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Authors: Michael Winter

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BOOK: Minister Without Portfolio
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The next day he used Baxter Penney's phone and asked the three Careen grandsons to get together. They could do it Thursday, Harold Careen said. It was poker night.

25

He walked across the field and set himself up for the night at John and Silvia's summer house. He was preparing for bed but realized he wasn't tired. He had broken out of routine, and cheered the decision to give in to momentum. He tore off a bun of bread and cut through two inches of hard cheese with his pocket knife and pulled on cold boots and zipped up his jacket. It was freezing out. He waved over at Baxter's and, further along, Rick Tobin's house. Rick's wife was in there, a woman who liked a good urban party but was living on her own out here on a rural road. He remembered her face on a computer screen as she talked to Rick Tobin at the base in Kabul. The yellow house at the end of the road was closed up for the winter. That belonged to the American, Noyce, a man who fell in love with the place after 9/11. What was it John Hynes had said of him? A man more loyal to the culture of this place than its own citizens. Spent his summers in Renews. But there was a light on now, so someone was in there. The old lightkeeper's house. No car. Visiting, like Henry, during the coldest part of the year.

The road forked, a quad trail down into Kingmans Cove and a wooden footbridge over a noisy frozen brook and then a path used by cows and sheep, so the rock was smooth and bare of snow and the grass very hard. This was where the cemetery was. Where Tender Morris was buried. He left the sheep trail and the frozen grass was hollow and broke softly underfoot. The lighthouse flashed and arced a flare of light over the water and he zippered up the top four inches of his jacket so his mouth nuzzled against something warm. It got dark quickly here. When he was near the headland he realized it was not a lighthouse but a new, three-storey automated signal. People still called it the lighthouse and there were photographs of the original, magnificent lighthouse—John and Silvia had one in their hall in St John's—that stood near the same spot. He was disappointed but that's progress.

He walked further into the valley, fifteen minutes by his watch, and found an old grass-covered cellar. He climbed down into it. The stone arch of the doorway. It offered some shelter and blocked the noise of the sea. He stood there, staring into the deep darkening distance that he had decided was Pakistan. Snow fell. He felt moved by this place, this little alcove in the landscape, although he had no idea what it looked like in the daytime.

Suddenly the distance moved, or a piece of the dark vista broke off and clarified and moved towards him, a slant of shape approaching fast and the sawing action of colourful nylon, a figure, head down. He climbed out of the cellar and called out, instinctively. It was a woman, lean, walking very quickly and she looked up and said hello back. It was Colleen Grandy. Silvia Hynes had called her, she said. I saw you walk out this way. Silvia had been worried you wouldn't know how to turn on the
electricity, or where things were put, or if you had water. Colleen was breathless from walking, but she walked a lot, she said.

She was Henry's age and friendly and she was Rick Tobin's wife. Henry had spoken to her through the years but had they ever been alone once like this, talking directly? He was uncomfortable talking to women. They walked back to Renews and he was surprised at how easy she made it to enjoy her company (although she was walking at a clip). She explained in the manner of a tour guide how the broken slipway had been torn out by a hurricane last fall and the fishermen no longer used Renews as an anchorage. The rocks angled up sharply as the day they first emerged ten thousand years ago after the ice sheets melted, the slanted blue slate like the stern of a broken ship on its way down.

They got to the dark American house and Henry remembered the small niggling rumour of her and this man. There was a light on earlier, Henry said.

His son is here, she said. I can't wait for him to get here.

The son?

No, Larry.

Larry, he thought. Larry Noyce. Such an unspiritual name. Which livened him to the possibility. To be with a man named Larry.

He has this meditation every week, Larry does. When he's here. It's a meditation and a discussion. Silvia has gone to it.

There's no car.

The boy hitchhikes in from the airport. I told him I could pick him up but he said no he prefers to thumb it.

A son. Colleen with no children. But John and Silvia had once suggested adoption and Rick had been interested.

They passed the empty slipway—the only fishermen that went out were the mussel farmers and the sentinel fisheries officers who canvassed the seas to judge the groundfish stocks which were in decline everywhere but especially here along the shore road. The fishery is a community activity, there are no fences for fish and everything that was shared was gone now, armies and fish were all privatized.

They reached Colleen's house and she said she had an empty container that he could fill from her kitchen sink. I'll drive it over to you, no need to walk it up the road. Twenty gallons of water. She filled it in the laundry room and Henry waited in the porch. Rick's house. Modern. Everything in the house is new. Rick was sinking money into a castle.

He put the container in the trunk of Colleen's car and they drove the four hundred feet to John and Silvia's house and she came in with him to look around and she realized he knew how to take care of himself. She said goodnight and Henry watched her get back in her car and drive down the road. He slept in the second bedroom and he found he was thinking about Colleen Grandy. It helped, when he was alone, to think of a woman. He wondered about her and Larry Noyce. Did Rick know or was it even true. She was just a woman alone, there is bound to be talk. He held her in the bed and was intimate with her and it helped put him to sleep.

26

They called her the walker and Colleen accepted it, her rural persona.

Years ago, when she first married Rick, she took him back here to Renews where she was from. She missed this cove. They laugh here. She was Catholic and people keep an eye on you. At first Rick worked with her father, Emerson Grandy, and then her father had the accident that lost his hands. He had been guiding, overhead, a cement pipe to link up with another section of pipe. He laid his wrists on the bottom pipe and turned to hear something Rick was saying. Rick felt responsible. He helped him with the rehabilitation. He gave her parents money. Colleen's aunt had muscular dystrophy and lived with Emerson and his wife, Carol. Then Rick found work in Alberta and it paid well. It could take care of all of them. Colleen had to stay to help her father and mother. But she felt alone. She kept up the house and watched television and preferred the large bag of Lays chips and started putting off the housework until she got the word from Rick that he would be home in three weeks. And then when it was down to three days she hauled out the vacuum
cleaner and soaked the dishes overnight in the sink and made a trip to the grocery store and tried to remember the condiments he liked to have in the fridge. She found it difficult, when a grocery item was finished, to remember that it was gone. She walked down the aisles looking at boxes and jars and tins and stared at them to see if they ever had been in the fridge or the cupboards. She studied the contents of other grocery carts. This helped her.

The weight came on in increments. A few pounds. Then she had to buy new pants anyway and the bigger number felt better. She sat on the sofa and watched the quiz shows, but only when Rick was away. She gave a small amount of money to an online evangelist and felt embarrassed as none of her friends did this. It was an old-fashioned thing to do but giving the money made her feel good. She listened on her computer to the weekly lectures given by a southern female Baptist.

One afternoon she was about to go to the post office to pick up the mail and found it hard to get off the sofa, just pushing herself up. It was this bolt of alarm that her legs were not capable. She found a way where you fold a leg under yourself and you push up from that leg. Rick didn't say anything but one night they were down at darts and he came over to the table with their drinks and he said, They're all wondering if you're over in Alberta with me. They don't recognize you and you don't go out. What's up? What's going on?

She went to see Martha Groves at the Health Sciences Centre. Martha knew people who studied obesity. She got a referral and she talked to Martha about their trying all manner of having a child but it didn't take and she couldn't talk to Rick about it. We love each other, Colleen said to Martha, the spirit of each other.
We have good chemistry and we like to laugh at simple things. Martha too suggested they could adopt.

Rick listened to her. Colleen was a better storyteller than Rick was and Rick admired it and he was glad he didn't have to keep up his end of it. Rick coasted on his wife's ability to hold up the family's side of the conversation. In the end, that's all you need, is a few laughs, make love and listen. Isn't it? Martha agreed and Colleen hesitated, as if the list she'd blurted out contained a few things more than what they had.

Then Larry Noyce arrived. Colleen told Rick about him. He's a spiritual man.

Are you going to fall in love with him?

She laughed and said only the spiritual bit in him.

That bit's okay with me.

When Rick was back in Alberta she cried because she didn't deserve him. But also she felt marooned here on a dead-end road where no one cared for her. Guilt turned to resentment. They didn't miss her and no one invited her over to play cards.

Move into town, Rick said.

My parents. My aunt.

Colleen put on a lot of weight. She knew how to cook. She can cook for large numbers of people. Her mother said she should have a large family the way she cooks. Cooking is how she met Larry Noyce.

She had enrolled in a two-week technical college cooking school. It was Martha's idea that Colleen should focus her skills on something she was already good at. It was in the fall. Rick was in Alberta and her mother gave her this coupon that expired in October. They had been receiving orientation in the kitchen, they hadn't touched a piece of food, when someone said there's
been an accident in New York. They watched the footage on a television in the pantry and then a phone call came in from the president of the campus. You need to cook supper for two hundred people. There were planes landing at the airport. They drove to the grocery store and filled nine carts with food and they cooked two hundred dinners of stuffed chicken breasts. They spent the next two weeks cooking food non-stop, sleeping at the campus and working night and day in the kitchen.

Larry Noyce was aboard one of the planes. I need a dog, he said. I need to pet a dog. Colleen drove over to Silvia's and borrowed Wolf. As he stroked the dog a woman arrived with a dozen pairs of fresh underwear.

The women here, he said, sure know how to take care of the men.

After three days in a gymnasium they put him up at John and Silvia's. He slept with Wolf. Larry was moved by the whole experience. He was on his way back to New York, from Peru, and they rerouted him to St John's.

He was here for ten days and fell in love with the place. One thing led to another, John drove him out to Renews and he saw that yellow house for sale and he snapped it up. The lightkeeper's house. Pure speculation. But he came every summer. Colleen, being the closest neighbour, got to talking and she did some meditating with him and something switched in her and she adopted a walking program.

It was a ceremony Larry Noyce conducted that made her feel worthy. She can't speak of it now but the ceremony spurred her walking which triggered a new vision in her head. She was going to Peru.

I don't even know where Peru is, Rick said.

It's the centre of all being, she said.

I'm not impressed with spiritual matters, he said.

Colleen laughed.

You can be here but it's good to visit the centre too. That's what Larry says.

The centre, Rick said. The centre moves.

Colleen weighed herself every morning and every night, and she had the digital scales that took it down to a tenth of a pound. She wanted to be one hundred and forty-three pounds for this trip to Peru.

27

Henry made sure he was wearing the arid-region camouflage jacket he had been supplied with and drove into the Goulds. He used a computer at the public library to draft a sale of land and print it off. Then he headed to the mall and waited in line at the bank and withdrew thirty brand-new one-hundred-dollar bills. He asked the teller if she knew of a justice of the peace. She looked at him and turned to another woman counting photocopied papers who had a rubber cup on her finger. The finger stopped counting. Linda Hillier, she said. Is Linda still doing that? She's in the Anthony Insurance building across the road my love.

He walked over the road and opened the door to Anthony Insurance and then another glass door for motor vehicle registration. He asked for Linda Hillier. A small woman with short dark hair arrived and she tried to be friendly but her feet hurt. She was walking on marbles. Could she drop over to Harold Careen's tonight at six o'clock to witness some papers. She knew Harold Careen's wife and indeed she could do that, she just had to dart home first and put some dinner on and then she'd be right over. Six-thirty would suit her better.

Henry stopped by a gift card shop and bought three white envelopes. Next door was a homestyle cooking restaurant. He sat down and ordered a hot turkey sandwich and a cup of coffee. He thought, this will be my restaurant when I'm tired of cooking. The restaurant had no windows for it was in the mall but it had a mural of a window and the view was a canal in Venice. The waitress propped the handheld credit-card device on her belly and set her feet and said what the specials were. This is how I will holiday in Italy when I buy this house.

It was quarter after six and he drove over and parked opposite Harold Careen's driveway. He still had his hands on the wheel and he could see the sleeve of his army jacket and how he felt, pretending to be a soldier. When Henry first arrived back in Newfoundland he was still in issued clothing. His outfit was dark green with spots of mustard and black—temperate woodland they call it—his tight helmet in fabric of the same colour strapped to his waist under the right arm. He wore shades and carried a small knapsack, the same pattern as his suit and helmet. This was the outfit that had taken him months to collect, as Rick extended their contract past the original limits and ended up hooking up with Tender Morris. He recalled his first afternoon home when he was walking to the YMCA and he got to talking to an off-duty bus driver, the driver was with two other drivers, all in maroon coats and grey slacks in line waiting for a bus and this driver asked him where he was stationed and when he was set to go back to Afghanistan and, even though Henry was wearing no stripes, the driver did not suspect he was merely a civilian parading himself off as military. As they spoke a snowplough operator swung his yellow blade towards them, crossed a lane of traffic aggressively and jolted to a stop and
turned the front wheels hard to straighten up again. The driver leaned over the passenger seat and stared straight at Henry and slowly saluted. Then he snapped off the salute and drove off with one long honk.

BOOK: Minister Without Portfolio
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ads

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