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The sharp halogen beams of the Greyhound bus cut a swath of light across the white frozen tundra of the flatlands nearing a small town outside of Winnipeg, and the passengers are beginning to get a little restless. Henry also stirs to life. He’s been sleeping most of the night, getting off at fuel stops for his physical needs, and now, dawn approaching, he’s becoming anxious. The endless prairies are taking on pinkish hues, tiny snowflakes swirl in the headlights. In 45 minutes the bus pulls into a service station, the last stop before downtown. Henry gets off here with a few other people. There is gentle warmth radiating from the bus’s engine and the smell of diesel fills his nostrils. He inhales deeply. Next to the fragrance of a Christmas tree, it’s his favorite smell. Then he grabs his travel bag and goes inside the restaurant. Coffee aroma and cigarette smoke mix with the kitchen smells and the air from outside, reminding him of his youth...


He rings the bell on the door. No answer. He looks around – the place reminds him of a junkyard - then tries again a few times. There’s a slow moving sound inside, then something like swearing, and then the door opens. Henry has trouble recognizing the aged man with a plastic tube in his nose in front of him. They both stare, then the old man steps aside slightly and waves Henry in. “You could’ve phoned,” he mumbles.

“I tried,” says Henry. “The phone at the depot was broke.”

“Well, you didn’t expect to see me like this,” says the old man, putting his oxygen bottle on the floor beside the kitchen table.

There is too much for Henry to absorb at once. No, he didn’t expect to see his father like this. He’s remembering him years ago: bull-necked, taut as a pit bull, able to lift small cars off the jack after changing the flat tire, now a scrawny gray stubbled crab with huge, grease-packed mechanic’s hands, shuffling along, hooked up to an oxygen tank.

“Sit down,” says the old man. “What can I get you?”

Henry sits down at the cluttered kitchen table in the center of which a small black and white TV screen is glowing and flickering with the volume off. “Got any beer?”

“No. I can’t drink anymore, not with the morphine,” says his father, lighting a cigarette. “There might be some whiskey left in the basement,” he adds, sitting in his usual chair in front of the TV, same as years ago.

He looks funny with that oxygen tube and the cigarette, thinks Henry.

Then he starts coughing, a hacking cough of a lifetime smoker. “Running on one cylinder now,” he jokes, pointing to his chest.

Henry doesn’t know whether to laugh; he feels the tension, and he sure could use a drink. He goes to the basement and comes back with a half-empty bottle of rye. He pours himself a hefty glass and takes a couple of deep gulps. Then he also lights up.

They sit there, smoking and staring at the TV. Neither wants to talk and the tension grows. It builds up like the pressure around a diving submarine, slowly and steadily, ringing in the clock-ticking silence neither wants to break.

“There’s some food in the fridge if you’re hungry, help yourself,” says his father, turning the volume up on the TV.

“Thanks, I’m fine,” says Henry, “maybe later...” He glances at the TV. The old man is watching the Flintstones. “Yabba dabba doo!!!” fills the quiet.


The next morning, they eat Spam and eggs in silence. The submarine stops sinking, but the pressure remains. Henry feels he has to get out, asks his father for the car. “Want to get some beer,” he says.

“Pick me up some pears, soft, and peaches, maybe,” says Henry Sr., fishing in his pockets for the car keys. He throws them to Henry. “Don’t forget to warm it up, the clutch is sticky,” but Henry’s already out the door.

He’s back at noon, with the beer, more whiskey, and the fruit. At the table the Flintstones are on again, and the old man is grinding some Tylenol 3’s in a small porcelain mortar. He adds a bit of water and drinks the mixture.

Henry pops open a beer. “Pain’s back?”

His father nods, then lifts up his shirt and points to the twelve-inch L-shaped scar where they took the lung out. “Right here,” he says, “all day, non stop... I think I’ll go and lay down for a while...” He shuffles off with his oxygen, and Henry pours himself a whiskey and stares out the window.

He’s tense and angry, not knowing at what. Why did I come here, he keeps asking himself, while reviewing his father’s letter in his mind... Then, as he sips his drinks, he slowly realizes that, even at forty, there are no answers to some of the seemingly simplest questions...

Light snow is falling outside, covering the sparsely treed landscape. It could build up overnight; the house is a couple of miles from the main road, and he starts to feel stranded. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do, so he shuts off the TV and goes to start up a small wood stove in the living room. His father is moaning slightly in his sleep.


The following day he thinks he might leave, despite the couple of feet of snow that fell overnight. Neither one of them want to cook, so they keep eating Spam and eggs. Then the day’s routine: the Flintstones, Tylenol 3’s, followed by a spoon of morphine for his father; beer and whiskey for Henry, as they try to sit out the day, without conversation.

The house is cluttered with dirty dishes, all kinds of tools, ratchets, and wrenches.

“Want me to clean up some of this?” he asks his father, even though he wouldn’t know what to do with it, where to move it.

“Clean up what?” Henry Sr. appears surprised, but the question seems to have triggered something. He stares into space for a while, and then asks, “Think your mother would talk to me?”

Henry takes a long gulp of beer, drains the glass, thinks, remembering the times and the scenes when the family was together. “No,” he says.

“And Mark? Would he come if I send him some money...”

“I don’t know,” says Henry, “but don’t mention money.”

The conversation starts turning painful, and they each take a little something for their pain. The old man looks at him like he’s trying to read something in his face, searching.

“You know, I’m really glad you came,” he says, then gets up and extends his hand for the first time, as if Henry had just arrived. They shake hands, a strong, emotional shake – the old man still has a powerful grip. “I’m glad, I’m so glad we’ve reached an understanding,” he keeps saying, shaking Henry’s hand, and his eyes seem to have become a little moist...

At first Henry has no idea of “understanding” the old man is talking about – they barely spoke for two days, and he’s puzzled. But he starts feeling better nonetheless, and, very slowly, he begins to understand. He gets it; this is as close as it’s going to get to anything that might be interpreted as regret, or some form of guilt, for which ordinary words are just too difficult.

Now he’s really glad too that they understand each other, without any explanations or unnecessary words. The submarine begins to rise off the bottom, the pressure eases slowly, and the setting winter sun paints the snow outside in reddish reflections, forecasting clearer days.

And the quiet of the house, and everything else about it, is becoming more comfortable, stretching on timelessly, as if to make up for lost time.


Bio: Kasimir Kozlowski is a member of the West End Writers Group in Vancouver. He’s retired, but it’s not very clear what he has retired from. He has been reading since age four and written about this and that ever since. Books and trees are sacred to him, and his philosophy is: “So long as have both, we should be all right”.


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