Home > A Curve in the Road(13)

A Curve in the Road(13)
Author: Julianne MacLean

After we’re finished talking, Carla and I prepare the spare bedroom for her and Braden while Mom opens the sofa bed in the den for Zack and makes beds for the children on the floor in the family room. Carla chooses a movie for them to watch, and I make a pot of coffee so that she, Mom, and I can sit down at the table and take care of some practical details about the funeral.

Later, despite having drunk two cups of brew, I fall into a deep slumber as soon as my head hits the pillow. Still, I wake often during the night, with fretful dreams about the accident. I dream that I can’t get out from under the dash and no one comes to rescue me. I scream for help and thrash about. I pound my fists against the steering wheel. Then all the dashboard lights go out, and I’m alone in the dark ravine. Winston is gone. He doesn’t come back. But I don’t want to give up. I tell myself that the sun will come up in the morning and then it won’t be so scary. I pray that someone will find me. My heart pummels my rib cage, but I try to hold on and make it through the night.

When I pull myself out of the dream, though, and reach across the bed in search of Alan’s warm, sturdy body, I can’t help but think that my present reality seems just as dark and hopeless as the dream, and I wish there were a way to wake from it too.

The next day begins with a task far more pleasant than planning funerals. Zack and I head over to the veterinary hospital to pick up Winston.

Ruby brings him out into the reception area, and the moment I see him up on his feet, walking and swishing his tail, I feel a ray of hope. Zack and I drop to our knees and greet him with hugs and kisses. He sniffs and licks our hands and faces and whimpers with emotion.

“Is Dr. Payne here?” I ask Ruby as I rise uncomfortably to my feet on legs that still ache from the accident. “I’d like to thank him.”

“I’m sorry—he left to pick up his daughter from school. The poor little thing’s sick. I shifted a few of his morning appointments around, so I don’t expect to see him until this afternoon.”

“I see,” I reply. “Will you thank him for me when you see him?”

“I most certainly will.”

Ruby hands me a sheet of paper with instructions about Winston’s care over the next few days. Then she fastens a large plastic cone around his neck to prevent him from licking his incision. She also gives me pain pills for him and schedules a follow-up appointment for us to return in a week.

“Don’t hesitate to call if you have any concerns or questions,” Ruby says. “And I wrote Dr. Payne’s personal cell phone number on that sheet of paper as well, just in case you need to call after hours. He explicitly asked me to do that.”

“Thanks so much, Ruby. I can’t tell you how grateful we are.”

I reach under the cone, hook Winston’s leash on to his collar, and hand it to Zack. A few minutes later, we are buckled into my mother’s car with Winston in the back seat, heading home to her place for what I assume will be a quiet, somber day before the wake.

But I should know by now that life doesn’t always go the way one expects.


My father-in-law, Lester Sedgewick, surprises all of us by arriving at my mother’s house unannounced at lunchtime, when he said on the phone that he would see us at the wake. With him is Alan’s older brother, Bruce, a car mechanic I’ve met a handful of times, and their stepmother, Verna, who is Lester’s second wife. Lester married Verna ten months after Alan’s mother passed away. According to Alan, she showed very little affection or compassion toward him or Bruce—two teenage boys who had just lost their mother and were in dire need of loving arms. To Verna, they were nothing but a couple of inconvenient add-ons she was forced to tolerate until they were old enough to move out on their own. As soon as Alan left home, that was it. She made no effort to keep in touch. He reciprocated in kind.

“My goodness. Hello.” I invite them in and hug each of them in turn, because it’s the proper thing to do. “It’s good to see you. Thank you so much for coming.”

While I say all the words one is expected to say in circumstances such as these, I try to hide the fact that I am sickened by the stench of stale cigarette smoke on their clothing.

Mom—who only met Lester and Verna once, at my wedding—walks out of the kitchen and greets them. “Hello. Welcome. I’m so sorry about Alan. We’re all just devastated.”

She hugs them as well, and we take everyone’s coats.

“When did you arrive?” Mom asks as she opens the closet door and reaches for a hanger.

“We flew from Victoria yesterday,” Lester replies in a deep, guttural voice as he glances around the foyer and peers into the living room. Without covering his mouth, he hacks out a phlegmy cough. “Lost four hours with the time difference. Now we’re all jet-lagged.”

“It’s a long trip,” I politely agree.

He didn’t call to let us know where they will be staying, so I feel a twinge of unease about their expectations. We certainly don’t have room here in my mother’s house.

“Did you book into a hotel last night?” I ask as I hang up Verna’s coat. Bruce insists on keeping his on.

“Yes, we did,” Verna replies triumphantly. “Thought we’d make a vacation out of it, so we rented a car at the airport and drove straight to the casino hotel in Halifax. What a glitzy place! They had a minibar in the room, and Bruce won a hundred and sixty dollars at the slot machines. I’m telling you, we had a ball!”

“Lucky bastard,” Lester adds with a chuckle under his breath, elbowing Bruce in the ribs and knocking him into the wall.

Bruce shoves him back. “Frig off.”

I clear my throat and try to suppress my annoyance, because everyone seems to be missing the main point, which is that Alan is dead. And yet, here is his family, celebrating Bruce’s winnings and their extravagant night in the hotel. It all feels terribly disrespectful.

“That’s wonderful,” I reply with sarcasm, which goes right over their heads. Part of me would like to hand their coats back to them and send them on their merry way, but they’re Alan’s family, and I don’t want to cause a scene or stir up conflict, which is exactly what happened the last time we visited them in BC, ten years ago.

We had flown across the country so that Zack could meet his grandfather for the first time. Unfortunately—but not surprisingly—Lester was his usual bigoted self. He said some horrendous, insensitive things about a neighbor across the street, and since Alan was tired of letting things slide, he stood up to his father for the first time.

It was a loud, ugly argument that nearly became violent, but I was proud of my husband. We had originally planned to stay a full week. We returned home after three days.

Over the years, part of me always entertained the hope that Lester might reflect upon his behavior that day and turn over a new leaf or gain some wisdom with age. I also secretly dreamed that he and Alan might bury the hatchet, but it’s too late for that now.

Nevertheless, Alan’s wake is tomorrow night, and they flew thousands of miles to be here. I can’t be inhospitable.

Suddenly, Verna seems to realize that one of them should say something about Alan. “We’re so happy we could be here for the service,” she mentions in a sober voice. “I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

“Thank you. It’s been a difficult few days.” I invite them into the living room to sit down.

My mother joins us as well. “We’re about to have lunch. Have you eaten yet?”

“Just breakfast at the hotel,” Verna replies demurely as she squeezes her purse on her lap. “But we don’t want to put you out.”

“It’s no trouble,” Mom says. “The neighbors have been very generous, stopping by to deliver casseroles and all sorts of things. I have a pot of soup on the stove.”

“What kind of soup is it?” Lester asks.

Mom blinks a few times. “It’s beef and barley.”

“All right then,” Lester says with authority. “We’ll take you up on your offer.”

Mom manages a smile and returns to the kitchen, leaving me to sit with my in-laws.

Suddenly, I feel very tired. Normally, I would be quick to fill the silence with small talk, but at this moment, I don’t care about making them feel welcome. Their tactless comments about their luck at the slot machines killed any chance of that. All I want to do is take a nap.

“So the wake is happening tomorrow night?” Verna prods.

“Yes, that’s right,” I reply. “Seven o’clock. I’ll get you the address of the funeral home before you leave. Where are you staying?”

I hope that makes it clear that I don’t intend to offer them accommodations here.

Verna smiles sweetly. “We just booked rooms at a charming B and B in town. This whole trip is turning out to be quite a treat! I feel like we’re staying with the queen of England.”

“A treat indeed,” I reply flatly.

Verna inclines her head. “If only it could be under better circumstances.” She points at my face. “Is that painful?”

“Not really,” I say, touching a finger to my cheek. “My legs are a bit sore, though. I was trapped under the dash.”

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