the house.

“Give me a few minutes, Tom,” said Dot, as she took off her coat and shoes. “I’m going to bed. If you want another drink you know where they are.”

“I’ve had enough, thanks. You know, I forgot to bring my pyjamas and toothbrush.”

“I’ve got plenty of toothbrushes. My dentist gives me one each time I go. I’ll put one out for you. And if you don’t have your pyjamas I won’t put nighty on. See you soon.”

They saw each other soon, and soon again, later that night.

Over breakfast Tom told Dot about Gloria’s invitation.

“You know she and Jack are in her Florida condominium. She’s invited us to stay with them for a couple of weeks. Would you like to go?”

“Now, she means? Not in the summer, I hope.”

“No, sometime before May. She goes to her home in Maine then.”

“I’d like to go but not until a week or two after the Syracuse trip. Any time after that would be nice. I was a bit envious of the others when they said they were taking a winter holiday.”

“Good, then I’ll phone Gloria and arrange a time. Have you got a passport?”

“Yes, it’s good for another eleven months. I checked it before we planned our trip to Syracuse.”

Tom phoned Gloria soon after he arrived home that afternoon.

“Hello Tom. How are you?”

“I’m fine and so is Dot. How about you and Jack?”

“We’re great, enjoying ourselves. Are you able to visit us soon?”

“Yes, we’d like to do that. Can we come for a couple of weeks?

“Yes, of course. So you’re back with Dot. I’m glad. Tell her to bring lots of money, there are many fine shops here.”

“Ah, she’s shopping with her bridge friends next weekend in Syracuse. Can we come after that?”

“Yes, of course. You have to fly to Fort Myers. We’ll pick you up at the airport. Jack wants to speak with you, hang on.”

“Hi Tom. So you’ll be coming. Great! Bring your swimsuits, it’ll soon be warm enough to swim in the sea, but there’s a pool here at the condo and the water’s heated.”

“Okay. We will.”

“Will you be leaving from Ottawa or Toronto? If it’s Toronto I’d like to return when you do. That way you can give me a lift to Kingston.”

“Then we’ll go through Toronto then.”

“Oh, good. Thanks. Send us the flight details when you’re booked. Bye, Tom.”

“Bye Tom,” called Gloria.

“Bye, and thanks, Gloria.”

Tom used his computer to search for flights and found many. He phoned Dot and suggested they leave on the Tuesday following her Syracuse weekend.

“I’ll be packing my suitcase before I’ve unpacked it if we go then, Tom, but it’s all right.”

“Jack says we should bring our swim suits.”

“Of course. You should bring shorts too. You’ll need them.”

He then booked two seats on a direct Air Canada flight, leaving Tuesday February 21st and returning Tuesday March 7th and emailed the details to Gloria. She replied almost immediately saying she written the dates and times on her calendar.

Sunday Tom returned to reading, note-taking and writing. Ernst Cassirer and other authors helped him realise that thinking occurs both subconsciously and consciously. He began to understand how the mind compares information coming from the animal’s senses, its eye or ears or touch, for instance, to its memories. It does that to determine if it’s in danger or if what it sees is edible. The mind then tells the body what to do. ‘Obvious, really,’ Tom thought, once he’d grasped what the authors were stating in more complicated prose. ‘All animals must behave this way. That’s what their minds are for. Even us, that’s what we do, but we can also think before acting, think and consider other ideas, things people have told us, for instance. And we can change our mind too, if we want to, that’s what the third, conscious, level of thinking does. It uses words to do it. And we can plan ahead as well, of course, using words. That’s what words and language do and that’s how they make all the difference for us. I must write this down and find out more about it.’ Doing this took Tom most of the week.

He had the whole week free because a big snow storm blew over Ontario in the middle of the week. Dot had planned to drive up on Tuesday and stay until Wednesday but cancelled as the weather got worse. Luckily for both of them the main roads were cleared by Friday and the girls could head south and Tom could visit the library on Saturday.

The weather the following Tuesday was cold and clear. Tom left for Gananoque before the sun rose, collecting Dot at seven. They shared the driving, Dot first, and swapped positions at a Service Centre about half way to Toronto. The flight to Fort Myers was uneventful and Jack and Gloria were waiting for them near their baggage carousel. Jack was wearing shorts, sandals, a short-sleeved shirt and a red cap. Gloria was wearing smart slacks that ended just below her knees, a bright yellow shirt and a black, wide-brimmed hat.

“Hi Jack, Gloria. You both look great! This is Dot, Gloria.”

“I guessed that, Jack. Hi Dot, welcome to Florida.”

“Thanks for inviting us, Gloria. It’s so nice to be here, away from the cold.”

“It’s about 82 outside, I think,” said Gloria. “A good temperature, not too hot.”

“About 26 for us,” said Jack. “Let me take your bag, Dot. It’s this way,” and he led them to Gloria’s car, a white BMW, parked in the adjacent short-term parking garage.

Jack drove south from the airport on the 75 then across to Gloria’s condominium. Tom sat beside him so that the women could talk in the back. He was amazed by the wide streets, the flowering shrubs and the expensive cars that were all around them. “It’s so different from Miami, Jack. I hadn’t expected this.”

“There’s much more money this side of Florida, Tom. You’ll see its effects everywhere, particularly in restaurants. There’s many up-scale ones and they’re quite expensive. It shows on the streets also. You’ll see, when we go along Pelican Bay Boulevard, with all its trees, colourful shrubs and flowers.”

It took them forty minutes to reach the boulevard and a few more as Jack drove along it to reach the condominium where Gloria owned a unit. They parked in the garage and took the elevator to the twentieth floor. Jack opened the door and they walked in.

“Leave your bags here and Jack will take them to your bedroom,” said Gloria. “I’ll show you around.”

A lounge was on their left, a family room with a dining room table was on their right and that opened into a kitchen which also had a small dining table. A hall led from the front door towards what Tom guessed were the bedrooms.

“Here, this way,” and Gloria led them through the lounge and through two open glass doors onto a balcony. “Look, that’s the Mexican Gulf.” They stood by the screen that protected the balcony and stared.

“See that small road on the berm? Jack and I walk along that or take a trolley to go to the beach. We’ll do that tonight, for supper at the restaurant there. You’ll see.” She led them along the wide balcony and through another pair of open doors into a bedroom. “This is our room. It’s an en-suite and also has a walk-in closet.”

They walked across the floor to the corridor Tom had seen when entering. “On the left is your bathroom and your bedroom is in here,” and she stood aside to let them enter. “Why don’t you freshen up then we’ll have a drink. What do you prefer? Coffee, tea, lemonade or something stronger.”

“Lemonade for me right now, Gloria, please,” said Dot. “This is a lovely place. You must like it a lot.”

“I do, very much. There are lots of nice people living here too,” she replied. “Right, lemonade for you, Dot. What would you like, Tom?”

“The same. Lemonade is just perfect for now.”

They sat on the balcony to drink, eating cream cookies and talking. Gloria explained how she and her husband bought the place twelve years ago to escape the cold winters they had in Maine.

“It’s a long drive between there and here but well worth it. And it’s been an investment. The prices of these units have been going up ever since we bought ours. Lots of people come here to play golf during the winter, as well as escape from the cold, even a number from Canada.”

“There’s plenty of golf courses here,” said Jack. “There’s a big one we see from the kitchen and family room. You’ll see it from your bedroom window, too.”

“Why don’t you unpack and change now,” said Gloria. “You must be hot in those jeans. Did you bring shorts Tom?”

“Yes, and a swim suit. Have you been in the sea yet?”

“Just for a short swim,” said Jack. “It’s cool but okay. The pool’s much warmer if you want to swim. We don’t do that.”

“What do we wear tonight Gloria? Is it a formal place?” asked Dot.

“Oh, no. Something casual is fine. Jack usually wears shorts. I wear slacks and a nice top. I’ve booked a table for seven o’clock. We’ll have a drink here first then catch a shuttle down.”

Exiting the condominium that night was easy, walking around the swimming pool and out of a gate at the back. Jack had to use a pass chip to go through the gate to the road on the berm where they waited for a couple of minutes to catch one of the passing shuttles.

They were given a table that was next to the window overlooking the beach and the sea. Beer and glasses of wine were chosen and their meals ordered. Tom chose salmon, Dot had grouper, Jack fish and chips and Gloria ate pork chops. Key Lime pie for the women afterwards and cheese for Tom, apple pie for Jack, followed by coffee. Afterwards Gloria paid. Tom thanked her then said he’d like to pay all the bills, for groceries and restaurants, in future. “May I?”

“No. you can’t do that. You’re my guests and I like to entertain. Wally left lots of money. Some he inherited and more that he made. He was a stockbroker. We didn’t have any children so I don’t have to save it for them. Okay, let’s go.”

They joined a short queue waiting for one of the north-directed shuttles. Other shuttles ran southwards, to other condominiums. There must have been ten or twelve of the buildings along the berm.

Once back indoors they watched the news then discussed what they would do the next day.

“Jack and I usually get up about seven then walk along the berm to the sea then back to have breakfast. We’ve got cereals, English muffins and bread. Would that be okay for tomorrow? If you want something else in future we can buy it.”

“That’s fine for me,” said Tom.

“And me,” said Dot. “I’d like to join you for the walk. How about you Tom?”

“Sure thing. Can you help me set the alarm on the bedroom clock, Jack.”

“It’s easy. I’ll show you how.”

In the morning they followed the same route that the shuttle had taken the previous night, south along the berm until they came to the wide boardwalk that led through the mangroves to the beach and the restaurant. As they walked they met a few other early walkers and an occasional shuttle passed them. As they were getting near the sea Gloria stopped and pointed to a dead tree.

“Can you see it? The owl? It’s at the bottom of that broken gap in the trunk.”

“Oh, yes,” said Dot. “It’s hard to see. Isn’t it tiny!”

“It’s an Eastern Screech owl,” Gloria said. “We usually see lots of birds along the berm but they must be somewhere else this morning.”

“And the alligators only come out when it’s warm, in the afternoon,” said Jack. “We’ll see them when we come down to swim.”

They did see a handful of birds as they walked back. There were two cormorants with their wings outspread, drying their wings. Other birds were standing and staring at the water at the bottom of the berm looking for fish, others were pecking at worms or insects in the grass verges or in the mud besides the water.

“They’re mostly Ibis and Egrets,” said Gloria. “You’ll see lots of those while you’re here.”

“And there are four otters but we have only seen them twice. They swim along the water and catch fish then eat them under the trees the other side of the berm,” added Jack.

After breakfast they read the two newspapers that were delivered each day. At ten Jack said he’d make some coffee which they had with thin oat cakes, one of Gloria’s favourite cookies. Afterwards she said that she wanted to show Dot some of the stores. “Do you two boys want to come?”

“Not me, “said Jack.

“I’ll stay with Jack,” said Tom. “What are you looking for?”

“Nothing,” Gloria replied, “just looking at clothes and shoes. We’ll probably get something for tonight’s supper though. What do you fancy?”

“Fish for me, please,” said Jack.

“Is that okay for everybody?” Tom and Dot nodded.

“Okay, fish it is.”

When they left Tom asked Jack what he usually did in the morning.

“Read, usually. Sometimes I go with Gloria when she’s shopping for food. There’s a library downstairs. Lots of novels there, stuff you’ll like Tom. Let’s go and get some for you. People drop off books they’ve finished with. One just helps oneself.”

Tom collected a couple of books and they sat in easy chairs and read until the women came back. Lunch was bread, cold cuts and cheese, with yoghurt and blueberries afterwards.

They read again, on the balcony this time, until three thirty when they put on swim suits and sun screen and caught a shuttle to the beach. They walked along it until they found four empty lounge chairs under an umbrella. Leaving the bags containing their towels and books on the chairs they walked slowly out into the water. It was cool at first, although the board near the entrance said the water temperature was seventy four. They floated, swam for a little, played around then sunbathed. Gloria was already nicely tanned and Jack was getting there. Tom and Dot’s skins were almost white.

Gloria and Dot cooked the supper and they drank a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with the cod. Frozen yoghurt ‘ice cream’ with a chocolate mint flavour was the dessert. They watched the news and a series that Gloria and Jack were following and went to bed at ten.

That was how most of the days were spent while Tom and Dot were visiting. They visited Marco Island, Miromar shopping centre, Sanibel Island and walked around an arts display of paintings, sculptures and jewellery in a park on the second Saturday. Gloria and Jack continued their afternoon dancing group twice a week and the men took a ‘Party Group’ fishing trip three times, bringing home grouper which the boat skipper had cleaned for them. They grilled the fish on one of the barbecues that were amid the trees at the side of the condominium and ate them with buttered baguettes and a salad on one of the nearby tables.

“It was a great holiday,” said Tom, as he and Dot stood by the check-in counter Tuesday morning. “Thank you very much for inviting us.” He gave Gloria a hug.

“Yes it was. Thank you Gloria,” said Dot, also giving her a hug.

“I’ll be back in two weeks,” said Jack to Gloria. “You know my flight.”

“Yes, I do. I hope you don’t have too much income tax to pay when you get back home.”

“I don’t expect so. There’s not much coming in!”

“Bye dear,” said Gloria, after being released from Jack’s kisses.

The flight left on time and the roads were clear as Tom drove back to Kingston, where he dropped Jack at his door, then to Gananoque leaving Dot at her house and Portland, where he collected his mail and bought some groceries. He was happy to be home again. Everything was as he had left it except there was a six inch layer of ice-crusted snow on his driveway that he cleared before driving in.

 

Chapter Thirty Three. 2006

The March and April weeks followed a regular pattern. Tom read and wrote during the week and spent the time between Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening with Dot. A snow storm changed that routine once when the roads were too bad to drive. He used a computer program to prepare his income tax for the first time this year and it cut down the two or three days it had previously taken him to prepare it to less than two hours.

The first chapter of Tom’s book gradually took shape. Sections about how the mind thinks were drafted then re-drafted as he discovered how thinking and the use of language were greatly intertwined. He researched what was known about the beginning of language and how it contributed to the way early humans behaved and added footnotes and references.

Jack phoned in early April, saying they had left Florida and he was back in Kingston, asking if he could come up for a chat. It turned out that he wanted to talk about Gloria.

“She’s suggesting that we get married, Tom. I don’t know what to say. I love her, that isn’t the issue, and she has lots of money, so that’s no problem. Trouble is, I’d more or less have to move to the states. Maybe even become a citizen. I don’t want to do that.”

“What don’t you want to do? Stay in the states or become a citizen?”

“Become a citizen.”

“Well then, don’t. I’m sure you won’t have to but better research it first. You’d lose things like Ontario Health Insurance, though.”

“That’s no problem. We’d buy the equivalent.”

“Then I don’t see much trouble in marrying, Jack. If you do, invite us to the wedding!”

“I will. Oh, Gloria suggests you visit us in Maine sometime this summer. She has a nice house on one of the inlets. I was there until a week ago.”

“We’d like that. Thank her when you see her. When are you going back?”

“After I’ve made arrangements about cutting the grass and a few other things. In a few days, I guess.”

“What does Ann think about you marring Gloria?”

“She’s happy I have a partner, but she doesn’t know I’m thinking of getting married.”

“I’m sure she won’t mind. And Betty wouldn’t, either.”

“No, I don’t think either one would.”

Jack didn’t stay for lunch and Tom returned to his books and computer, trying to outline the rest of chapter one. It’s title would be Thinking, but how one thought and the consequences of thinking were turning out to have some interesting consequences which he enjoyed explaining.

In May Tom’s thoughts turned to gardening. He bought a soil-heating cable and placed it under a large tray full of soil mix and sowed rows of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and tomatoes. He kept the tray in his greenhouse under a ventilated plastic film. Hopefully the heat from the cable would protect the seedlings until they could be transplanted. He removed the plastic tarpaulins from the garden plots, dug out the few weeds that had started then rototilled each plot. He sowed two short rows of lettuce, a row of turnips and three double-rows of beets, peas and carrots mixed with radishes. He’d read about an open-meshed, paper-thin cover that would hasten the growth and bought a roll and placed it over the rows, holding it in place with clumps of dirt along each side. All this kind of work was done in the afternoons, his mornings were dedicated to researching books or journals and writing sections of his book.

Sunday morning, at coffee time, on May 28th, Jack phoned Tom and said they’d set the date for their wedding.

“It’s July 15th, Tom, that’s a Saturday. You and Dot are invited, of course. We’d like to have you stay with us but there’s no room, Gloria’s friends from across the states have already filled all the spare bedrooms. We will book you into a nice hotel, not far from here. My brother and sister will be staying there as well, with their families, also Ann and Peter. Can you come on the Friday?”

“The wedding is on July 15th Jack? I can’t come then. Stephen’s family will be here. It’s Lilly’s birthday on the nineteenth and they stay for the week. Ah, that’s a great pity. Tell Gloria I’m very sorry.”

“I wish I’d known about that before we went to New Brunswick last month. We could have chosen another date. Can’t do that now, too much has been arranged. Can you come later? In August or September? You could stay with us then.”

“I’m sure we could, Jack. Thanks, for the wedding invitation. What’s your address there?”

“I’ll email it to you with a map. It’s easy to find, you won’t have any difficulty. I’ll tell Gloria that you can’t come when she returns, she’s shopping right now.”

“Yes, it’s a pity. Email me lots of photos, please.”

“I will. Cheers, Tom.”

“Bye, Jack.”

‘That’s too bad. I’d liked to have been there. And to see Ann and Peter again. I wonder how they are getting along. Never mind, we’ll hear all about it when we do go to Maine. It’ll be nice to see where they live. I wonder if Jack’s going to stay in the states now?’

In June Dot began staying with Tom in Whatfor from Friday afternoon until Monday morning, when she returned to Gananoque to play bridge and see Ken and his family. Tom changed his routine somewhat, going to Queen’s library twice a week. However, he continued working in his study in the mornings on the days Dot spent with him. When she was there she cooked lots of meals that she froze for Tom to eat when she was in Gananoque or cooked cakes that she usually gave to Ken. They fished a few times and she helped Tom water and weed the garden. She used vegetables from the garden as they ripened and took some home each week. It was a comfortable life for both of them.

One night, after they had just got into bed, Dot asked Tom what he thought about her staying full-time with him.

“I like being here better than I do living in Gananoque. I’d miss my bridge friends but I could drive down and play with them every week. They could manage without me on the days I’m not there because there are five of us. And I could sell my house, I don’t have to keep it now Jane is dead. If I sold it we could go on some holidays. I’d like to do that.”

“We could go without you selling your place, Dot. I could pay for everything.”

“No, I don’t want you to do that. It’s not fair.”

“I see. Where do you want to go?”

“Well, cruises in the Caribbean don’t sound very interesting. Much too touristy, stopping at places filled with people from other cruise ships, sitting on hot beaches, shopping for things I wouldn’t want to wear once I’d got home. That’s not really me.”

“Yes, I feel the same.”

“But I would like to go on river cruises, maybe in the states or elsewhere. In Europe, that would be nice. I’ve read about the cruises from Amsterdam to Budapest. They’re expensive but affordable. I could manage that easily if I sold my house. What do you think?”

“I like the idea of you moving in, Dot, but I don’t want to get married.”

“No, nor do I, although, technically I think that living together counts as a common-law marriage. We could sign some kind of agreement that states that our own money stays in our own family. Steven would get yours and Ken would get mine, when we die, that is.”

“It would be nice to go on a few holidays together. Then, if you’re sure that it would work, sell your house. You could also sell your bungalow, if you like. Ken and Stella can spend their weekends here with us.”

“Ah, no. I don’t want to sell that. They’ll want to invite friends and hold parties. They can’t do that if they’re staying here. All right, I’ll put my house on the market next week.”

Dot listed her house for sale and began clearing it out, leaving two or three pieces in each room to show how the house might look. Tom stored the things she wanted to keep in Whatfor’s basement. He asked her if he could have one of her single beds, “Lilly could sleep in it when they visit. I’ll make a bedroom in the basement for her when I’ve finished the book.”

Dot’s son, Ken, and his family arrived at Dot’s cottage early the same morning that Steven’s family arrived for Dot had told them when they were coming. She wanted them to spend time together, especially now, since she had moved in with Ken. They came over shortly after Steven had unloaded his car and Dot showed them around Whatfor. While that was happening, Tom told Lilly he had a surprise for her.

“Come with me and I’ll show you.”

“Can I bring Shirl too?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Is it to do with fishing, grandpa?”

“No. we’ll go outside and you’ll be able to see it.”

They went onto the deck and both girls saw the tree house immediately. Lilly let go her grandfather’s hand and they both rushed down the steps, across the grass to the tree house. Shirl got there first but waited at the bottom to let Lilly climb the ladder first.

“Look, Shirl, it’s got furniture inside, and curtains and pictures. It’s beautiful.”

Lilly lent over the rail and shouted to her grandfather.

“It’s wonderful, grandpa. Thank you very much. Can we have our lunch here? Wouldn’t that be nice Shirl?”

“Let me try the chair, it might be too small for me to sit on.”

Luckily, it wasn’t. Tom said they’d have to ask their mothers if they could eat there. That wasn’t too hard because everyone else had joined Tom as he walked to the tree house.

“Yes, you can,” said Stella. Shirley’s mother just nodded her head.

“We’ll have to make some sandwiches for them,” said Dot.

“And they can have cans of pop to drink,” added Tom.

They didn’t fish that afternoon. The girls just wanted to fix up the tree house. They picked flowers and put them in a vase. They borrowed a broom and swept the floor although it was already clean, then they ran over to where everybody was chatting on chairs besides the sand to ask if they could sleep there. After a little discussion it was agreed that they could. Tom found the air mattresses, the sleeping bags and the inner sheets and handed them up to the girls after first inflating the mattresses. They placed the table and chairs on the little balcony while making up the beds.

They had hamburgers and oven fries for supper with two of Dot’s cakes for dessert. The girls got ready for bed and everybody walked with them to the tree house. They took two flashlights and climbed the stairs. Once they were in bed everybody climbed the steps, one at a time, to see how they looked, then they said good night and returned to the house.

“I wonder if they’ll stay there all night,” asked Dot.

“Shirl will, I’m sure,” said Susan. “She’s been camping before, although it’s a luxury to sleep in a tree house.”

“Well, I guess Lilly will stay then.”

“I’ll leave the outside and basement’s lights on and the door unlocked,” said Tom, “in case they want to come in.”

The girls stayed the night, arriving early for breakfast the next morning. Lilly was very sad when Ken’s family left to go home Sunday afternoon.

“I don’t want to sleep there by myself, mom. But, never mind, I’ll get to sleep with all grandpa’s lamps and tables and chairs. I’ll arrange them to make a den. That’d be fun.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer a bed in my study, Lilly?”

“No thanks, grandpa. It’s more fun sleeping with the boxes and furniture.”

Lilly fished, going with Tom and Dot several times, ate ice cream cake on her birthday, swam and played in her tree house during the rest of the week. Both Tom and Dot were sad to see them go on Saturday.

Tom returned to his routine, reading books, journals and relevant magazines. He revised the first chapter for, he hoped, the last time and began reading books on problem solving and decision making and the way the mind manages both. These, he’d decided, would be the next two chapters. They were easier to write for their outline was based on the thoughts he’d had years ago when he spoke to students at his school, however, there were several aspects he found he had to elaborate and this kept him busy.

Dot’s house sold in August with a closing date of September 1st. Once Dot had deposited the money she had received they talked about holidays.

“We should visit Gloria and Jack before booking anything else,” Tom said.

Dot agreed, and he picked up the phone and called Gloria.

“Come in two weeks time,” she said, “if you can. We’ve too many things on next week. Can you come then?”

“Yes, we can. Thanks. How about if we arrive on Monday? Would that be okay?”

“Sure. You still have the address and map Jack sent?”

“Yes, on an email. I’ll print them out.”

“Well, Belfast is easy enough to get to. Do you have GPS in your car?”

“No.”

“Buy a portable one then. It’ll make finding your way much easier.”

Tom and Dot spent the afternoons of the first week of September tidying the vegetable plots. Dot gathered, cleaned the potatoes, beets and carrots and stored them within peat moss in boxes kept in the cold room. Brussels sprouts and cabbages were hung from their roots and Tom adjusted the air ducts to keep the temperature just above five Celsius. He had to change the ducts when it got colder, later in the winter. He planted a row of garlic bulbs that fall, covering them with straw, then he rototilled the rest of the plots before covering the beds with plastic tarpaulins.

They left Whatfor on Saturday, staying in B&Bs along their way and arrived at Gloria’s home Monday afternoon. The GPS greatly simplified their navigation.

Gloria’s house was on Ocean Street. The house was formerly a big cottage and had been enlarged, adding a second floor, extra bathrooms and four bedrooms. It backed onto the Penobscot Bay that led out to the Atlantic Ocean. Gloria gave them a large bedroom that overlooked the bay where they unpacked before joining Gloria and Jack on the screened terrace.

They drank Sauvignon Blanc and snacked on potato chips while looking at pictures of the wedding where Gloria wore a light grey dress, Jack a light blue suit and everyone else wore casual clothes. “We knew it would be a hot day so that’s what we told everyone to wear,” she said.

“Isn’t that Ann and Peter, Jack?” asked Tom, pointing to one of the group photos.

“Yes. As you can see, she’s pregnant. The baby’s due next month, around the twentieth. We’ll be there nearer the time.”

“Then come and stay with us,” said Dot.

“We’d like to visit you but I’ve got an unused house in Kingston so we’ll be staying there Dot,” said Jack. “It’s not far from the hospital. I’ll phone you when we’re up and arrange a visit, I want to show Gloria my old cottage as well as your place.”

They talked about who everyone in the photos were, about Jack’s brother and sister and their families, Gloria’s friends and what some of them did. Afterwards they discussed Gloria’s house and the modifications that they had made.

“I’m surprised you don’t have a boat,” said Tom.

“I do have one,” replied Gloria. “It’s docked at one of the marinas. We go out sometimes for a ride and Jack goes fishing with Ben, husband of one of my friends.”

“We’ll have to go fishing too, Tom,” said Jack.

“It’s going to be a nice day tomorrow,” said Gloria. “Why don’t we all go out and have our lunch on board. You can see some of Belfast that way.”

Belfast was not a big town and there wasn’t much to do while Tom and Gloria stayed there other than fish, shop in the town, visit other towns, explore the countryside, dance at the hall or in the studio where Gloria used to teach and eat out. This they did every day, usually at lunchtimes, with Tom insisting that he pay for their meals. Twice they picked up lobster rolls from Young’s and ate them while fishing. Jack barbecued the fish they caught for supper. Several afternoons Dot taught them how to play bridge. Gloria caught on fairly quickly, counting points and trying to keep track of the cards that had been played but Tom and Jack preferred to take chances and often overbid just for the fun it caused.

The week passed quickly and Tom and Dot left the following Saturday, staying at different B&B’s on their way beck to Portland.

October 20th, in the morning, Jack called Tom telling him that he and Gloria were now in Kingston.

“Ann’s due any day now. We got here yesterday and will stay for a week or so. After the baby’s born we’d like to come up. How about if we came for lunch one day?”

“Sure, any day. We’ve nothing planned. But I’ll be in Kingston in a few days. I borrow books from Queen’s libraries. How about us having lunch then? I’ll bring Dot.”

“Okay, but only if Ann’s not in the hospital.”

Jack phoned Tom at eight o’clock the next day, saying that they were all at the General Hospital and the baby was due anytime.

“We’re with her now. Sometime next week we’ll be up. I’ll call you.”

“Okay. I hope everything goes well. Oh, do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“It’s a boy. Must go now. something’s happening. Bye Tom.”

Jack phoned again that afternoon.

“It’s a beautiful, nine pound, five ounce boy, Tom. Both he and Ann are fine. She’ll stay here for a day, I think, then go home. They’ve called him Norman Arthur.”

“Just a minute, Jack. Let me tell Dot.”

Tom did that then switched on the phone’s loudspeaker so she could hear.

“That’s great news, Jack,” said Dot. “Give them my congratulations.”

“So, you’re a grandfather now,” added Tom.

“I guess so. I wish Betty was here to see this, though. It’s such a pity.”

“Yes, it is. So, when would you come to Portland?”

“Not tomorrow. How about Monday?”

“Okay. We’ll get some cold cuts.. Ham and roast beef be okay?”

“Roast beef and horseradish sauce, yes. Lovely. See you about ten? For coffee?”

“Good.”

“I’ll make a cake for you,” said Dot.

The first thing Jack and Gloria did when they arrived was to show pictures of Jack’s grandson. There were twenty or more pictures on Gloria’s cell phone to talk about, some showing Norman by himself, others of Norman in Ann’s arms and three photographs of Ann and Peter with a big smiles on their faces holding the baby. The last was one showed Jack behind the three, smiling as much as the others.

“Ann’s going home today,” said Jack. “Peter has a substitute to take cover his lectures this week, although his students can get all the information on-line as well.”

“Do Ann and Peter have everything they need?” asked Dot. “A crib, stroller, baby bath and things? I’d like to buy something for them.”

“They’ve got a crib and stroller. I think they’re going to use the bath to wash him.”

“Doing that is hard work, kneeling down and leaning over a big tub. I’ll buy them a baby bath. Can we visit them this week?”

“I’m sure you could.”

“I’ll phone Peter tonight and ask when would be a good time. Give me his phone number, Jack,” said Tom.

After coffee and orange cake Jack asked Dot if she could show Gloria the cottage he used to own. They all went over after Tom had shown Gloria the upstairs and basement of Whatfor. Coming back from Dot’s cottage they looked into Tom’s shed and greenhouse, then climbed the ladder to look into the tree house.

“Norman would like to use this I bet, when he gets older,” said Jack.

“He’s welcome,” said Tom. “You’ll have to bring them up.”

“I will, when we visit, if that’s okay.”

“Or Peter and Ann can just come when they like,” said Tom.

“I’ve decided to sell my house,” said Jack. “I don’t need it now and we can stay with Ann when we visit.”

“That’s what I did,” said Dot. “I’m going to use some of the money on holidays. We talked about a river cruise. I’d like to go from Amsterdam to Budapest and Tom agrees. Have you done that, Gloria?”

“No. I’ve read about them and they sound nice.”

“How about coming with us, sometime next summer?”

“I’d like that. How about you, Jack?”

“Sure. It’ll be very different from the cruise we took, eh, Jack? And it’ll be on a much smaller ship.”

“Oh, we’ll be looking for another cruise next year, sometime in January. Ann and Peter will be spending Christmas and New Year with us in Florida. Want me to get a cabin for you when I book?”

“No,” said Tom. “Dot and I have talked about sea cruises. We think we’d like river cruises more.”

“Then come and spend a couple of weeks with us in Florida when we come back.”

“Thanks, Gloria. But we may be in Europe. I like the idea of renting an apartment for a month there.”

“Maybe Portugal,” added Dot. “I’ve friends who are doing that this winter, although we not joining them.”

“It won’t be as warm as Pelican Bay, I bet,” said Gloria.

“No, it won’t. It’s about ten degrees colder, ten Celsius, that is. But that’s okay, it’ll be much warmer than here, in Canada.”

“How about having lunch now,” said Dot. “I’ve made some rolls and I’ll warm them in the microwave when we’re ready.”

“Roast beef and horseradish, did you say?” asked Jack.

“Yes, and ham and cheese. Okay then, let’s eat.”

They continued talking about future holidays over lunch but made no firm arrangements because Tom and Dot’s holidays hadn’t been set yet. They agreed that the best time to go on a river cruise would be June or July, and Tom said he’d do some research and let them know what he had discovered. He and Dot said they’d like to go to Florida but didn’t think it would be possible this winter.

“You’ll be on your cruise,” said Tom “we might be in Europe and you return to Maine in May. Let’s talk about that when we know what we’re doing.”

They went for a walk after lunch, returned for more coffee and some cup cakes that Dot had made, accepted another cake, ginger this time, to give to Ann and left about three, saying they’d see each other later that week when Tom and Dot visited Ann.

Wednesday afternoon they drove to Kingston to see Ann and Peter, giving them the baby bath and two large bags of diapers. Dot and Tom cuddled Norman and admired his bedroom, papered with a wallpaper showing colourful scenic pictures, trees, flowers, birds and animals. Peter asked Tom how his book was going and when he was told that the first part was about thinking, problem solving and decision making Peter said that it should be followed by some chapters on purpose.

“Remember the article you wrote for Queen’s Atheist Club? About the need for a purpose? That’s what you now have to address, how we found a purpose in the past. How we answered questions like ‘why are we here?’ and “what’s the meaning to life?’ The role of prophets and shaman and about the religions that followed their teachings. Then you can explain how things are different now, because we know so much more about the world, the universe and life. Rationality should be eliminating superstition and unfounded beliefs these days. I’d suggest that that’s your next part, a few chapters on the world’s religions.”

“I couldn’t do that, Peter. I don’t know enough to write about world’s religions.”

“You don’t have to be an expert, Tom. Just give an outline of what the major religions teach. That’d be enough to explain how we solved the need for a purpose.”

“Yes, I see. I suppose you may be right.”

“Do you want me to review what you have written so far?”

“No, not now. I’d like you to that when I’ve finished because I’m sure you’ll have lots of suggestions. Right now I want to continue, not revise again.”

They stopped at the Bracken library before driving back to Portland so Tom could return and borrow more books. He was quiet as he drove to Whatfor, thinking about what Peter had said, and went to his study as soon as they arrived to make notes before he forgot them.

 

Chapter Thirty Four. 2006

October eased into November and the second part of Tom’s book progressed. It was easier to write than he had expected for he could find almost everything he needed on the internet. In the afternoons he and Dot walked, read and talked about going to Europe. Dot spoke to Rosemary the next time she played bridge about what part of Portugal they stayed in and she and Tom checked the area on the internet. They liked what they saw and read and, after discussing the idea for several days, eventually booked a place in the same district. For just over three thousand dollars they rented a beautiful, three bedroom villa for six weeks in a resort just outside Carvoeiro from January 15th to February 26th. which, hopefully, would get them through the worst weeks of the winter. Tom then emailed Jack to tell him the dates they would be there and invited them to visit whenever they wanted. Jack replied by phone, telling him what they would be doing that winter.

“Ann, Peter and Norman will be coming to Pelican Bay for Christmas, Tom. Then we’re taking a two week cruise. It starts January 18th.”

“Come after you get back,”

“Well, I’ll talk to Gloria but it looks as if we could come for your last two weeks. How does that sound?”

“That’d be fine. I’ll tell Dot. We’ll work out the details nearer to the time.”

That afternoon Tom and Dot discussed Christmas and how they would get together with their families. Tom had already done this with Steven and Stella and would be staying with them over the New Year. He would be baby sitting Lilly while Steven and Stella went to a New Year’s Eve party. Steven’s mother, Pat, and her husband, Harry, would be staying with them over Christmas. Tom thought that was a bit unfair and told Steven that.

“You were with them last Christmas, Steven. Next year I want to be with you over Christmas. I want to watch Lilly open her presents.”

Dot hadn’t made any plans but told Tom that she hoped to be with Ken and Susan on Christmas day. “It depends on what Susan has arranged with her parents. I’ll call her and find out.”

It turned out that Susan had already invited her father and mother to stay with them that Christmas.

“I thought I’d told you that. But why don’t you and Tom come down and have Christmas dinner with us? We’ll have it early, about five, so it won’t be too late when you drive back.”

The December snow was quickly cleared from the roads after each fall and driving was never a problem. Tom finished the chapter he was writing on present day religions and drafted an outline for two more, one on religions’ origins and the other on revelations and conversions. He felt that one was necessary because many people stated they had received a revelation and how it had converted them. This certainly needed investigating if such occurrences had to be explained rationally. What was happening in the brain when they occurred? He had to find out what scientists had discovered about that.

He read every day but their Christmas activities pulled him away from writing. Presents to buy, decorations to put up at Whatfor, although Dot did most of that. They walked along the back roads and into several woods, eventually finding a four foot spruce tucked behind a clump of other spruces and Tom cut it, guessing the farmer wouldn’t mind for there were so many trees there. He stood it in a bucket on a three foot square of plywood and wires from each corner held it upright. Dot found the decorations she had stored in one of her basement boxes and covered the tree. Christmas lights and the glow from the wood stove brightened and warmed each evening.

The Christmas dinner at Ken’s house with Susan’s parents was fun. They were a cheerful couple, full of jokes, and Shirley loved them as much as she loved her grandma Dot, although she saw much less of them because they lived in Waterloo. Staying at Steven’s home over New Year was also most enjoyable. Tom and Dot helped Lilly with her jigsaw puzzles and listened as she played and practised pieces on their piano. Steven left a bottle of champagne for them to celebrate the new year and Tom and Dot were somewhat drunk when they eventually came in at one thirty.

Before they left, Tom told Steven and Stella about the villa they had rented in Portugal, starting January 15th, for six weeks.

“Why don’t you come and stay with us for a couple of weeks?”

“I can’t dad. Not for two weeks. I’ve only got three weeks holiday a year and Lilly wants to go to the cottage in the summer. We all want to do that, of course. And I’m using days from the third week during the year, such as between Christmas and New Year. We could come for a week though.”

“Well, the trouble with doing that is the journey. It takes a night and a day. You fly overnight to London, wait for several hours then fly to Lisbon. We’d pick you up there. Our villa’s about three hours drive away. That’s why I suggested coming for two weeks.”

“I see. I don’t think any of us would want to do all that much travelling for just one week’s holiday. Especially Lilly, she’d find it very tiring. What do you think, Stella?”

“No, I don’t want to go through all that much trouble for such a short time. Thanks for offering it Tom, but we’ll have to say no.”

Tom worked several full days to finish the chapter on religions’ origins before they left for Portugal. He was glad when that chapter was written and was ready for a holiday. The book was taking over far too much of his life.

Luckily the roads were all clear when they drove to Ottawa and the first airport wait began. The journey was long and tiring and they were both so glad when they finally arrived in Lisbon. He had booked a car from Enterprise Cars at the airport because he had been told that many car rental agencies did not rent cars to people over seventy or seventy five whereas Enterprise rented cars at any age to those who had a valid driving licence. He was only sixty five right now but he wanted to know what the company was like to deal with. He declined the additional insurance when offered it for his credit card covered that but bought the toll road pass. Driving carefully they arrived at their villa in just under three hours. His GPS, the European chip that he’d added to it and the maps that Enterprise gave them made finding the villa easy.

A lady was waiting for them when they drove through the gate.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Noela. You must be Tom and Dot Alwen. Welcome. I’ve got your keys.”

“Hello Noela,” said Tom, not bothering to correct her conception that they were married, “have you been waiting long?”

“No, about ten minutes. I knew how long it would take for you to drive from Lisbon and you told me your flight arrival time. Come, I’ll help you carry your bags in then I’ll show you the key features.”

They parked their bags in the master bedroom then looked around the villa. The furniture and equipment looked brand new and Noela told them it was completely refurbished last year. It was warm looking, colourful rugs and cushions and the armchairs looked very comfortable. Vases of flowers were in the living room and kitchen, and the swimming pool shone a bright blue with light from the sun scattering off its surface.

“It’s not heated, I’m afraid,” said Noela. “I don’t think you’d want to swim in it this time of the year. It’s great in the summer though. Oh, there’s a stack of wood in the shed for the fireplace and a container for the ashes. Otherwise the villa’s heaters will keep you warm.”

“We weren’t expecting to swim, Noela,” said Dot, “so that’s all right.”

“There’s milk and butter in the fridge and other things, bread and cereal, tea and coffee, etc. in the kitchen cabinets, enough for breakfast. You’ll find them. There’s a folder with information about the appliances and another one with menus from restaurants in Carvoeiro in one of the drawers. Tonight you might want to try the nearest restaurant. It’s about five minutes walk towards the town’s centre. Just follow the same road you drove in on, in the same direction, to find it. Ah, there’s also a map of the town in the folder, although you wont need it to get to the restaurant. I’ll leave you now to let you settle in. My phone number’s in the folder, just call if you need any help.”

“Thank you, Noela. This is a lovely place. I’m sure we’ll enjoy our visit,” said Dot.

“Yes, thanks, Noela,” added Tom.

After trips to the bathroom, Tom and Dot explored the place more completely, opening cupboards, finding extra duvets, pillows, dishes, cutlery and plates, enough for eight people, two boxes of cereals and some fruit and a bottle of white wine in the fridge.

“Wow! They certainly want us to enjoy our visit. It’s unusual to be given all this, I’m sure,” said Tom.

“Well,” said Dot, “we did pay quite a lot for the place.”

“It’s worth it though, isn’t it?”

“It looks like it. I’m sure Gloria and Jack will like it.”

They unpacked, showered and changed their clothes, Tom wore a new pair of jeans, an under shirt, a shirt and a thick sweater. Dot chose tailored long trousers, cream coloured top and a brown jacket, then they walked along the road to the restaurant. It was six thirty and dark but there were enough street lights to show them the way.

The restaurant was half full and they heard smatterings of English as well as Portuguese as they were shown to a table. It was warm inside with delicious looking dishes in front of a couple they sat near too. The menu was bilingual but Tom, liking what he saw their neighbours eating and hearing them speak English asked them what it was.

“It’s cataplana, seafood with spicy sausage. Not a blend you might expect but it’s popular here. We often have it. You’re from England?”

“No, Canada. We’re here for six weeks. This is Dot, I’m Tom.”

“Hi. I’m Bill and this is Tony. We’re from London and come every year, mostly in the winter.”

“We are staying just up the road in Noela’s place.”

“Oh, yes, we know Noela. We stayed there several years ago. We now own a small house near the town centre but come to this restaurant quite often. The food’s very good here, as you’ll find out.”

“Do they also sell books?” asked Tom, pointing to the shelves besides the front door.

“Yes, but it’s more like an exchange. They buy used paperbacks for one Euro each then sell them for two. Just about all of them are in English though there’s some German and Portuguese books as well.”

“Well, that answers one question I had,” said Tom. “I like reading but only brought five books. There’s quite a lot in Noela’s place but I was wondering if there was a library in town I could join. I can see now that I won’t have to do that.”

Tom and Dot ordered the cataplana and half a litre of red wine. The wine came with a basket of garlic bread and their meal arrived ten minutes later. Besides the pieces of sausage it had clams and some kind of fish in a tomato-seafood kind of sauce. It was very tasty, something they would order again. The dish was large and they were tired so they didn’t order any dessert or coffee but the waiter brought each of them a small glass of port with their bill. Tom didn’t order the port and glanced at the bill to find that there was no charge. They drank it and thanked the manager who was standing at the desk as they walked out.

After breakfast they made a shopping list then checked the folder and the map to find where the shops were. There was a supermarket about a mile away so they drove there using the GPS unit to guide them. Wine, they quickly discovered, was sold in the store, just as it was in Florida, and bottles cost as little as three Euros so they bought four different reds and the same number of whites to find out which they liked. They also bought a bottle of port; it would be nice to drink after the dinners they cooked themselves. It didn’t take them long to find that food and wine was cheaper in Portugal than in Ottawa or Florida.

The early part of the afternoon they sat in the sunshine on the lounge chairs in the nook besides the pool, reading and talking, moving to the lounge when it began to cool down. The house was warm and they didn’t need to light the fire. The thermostat on the wall told them that it was twenty two inside and fourteen outside. Dot baked a chicken breast for supper which they shared and ate with green beans and potatoes. The red wine they tried was rated as three out of five stars on a home-made chart Tom drew up. The port was given a four out of five.

The next morning they explored the local area, going first to the beach then into Carvoeiro where they parked and walked some of the streets. They bought cheese and ham rolls from a deli and a bottle of white wine from an adjacent shop then drove to the beach to have a picnic. It was cool, not more than fifteen degrees, but they were warm enough in their coats sitting on a bench in the sunshine.

Over the weeks they explored southern Portugal, visiting different towns and villages, revisiting the interesting or attractive ones two or three times. They found many restaurants where they could buy barbecued sardines which they much enjoyed and often ate at lunchtime. Another dish they tried for the first time and loved was fried octopus.

Every three or four days they emailed photos of where they’d been to Steven, Ken and Gloria, telling them what they had been doing. Lilly added notes to the emails they received saying she loved the look of their swimming pool and would swim in it “even if it was cold. Especially in the evening. It looks so beautiful then.” There were quite a few rainy days and they usually stayed indoors, reading books. Tom lit the fire several times when the weather turned cold but did that mostly to add a cheery atmosphere rather than keep them worm.

Now and again Tom thought about his book, part two in particular. He made a few notes when something important came to mind, the first being that he would reorder the chapters and add summaries and conclusions to each chapter and part. And he’d add an introduction to each chapter too.

 

Chapter Thirty Five. 2006

It was slightly warmer when Gloria and Jack arrived, averaging around sixteen or seventeen Celsius. They had flown overnight non-stop from Florida to Lisbon, thus having a much shorter journey than Tom and Dot had when they flew from Ottawa. It was raining when Tom and Gloria met them at the airport.

“What’s all this?” asked Jack, as soon as they met. “The photos you sent were bright and sunny, just like Pelican Bay. Do you get a lot of rain?”

“No, not really, just now and again. And, welcome, you two!”

“Hi Dot, Jack,” said Gloria. “Don’t fuss, Jack. We could do with the rain in Florida.”

“Do you want to use the toilets before we leave the airport?” asked Tom.

“No, we went while waiting for the bags,” Jack said.

“Then we’ll be off.”

“Can we see some of Lisbon before we head south?” asked Gloria.

“It’s not easy to get around by car,” said Dot. “All the articles we’ve read and the people we’ve talked to said it’s better to leave your car at home, travel here by bus or train and then take a bus tour. There’s a lot of traffic and the streets are very crowded. We haven’t seen the city yet, we were waiting to visit it with you.”

Once they were out of Lisbon they exited the highway, drove to Alcacer do Sal and found an attractive restaurant besides the Sado river where they introduced Jack and Gloria to barbecued sardines. Jack was willing to try them but Gloria chose a shrimp salad but was persuaded by Jack to try a forkful. She said she’d order them the next time they ate out.

They stayed in the villa the rest of the day, waiting for the rain to clear, but that didn’t happen until the middle of the night. Monday they drove to Faro and walked around the Old Town and had lunch at a restaurant that Tom and Dot used every time they ate there. Marcel, the owner, came over with a bottle of the house red and opened it.

“It’s good to see you again. This must be Gloria and Jack? Welcome.”

“Hello, Marcel. Yes, these are the friends we told you about. They’ll be here with us until we all leave on the twenty sixth.”

“You’ll be coming back next year?”

“I hope so,” said Tom. “We haven’t discussed that yet.”

“Let’s hope you do. Now the special today is Salmonete, I think you call it red mullet. It’s fresh in this morning. Want to try it?”

“Sure, if you recommend it,” said Dot.

“Okay,” said the others.

The fish was broiled and served with potatoes and a salad, simple but delicious. They drank Marcel’s gift and ordered another bottle. Dot and Gloria finished with crème brulee and Tom and Jack had slices of almond pie. The pie was so good that they found the bakery that supplied Marcel and bought a large one on their way back to the car.

During the two weeks they took a bus trip from Faro to Lisbon, staying there two nights, visited more of the villages, especially the ones along the coast, returned to Faro twice, when they took Jack and Gloria to the chapel of bones. Jack took many photographs of the skulls that lined the walls. Each time in Faro they ate at Marcel’s.

February 26th they drove to Lisbon and returned the car. Jack and Gloria’s flight left two hours before Tom and Dot’s, adding to the time it took to get to Canada, When they finally arrived in Ottawa the roads were covered with snow and it was still falling. They were so tired that they checked into a hotel and slept.

More misfortune met them when they eventually reached Whatfor. The hydro was off and Tom had to raise the garage door by hand. He was very worried for if the electricity had been off for long the water in the pipes would freeze and burst the pipes. He checked the living room temperature, finding it was five degrees, warm enough to prevent the water from freezing. Next, he walked through the bungalow, looking for water on the floor or stains on the walls where pipes nearer to the outside might have frozen. Seeing none he tried the kitchen tap. The water flowed just as normal. ‘So the hydro couldn’t have been off for long.’ Relieved he told Dot that it seemed okay. To be sure they tried the taps. They all worked but the water soon stopped, for the pump in the well didn’t work and the pressure tank had emptied. Relieved that the pipes hadn’t frozen they fetched the bags from the wagon then Tom put a match to the paper and wood in the stove. It quickly heated the lounge and kitchen but, without the blower fan working, the downstairs remained cool.

“Well,” said Dot, “we’ll keep warm up here but we can’t have tea or coffee because there’s no water now.”

“I can fix that,” said Tom. “There’s lots of icicles hanging from the roof of the greenhouse and shed. We can melt them. Hang on, I’ll collect some.”

He put on his snowshoes and, carrying a large plastic pail, made his way to the greenhouse and filled the pail with icicles. Once back in the house he filled a saucepan with icicles and put it on the stove top. An hour later they had boiling water, just as the hydro came on and they heard the water running out of the tap which had been left open in the kitchen sink.

“What do you want to do with the hot water, Tom? Use it or boil some from the tap in the electric kettle?”

“Let’s use this,” he replied. “I’d like to see how it tastes in case we have to do this again. We were lucky, weren’t we? If it had been off much longer we’d be in big trouble. I must drain the pipes next time we go away in the winter.”

Life returned to normal the next day. Dot went shopping and Tom returned to his computer. The next part of his book, he’d decided, was to be called Purpose. Since the book was intended for thinking young adults he was going to add a chapter on the universe, how scientists think it was formed and developed, its galaxies, stars and planets. The next chapter would be on life, how it may have started and how evolution worked and how so many different species came to exist. After those two chapters he’d continue the search for a purpose, seeing if the universe or if life itself showed any sign of driving towards a purpose. The rest of that part would lead, eventually, to the conclusion Dr Sewell suggested.

Having this outline in mind he went to Queen’s the next day. Dot came with him and he drove via Gananoque to drop her off at Wanda’s place where she and her friends would have coffee and chat. At the library Tom collected books on the universe and skimmed journals and magazines to gather the latest information, making notes as he read. He borrowed seven books then drove to Ken’s house in Gananoque to eat lunch with Susan and Dot.

March and April quickly sped by, with Tom changing library books every two weeks and writing every morning and in the afternoons sometimes. They walked, read, played cribbage, a game Dot’s husband had taught her, a game Tom didn’t know. They shopped and watched television some afternoons and most evenings. In the middle of April, Tom sowed rows of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in beds of starting mixture in trays that were warmed by heating cables. He sowed the tomato seeds in small peat pots rather than in the trays this year because he could then plant the actual pot and plant directly into the garden when it was warm enough.

He rototilled one of the plots mid-April and sowed rows of lettuce, carrots, beets and radish and two rows of sugar snap peas, something they both enjoyed in salads or in stir fries. The garlic was shooting up but not ready to use, not that they needed any for they still had plenty left over from last year. The cold room was almost empty, just a few carrots left in the peat moss at the bottom of one of the boxes.

The first two chapters of Part Three drafted, modified and rewritten. In the next chapter Tom questioned if the universe or life could have any premeditated direction in their behaviour, concluding that they didn’t. They both evolved, the universe because it’s behaviour was governed by the ‘laws’ of physics, and life because it had to survive in a changing environment. But there was no purpose or target that either the universe or life aimed at achieving. The next analysis in that chapter was very difficult to write. What was the key to showing that Dr Sewell’s conclusion about life was inevitable? Why must life evolve into becoming an omnipotent being? He spent several days thinking about that problem.

Lilly’s birthday was also on his mind. What might she enjoy this year? He thought back to his early days. Collecting birds eggs was not done these days and it was too late in the year to do that anyway. Playing Cowboys and Indians needed several people to enjoy. Ah, yes, he could make her a bow and arrow set. She might like that although Stella might not. Steven wouldn’t mind for Tom had made one for him when he was about Lilly’s age. Okay, that’s what he do, he’d make a set for her.

Making the bow and arrows was not difficult but finding feathers to add flights was. He thought about buying an un-plucked chicken from the Saturday market in Kingston but eventually got them from a dead crow he found lying at the side of the road on the way to Portland. He made a target by fastening bulrushes to a four foot square of plywood and covering that with an old sheet on which he drew a bulls eye using coloured marker pens. He drove two nails into the side of the boathouse leaving an inch exposed and hung the target on them. The boathouse wall would stop any miss-directed arrows. Once done, he shot several arrows, managing to hit the target each time.

Another thought struck him. When they were kids they had a rope tied to a tree branch and they swung out over the lake before dropping into it. Maybe Lilly would like that when she could swim properly. But she might like a rope slide now, one that ran from the tree house to the bottom of a tree the other side of the sand. He’d need a pulley for that to work, though, and he looked for auctions in the weekend paper hoping to find one there.

He and Dot went to the following Saturday’s auction. There weren’t any pulleys but it wasn’t a waste of their time for they bought a garden fork and three five gallon plastic pails and tops, useful containers to have around. The next Saturday they went to anther auction, again without luck, so Tom bought the pulley from Home Depot when he went to Queen’s the following day. He didn’t need to buy the rope for he had plenty hanging in the boathouse, rope he’d bought at an auction two or three years ago.

Steven and his family arrived Saturday July 15th. Ken and Susan were also there, arriving shortly after lunch. Lilly ran to the deck after hugging her grandfather hoping to see some new thing he’d made for her.

“Oh, grandpa, I hoped you made something new for me. Well, never mind. Shirl and I will sleep in the tree house again tonight.”

“Take another look, Lilly. There is something new. Why don’t you collect Shirley and look for it?”

Tom left Steven and Stella unpacking and waited by the greenhouse while Lilly fetched Shirley then he walked behind them as they moved towards the shore.

“Oh, I can see something,” said Shirley. “A rope from the tree house going to another tree. I know what it must be. Can you see it, Lilly?”

“Yes, of course. But what’s it there for?”

“It’s a rope slide. Look how low it’s fastened to the tree by the sand. There’s a pulley and something else on the sand there.”

“Oh. I see. Is that it, grandpa?”

“Yes, it is. I’ll show you how to use it.”

They went to the pulley and Tom showed them the loop with its padded seat that was fastened to it. There was a thinner length of rope hanging from the pulley. Tom pulled that rope, hauling the pulley up the main rope until the seat was just off the ground.

“You sit on the seat and hold on tight then slide down the rope. Not from here, of course, from the tree house. Look, it’s better if I demonstrate.”

He used the thin rope to pull the pulley and it’s seat towards the tree house then climbed the ladder and pulled until the seat sat between the ladder uprights on the tree house floor. Holding the sides of the loop to the ladder uprights he sat on the seat.

“See how I’m sitting on the seat?” he asked the girls. “Now I make sure the pulling rope is hanging freely by my side. See? I’ll give it a shake to make sure it’s not caught on anything. It’s okay, see? Now I’ll push myself off. Here we go,” and he lifted some of his weight onto his feet then sat on the seat as the pulley began to slide down the rope, pulling the seat and Tom. He rode down until his feet touched the ground.

“Right. I didn’t go very far because my weight bent the rope too much. Now maybe Shirley would go next. You’ll go farther,” said Tom to Shirley. “You don’t weigh as much as I do. Here’s the pulling rope.”

He walked with them until they reached the tree house then watched as Shirley climbed the ladder, turned and sat on the padded seat.

“That looks fine, Shirl. Yes, that’s right, the thin rope’s free. Now, when you’re ready push yourself off.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Susan, who had suddenly appeared. “What are you doing Shirl? That doesn’t look safe.”

“Oh, it’s okay mom. Lilly’s grandfather has just used it. Watch,” and, before her mother could reply, she pushed herself off and rode down the rope ending up on the sand.

“Now, my turn,” said Lilly. “Give me the pull rope, Shirl. I’ll do it all by myself.”

“You go up the ladder first, Shirley,” said Tom. “Make sure everything’s all right before she pushes off.”

Stella and Steven had joined them now. Steven stood under the tree house ready to catch Lilly if she fell off the sling. Everything went well, with Lilly travelling the furthest of all.

“It’s great, grandpa. Why don’t you have a go dad? It’s fun.”

“I don’t think it’s strong enough to hold me, Lilly.”

“It will be, dad. Grandpa went on it before I did.”

“Okay, I’ll try it.”

Steven then Ken then Susan all tried the slide. Stella decided not to but felt reassured that it was safe for Lilly to use and tried to stop worrying.

The girls spent most of their time in the tree house that day. They had sandwiches and bottles filled with lemonade in the middle of the afternoon and asked if they could have their supper in the house but changed their mind when told it was lasagne.

“That would be too messy,” said Stella. “And I’m sure you’ll want a second helping, Lilly.”

They slept in the tree house, falling asleep to music from Shirley’s iPod. Sunday morning Tom took them fishing in the boat and Shirley caught a three pound small-mouth bass which they ate for lunch with a salad mostly prepared with vegetables from the garden. Tom had grown two of the tomato plants in large pots and kept them in the green house and they grew quickly. He’d already eaten three tomatoes from them and more were ripening. Ken’s family returned to Gananoque late in the afternoon and Lilly arranged Dot’s boxes and furniture in the basement to make her own bedroom.

It was Stella’s turn to be worried when Tom gave Lilly her birthday present.

“She’ll hurt somebody with that, Tom. The points on the arrows are very sharp.”

“Don’t worry, Stella. I’ll show Lilly how to use it. Remember the one you had, Steven?”

“Yes, dad. It was fun. Let me teach Lilly how to use it. Do you have a target, dad?”

“Yes. It’s in the boathouse.”

Lilly learnt after three or four tries how to hold the bow so the string wouldn’t hit her hand and was soon hitting the target from ten feet away. She gradually increased her distance from the target and when she was twenty feet away Steven challenger her to a competition.

“Let’s see who can hit the bulls eye first, Lilly. You stand there and I’ll go back a few more feet. How about if I stand here? Want to try?”

Steven won then Tom suggested they number each of the rings, five for a bulls eye, four for the next circle and so on, and see who had the highest score after five shots. This time Lilly won.

“Let’s have a competition this afternoon,” said Lilly. “Everyone to try. Mom too.”

Since it was Lilly’s birthday everyone agreed and much of the morning was spent in practising to shoot arrows. To everyone’s surprise, Stella won the competition. She even complimented Tom on his gift to Lilly.

“It’s not what I’d have chosen, Tom, but it’s fun. Thanks for making it.”

“Can you make a gun for me for my next birthday, grandpa?”

“Ah, no, I don’t think so. That’s very hard.”

But her question had given Tom an idea. Maybe she was old enough to use an air gun. He’d have to think about that. It was okay to have one in the country although it wasn’t something one should have in a city.

Hamburgers and an ice cream cake were Lilly’s supper treats and the last two days of their holiday passed with fishing and a boat ride through the lake to Portland to buy an ice cream cone and collect the mail on Friday afternoon. They left for Toronto after breakfast on Saturday and Tom returned to writing Sunday morning.

He now knew how to solve the problem that had been bothering him. It was obvious when thinking about it; life had to evolve to becoming an omnipotent being because it would have to. Why? Simply because it would become harder and harder to obtain the resources it would need to survive. Why? Because life would take all it could from the environment that surrounded it and would have to move on to find more. It would always have to move outwards, seeking the resources it needed to live. And to do that, it would have to become smarter and smarter because it would have to travel immense distances. Surely it must, somehow, learn how to travel faster than light? Or, at least, how to hibernate, while the space ship moved. Or, perhaps, to use wormholes, if they existed, like they did in Star Trek. Anyway, the upshot was that life simply had to become omnipotent if it wasn’t to die before utilising all of the universes’ energy. He could now write the last sections of this chapter.

 

Chapter Thirty Six. 2006

Jack sold his house in Kingston late July. The last week of August he and Gloria spent a couple of days with Ann and Peter then drove to Whatfor for the night because the next day they would be flying with Tom and Dot to Amsterdam to join the river cruise. They left Ottawa on a direct flight and arrived at Amsterdam on Saturday, September 2nd, where they and several other couples were met at the airport and driven to the ship. Their cabins were on the second deck and were larger than the one Tom and Jack had shared on the Caribbean cruise but not as big as Gloria’s. After unpacking their suitcases and storing them under the bed they went to the purser to register their credit cards. Feeling somewhat tired they stayed on board, going to the lounge for coffee and sandwiches at four o’clock instead of trying to see a bit of Amsterdam. They sat next to a couple who were sitting by a low table and began talking about the cruise.

“This is our third,” said a man called Jason. “We love river cruises.”

“We have only taken eight day cruises before,” said Cathi, who appeared to be Jason’s wife.

“Have you been on the Danube, Main or Rhine before?” asked Dot.

“No, they’ve all been in France,” answered Jason.

“So this will all be new to you then,” said Tom.

“Yes.”

“So you can’t suggest what extra tours to take?”

“Well, I can tell you this. Take all of the included tours, of course, but don’t buy any of the non-included ones because you can always do just about the same thing by hiring a taxi. It’ll cost you less than half the price, even less if all four of you go together.”

“What you don’t get, that way,” said Cathi, “is an official guide but taxi drivers often know plenty about where you’re going. And you can hear what they say. In the group tours you have to stand near to the tour guides to hear what they are saying. But we don’t have to worry about that on this cruise because there are receiver boxes in the cabins.”

“What are they?” asked Tom.

“You carry them with you and you can hear what the guide says through the ear piece.”

“I see.”

“There’s not much room for dancing, is there,” Jack said to Dot, and pointed to the small patch of flooring in front of the Yamaha keyboard where a man was playing popular classics.

“There’ll be room enough,” said Cathi. “There usually aren’t more than two or three couples dancing. Most go straight to bed after supper, I think.”

“Or they watch television,” said Jason.

“What are the meals like?” asked Tom.

“Oh, they’ll certainly be very good although we’ve never been on this cruise line before,” said Jason. “That’s one of the big attractions, good or excellent meals.”

They sat with two different couples at dinner that night, not seeing Jason or Cathi when they entered the dining room. The others were from California and Gloria talked about a couple of times she’d been there with Wally many years ago. As usual, Gloria and Jack returned to he lounge after dinner and danced. Tom and Dot watched for a while then went to their room.

The trip was very enjoyable and it only rained twice. They went on all the included trips, walked around the several small towns the boat stopped at, visited castles, palaces, churches and museums, bought gifts for their children and grandchildren and emailed photographs to them. They sat on their small balconies several times, looking at the houses, villages and people, seeing them walk or garden or fish, waving to many of them. It was a much more interesting trip than an ocean cruise and one never felt sea sick. The fifteen days came to an end too quickly and they flew back to Ottawa where the trees were changing colours. Jack and Gloria stayed the night at Whatfor, another night with Ann and Peter and then drove to their home in Maine. A day later Tom began drafting the fourth chapter to Part Three of his book.

This chapter explored life, how it behaved, how it must have begun, what happened as it became more complex and, as he suddenly realised, that it continued living by exploiting its environment. It was hard for him to accept that he had to use this word but, as he slowly came to realise, that was exactly what life did, exploit. It was confusing to state that because exploitation, although it was how life obtained the resources it needed to live, had its dark side, something he was sure he’d have to discuss in a later chapter. He finished this chapter in just over three weeks and took a break, when he and Dot had a weekend at Chateau Montebello.

Over the weekend he’d thought about what must still be written to complete the book. It was clear to him that there were both philosophical and practical reasons why civilisation should adopt one global goal. And that working to achieve this goal would guide nations and, hopefully, organisations, when making moral and practical decisions. Individuals would, undoubtedly, remain true to their personal beliefs, their behaviour guided by the goals of the religion they followed. Thus Tom saw the need for a chapter that would explain why a global goal was needed and another chapter on how such a goal might be used. Sections such as terrorism, genocide, globalisation itself, even genetics, came quickly to mind. How should these be constructively tackled by the world’s nations? He started mapping out the last part of his book when he returned and titled it Developing a Universal Purpose.

He spent many mornings and afternoons in his study. Dot tried to stop herself from complaining because she knew how obsessed he was by what he was writing but now and again she asked how much longer it would take.

“I don’t think it will be more than a month now, Dot. With luck it’ll be finished in November. There’s just three or four more chapters to write.”

“November, then, you’ll be finished by then?”

“Well, let’s say by the end of the year, just to be on the safe side.”

“All right then. But what happens after you’ve finished writing it? Do you want to publish it?”

“Of course.”

“Then won’t the editor want revisions? Those, I guess, would keep you busy all next year.”

“Yes, I suppose it could. I promised Peter I’d let him read it, maybe he’d be a proof reader and I could self-publish it after that.”

“You wouldn’t make any money doing that. In fact, you’d have to pay to get them printed.”

“Yes, I know. But I want others to read it, teenagers especially. That’s why I wrote it, to help them.”

Dot lived through the next two months, for the book wasn’t finished until the week before Christmas. There were four chapters to Part Four; Why Bother, Possible Applications, Determining Moral Behaviours and A Universal Religion. The last chapter, an outcome Tom hadn’t foreseen, made him change the title to Part Four. A universal religion? Would the world actually want such a thing? How many problems might that resolve if all the other religions gradually faded away!

 

Chapter Thirty Seven. 2007

Tom bought himself a laser printer that could print duplex, with two pages on each side of a sheet of paper, for Christmas. After visiting Steven for three days and celebrating New Year’s Eve with Dot at a party with her Gananoque bridge friends he printed and bound a draft copy, holding the folded pages together with white glue. He gave this to Peter when they returned from spending two weeks with Jack and Gloria in Florida, asking him to write his suggestions or the corrections on the side of the pages in the book and he’d use them to revise. Peter gave the book back to him on a warm day in February when he, Ann and Norman came for lunch.

“You’ve developed an interesting idea, Tom. I’ve seen and marked many typos but they’re easy to correct. There’s one thing that I think will be too difficult for you to correct. It’s too, what’s the word, erudite. There are too many long words; it’ll be too difficult for most teenagers to read. They might start to read it but I bet most would give up. I’ve no idea how you could correct that. Maybe your audience had better be academics!”

“Oh, damn. That’s not what I wanted. I just remember all the teenagers in Susan’s philosophy club, all the questions they had, how they tried to find solutions to moral problems but had so much trouble. I wanted to help them.”

“Well, I might be misjudging them but most of the students I see at Queen’s would find it hard to read. Hey, would you like to teach a course on it? I could find out if that was possible.”

“No, thanks, Peter. I’ve done enough teaching and don’t want to do that. Do you think I could get it published?”

“Probably. I expect any editor would want you to rewrite it, especially if it was intended for teenagers.”

“Ah, no. I promised Dot I’d not spend a lot more time on it. How about self publishing. Do you know how much that would cost?”

“Thousands of dollars. You’d get the books but then you’d have to sell them. That means visiting lots of book stores and finding a wholesaler who would take it. Not an easy task. There’s another way, though. You could sell it on-line.”

“You mean, have a web site and sell directly?”

“No, not you. No one would know about your web site unless you spent time and money to advertise it. No, I meant using something like Shakespir. I read about them in a paper not long ago. They’d put it on their site and sell it. You’d get something like three quarters of the money you sell it for.”

“Would they want me to edit it first?”

“I’m not sure. Find out, maybe they won’t need that.”

“Interesting. What’s their web address?”

“Shakespir.com, I think.”

Once Peter and Ann had left Tom had a long discussion with Dot. She was clearly unhappy that they were spending the cold winter in the country and had said once or twice that she’d like to rent an apartment in Gananoque and stay there for the winter.

“I’d have much more to do there, Tom. Here there’s almost nothing to do. Read, television and a walk when it wasn’t too cold or snowy. You’re always busy downstairs but what about me?”

“Yes, I know, Dot. I know you’re not very happy during the winter and I’ve been thinking about it. We liked our holiday in Portugal last year, right?”

“Yes. And I wish we had gone there this winter but you were so engrossed with your book and with what Peter would say that I didn’t say anything.”

“Well, what would you say about us buying a small house there, or somewhere in the Algarve, and spending all our winters there?”

“We couldn’t afford it, or at least, I couldn’t.”

“Maybe I can, Dot. I’ve been looking at a site that lists houses for sale in Portugal and I’ve seen some that are less than a hundred thousand Euros. I could afford one of those.”

“You’d be using up all the money you’d need to take other holidays if you bought one.”

“No, I’d still have quite a bit left. And we wouldn’t need to spend so much to travel if we were staying in Europe, we could drive to most places. We would have to buy a car as well though, maybe a good second-hand one. What do you think?”

“What sort of place could you get for a hundred thousand Euros?”

“I’ll show you.”

They went downstairs and sat in front of the monitor waiting for the computer to boot up. Once it was ready Tom showed Dot a site that showed the houses, jumping from one to another, following a list he’d made over the last week.

“I like the last two, Tom, and one of the early ones. Can we go through them again and write down what we like and don’t like about each one?”

“So you’re interested in the idea Dot?”

“I think so. But I couldn’t decide until I’ve actually seen the houses.”

“No, of course not. Let’s go for a month right now and see what there is and if we find one we really like, then we could buy it while we were there.”

“We’d need a good lawyer or someone we trust to help us.”

“Someone like Marcel, for instance.”

“Well, he’s not a lawyer but I’m sure he’d help us find one. Or Noela, the lady we rented from. She’d probably help us too.”

“I’ll check if we can rent her place right now and if it is we can go there next month. How about that, Dot?”

“Oh yes, please. I’d like that, even if we didn’t buy anything. But what about your book?”

“Ah, it’s only correcting things Peter’s found. That can wait.”

“I bet you’d want to rewrite parts as well, as you go through it,” said Dot.

“You’re probably right. But it can all wait until summer.”

Noela’s villa was not rented for March and she was very happy that Tom and Dot would be coming again. In her email reply to them she explained that people mostly came from spring to autumn, not in the winter. “It’s too cold for them. But I suppose it would be warm for you, coming from Canada.”

The remaining days in February rushed by. Tom booked the flights and ordered a car, Dot used the computer to find more houses and made a list of real estate agents they should call upon. They phoned Jack and Gloria to tell them what they were doing and invited them to come and stay with them but they declined.

“You’ll be too busy, Tom,” said Jack. “And we do like it here, the temperature’s just perfect. Maybe we’ll come next year when you’ve bought a place.”

Noela was waiting for them when they arrived and gave them the villa keys.

“I sorry, but I can’t stay with you right now, Tom, Dot. My daughter’s not well and I’ve got to take her to the doctor. But you know all about the place so you’ll be all right. I’ll drop by next week to have a chat. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, of course not, Noela,” said Dot. “We’ll be fine. I hope there’s nothing much wrong with her.”

“It seems like a bad flu but I want to be sure. Okay, I’ll be off. Thanks for renting my place again. Bye.”

“Bye Noela,” said Dot

“Bye,” said Tom. “We hope your daughter will soon be better.”

After unpacking the suitcases they walked to the restaurant they used after they arrived last year. The next day they shopped for groceries and wine in the morning and had lunch at the villa. In the afternoon they walked to the largest real estate office in Carvoeiro. Before entering they looked at the pictures fastened to the window. Two of these showed houses they had seen on the internet but Tom noticed a big difference.

“Do you have our list, Dot? I’m sure we have listed these two. I’m sure they are the same houses but they’re asking more for them.”

Dot took the list from her bag and gave it to Tom.

“Yes, here they are. See, both prices are different. They’re more expensive now.”

“Let me see,” said Dot.

“Look. On our list it’s ninety nine thousand and here, on the window, it’s one hundred and eight. And the same for the other one. It’s twelve thousand more. What’s going on?”

“Well, let’s go in and find out.”

They entered the office and a lady greeted them, switching to English when she saw they didn’t understand what she had said.

“Please sit down. My partner has gone for an early lunch but I’m sure I can help you.”

“We’re interested in buying a small house,” said Tom. “We’re from Canada and we’ve made a list of properties we would like to look at. You have two of them fastened to your front window.”

“Ah, yes. Which two did you mean?”

Tom showed her the list they had made and pointed to the ones he was referring to.

“These two. But there must be some kind of mistake. That’s the price we saw them listed at on the web but the price you have on the ones in the window are more expensive. Much more.”

“Ah, yes, I see. It’s because prices have been going up every month. I expect the site you looked at hadn’t been up dated.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry, if you buy one of these now it will be worth more than you paid in another month or two. People want to live here, especially if they come from a place that’s cold in winter, as I guess you do.”

“Hmm. I’m not sure I like that,” said Tom. “What do you think, Dot?”

“Let’s look at them first, Tom, then think about the price change. Can we do that?” she asked the lady.

“Right now?” she replied.

“Yes, if we can.’

“All right. I’ll phone my partner and tell him what I’m doing. It’s about time we closed for the afternoon, anyway.”

She phoned and agreed to something then shut off her phone.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll drive. My car’s half a block away. I’ll show you where it is and if you came here by car you can put yours in my parking space while we’re away.”

“No, we walked,” said Tom. “Oh, my name’s Tom and this is Dot.”

“Hello Tom. Hello Dot,” said the lady. “My name is Catarina, but I’m called Carina. Here we are. climb in. I’ll take you to the nearest one first.”

The house they saw was built onto the side of a hill and overlooked several small farms and cottages. It was the view and the price that mostly attracted Dot when she put it on the list. However, the house was in very bad condition. There were large cracks on the back walls. They were so big that it looked as if the wall had been pushed by the hill and actually been moved slightly down hill, something Tom didn’t think possible. Some of the inside walls were also cracked and Tom kept shaking his head when he looked at them.

“A good builder can fix all these quite quickly,” said Carina. “But probably not until the end of summer. They’re very busy right now, building lots of new houses.”

“I don’t like the look of all those cracks, Dot,” said Tom. “I bet they’ll cost a lot to correct. Don’t you think so?”

“Yes, probably. It’s a pity, the view’s great.”

“There’s another one with much the same kind of view about two kilometres from here. Can I show you that?”

“All right,” said Dot.

The next house also looked across a valley and the view was just as attractive. The walls were solid but the house was divided into many small rooms. When Tom mentioned this Carina said, “most of those are temporary walls, I’m sure. They can be easily knocked down and that won’t cost much.”

“What are they asking for this place?”

“One hundred and forty nine.”

“Ah, no. We can’t afford that much. We only wanted to spend about a hundred.”

“Ah, I see. There’s not much going for that price. Can I see your list?”

Dot gave it to her and she took it to the window and looked through it carefully.

“I’m sure you’ll have to add ten or fifteen percent to all the houses you’ve listed. These prices may have been right six months ago but they’re not now. I do have places that still sell for about a hundred but they will all need work or are very small. Would you like to look at some of them? If so, we’d have to go back to the office so I can get the listings.”

“What do you think, Dot? Willing to look at them?”

“Yes. But not right now. I’ll have to get used to the idea first. It’s very disappointing.”

“How about my making copies of the ones I’ve got. You can look at those and see if any interest you. Shall we do that?”

“Yes, please,” said Tom. “I’d like to find out what I can get for my money.”

They drove back to Carina’s office in Carvoeiro and she spent fifteen minutes locating suitable places then making copies of them for Dot and Tom.

“Look through these and I’ll take you to see the ones that interest you. And here’s my card. Take a look at our web site, please. You might find other houses there. Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Let’s make it Monday,” said Dot. “I have to get used to the idea that we can’t have what we thought.”

“Sometime Monday morning then? How about ten o’clock?”

“Yes, all right,” said Dot after Tom had nodded his head at the suggestion.

Dot sat in a chair when they got home and Tom made a cafeteria of coffee then sat as well.

“I made a mistake,” Tom said. “I was so excited by what I’d seen I didn’t look for other websites. I’ll do that now and look at Carina’s site too. I suppose she has all the ones in this area or lists them, even if another agency is selling them. There must be something like the MLS we have back home.”

“Okay. We shouldn’t give up so easily, I guess,” said Dot. “I’ll look at Carina’s sheets and you use the computer.”

Tom went over to the corner of the living room where an old but working computer stood on a small table. He collected a pad of paper while the computer was booting up then sat there making notes from time to time. An hour later he returned to his seat next to Dot.

“Were there any that looked interesting in Carina’s pages?”

“Maybe two. But they’re small and only have one bedroom. A note on one says they have permission to build an addition so that probably means we can add a second bedroom. How about you?”

“I’ve got three that might be okay. Two are small but one has three bedrooms but I think it needs lots of repairs. What two have you chosen?”

Dot handed him the two sheets.

“Ah, yes. I’ve got that one. So we’ve found four that might be okay. Want to see the ones I’ve found?”

Tom put another chair next to the computer and showed Dot his selection.

“All the ones we’ve chosen are old houses or cottages,” Dot said. “Do you think they’ll all have water and some kind of septic system?”

“I didn’t think to ask but they must have. Why don’t we go and look at them tomorrow, before going with Carina. We have the addresses so we don’t have to wait until Monday.”

“We wont be able to get inside without her.”

“No, but we could rule out any that aren’t suitable by ourselves.”

“Okay.”

It was raining Saturday morning but they set off anyway, heading for the two that were near each other. The first was difficult to find but two men standing at a bus stop told them where to go and they found the beginning of a narrow track that went beside a wood and up the hill to what must have been a farm. There was a notice on the gate into the small garden saying that only the house was for sale.

“This must be it,” said Tom. “It said on the computer that only the house was for sale because the land has already been sold.”

They pushed open the gate and walked along a muddy path to the front door. They knocked, in case there was anyone inside but the place looked derelict. Cobwebs hung from the torn curtains in the window on the right side of the door and, when they looked through the holes in the curtain they saw that the room was empty. They made their way carefully through the rubbish that lay around the walls of the cottage and looked through two more windows into small and empty rooms.

“The walls look okay,” said Tom, as they made their way past the last window on the left side of the front door. “And look, here’s a sink and a pump. So I guess they have a well.”

“There wasn’t room for a bathroom so there must be an outhouse somewhere. So that’s what we get for, how much?”

“Ninety five thousand Euros,” replied Tom.

“It’s terrible. And there’s no view either. You shouldn’t think of paying that much for a place like this, Tom. Cross it off the list.”

“I don’t suppose the next one will be much better,” he said. “Let’s go and have a look.”

The next house was easier to find. It was at the edge of a little village. The windows were broken and the front door kicked in. Litter and used condoms were everywhere. A fire had been lit in one of the back rooms on a sheet of tin but the floor had caught alight and there was a hole about three feet wide where it had burnt through the floor. The joists holding the floor looked rotten where they touched the earth and that’s when Tom noticed that the whole building was slightly tilted.

“Interested?” he asked Dot.

“Definitely not. Not even as a gift. We’d have to tear it down and build another. And I don’t want to live next to a village where kids like this live,” and she kicked a wet pile of rubbish. “Let’s go.”

To cheer themselves up they drove to Faro and had lunch at Marcel’s restaurant. He was very happy to see them walk through the door and bought a bottle of wine to their table, pulling up a chair to join them.

“Have you just come? I wondered if I’d see you again in January and February then decided you’d not be coming this year. How long are you staying?”

They told Marcel what they were doing and how they couldn’t find anything worth buying for the hundred thousand they were willing to spend. He shook his head.

“No, I don’t think you will. Houses are very expensive now. It’s too bad you didn’t look ten years ago. You’d have got a very nice place for that much money then.”

“We’ll just have to rent,” said Dot. “Which means we can’t stay as long as we’d like each year.”

“Yes,” said Marcel. “Though perhaps you’ll find something if you keep looking. I’ll ask my friends if they know of anything. You want two bedrooms, is that right?”

“And a bathroom,” said Dot.

“And not too much repair work needed,” added Tom.

“Well, I’ll ask but I don’t think I’ll find anything like that for a hundred.”

They had barbecued sardines and a second bottle of red wine then drove back to the villa and had a nap.

Sunday they stayed in, for the rain had increased. Monday morning they went with Carina to look at the other two houses they had selected. Neither was any good. One was too small and the big one that had three bedrooms needed much work. The back of the building and the rooms on that side had not survived the fire that followed a lightening strike. What was left of the rooms at the back lay in heaps on the stone floor.

“This would take another hundred to repair,” said Tom.

“Yes, something like that,” said Carina. “You could do it over time and you’d get your money back when you sold.”

“No,” Tom said. “It’s not for us. I guess we’ve out of luck. I’m sorry to have taken your time.”

“It’s my job,” she replied. “Give me your email address and if I find anything that might be what you want I’ll email you. Okay?”

“All right, thanks,” and Tom wrote it down on the back of one of her cards.

Carina drove them back to Carvoeiro with no one saying anything then they walked back to the villa, hand in hand.

Noela phoned on Wednesday and asked if she could come over to properly welcome them. She arrived in the afternoon with two big bunches of flowers and a bottle of Chardonnay. After putting the flowers in vases they sat and sipped the wine. Her daughter was fine and back at school, she told them.

“So it was too cold to come in January this year?” she asked.

“No,” said Tom. “I’ve been working on a book but most of that’s finished. We came again because we love it here and wanted to buy a house but the prices are much more than we expected.”

“Yes, they’ve increased a lot in the past two or three years. I was saving to buy another one of these villas but my cousin, who’s a risk analyst in a big Lisbon bank, advised against it. He said that housing was inflated beyond reason. Property prices couldn’t keep rising like they have been doing and there must be a correction before long. Wait for that, he suggested.”

“How long does one have to wait?” Tom asked.

“He doesn’t know that, of course. He just thinks that they must collapse sometime.”

“Then renting is best for us, Tom,” said Dot.

“Yes, I guess so.”

“If you do I hope you’ll come back here,” said Noela.

“I’d like to,” said Dot. “Next winter, Tom? We’ll come here then?”

“Okay, but perhaps not until February when it’s a bit warmer. Let’s talk about it later.”

“Please come here then,” Noela repeated, as she stood up, ready to leave.

“We will,” said Dot.

They spent the rest of their time in the Algarve visiting villages and towns and enjoying the warmth. They tried to forget how nice it would be to own a place here but couldn’t help looking at houses shown in real estate offices and at the houses showing ‘For Sale’ signs they discovered. Over the thr