Every Time We Say Goodbye Part 17

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There it was, the truth, shaped into words and launched into the air at last. And even though she had known, it still came at her like a punch in the head; she saw flickering lights and felt an implosion of blood in her temples. "Are you leaving me?" she asked him. "What are you saying?"

He made a snorting sound. "I'm not saying anything. Now let me sleep."

Laura went into the next room, where Dawn and Jimmy were curled up in their cot and crib. Something dense and enormous had crash-landed in the middle of her head, and it was impossible to think around it. Half her thoughts were on one side of the blockage, half on the other; the beginning and ending of sentences didn't match up.

He hadn't wanted to marry her. But he had loved her. He hadn't wanted a wife and kids. But he had married her.

He didn't want to be married. But he was married.

He wasn't leaving. But he wanted to leave.

He never wanted this. But she hadn't wanted this either-living with her in-laws, paying bills that were never paid off, waiting for her husband to come home and stay home. The black fog, the birds of terror. She hadn't wanted any of it, but she was going to be stuck with it.

She could hear the kettle being filled in the kitchen. In a few minutes, the kids would be awake, and she would have to take them downstairs for breakfast. She stood up and began to dress for work, pulling on nylons, a black s.h.i.+rt and a white blouse. It took her a long time; her hands seemed to be very far away from the rest of her.

Downstairs, as she was shoving her feet into her boots, Vera said they were running out of cereal for Dawn. "I'll bring some home tonight," Laura said. Her voice came bouncing back off the kitchen tiles and echoed in her head, but Vera didn't seem to notice. "Not that expensive kind. Get puffed rice," she said, setting down a plastic bowl in front of Dawn.

Dawn chanted, "Get puffed rice! Get puffed rice." Laura pulled on her coat. Dawn waved her spoon gleefully. "Bye, Mommy!"

At 3:30, she was sitting motionless at her desk when Will Wharton came by with a load of paper and ink and told her she looked awfully pale. A tear burned a track down her cheek. Will said, "Jeez, Laura. Let me drive you home." She shook her head, but he insisted. "Go on, get your coat," he said.

She walked across the room on shaky legs. No one said anything, but she saw them watching her as she pulled on her beige woollen coat and boots. "Going home early?" Deb McKenna asked. Laura didn't answer. Will Wharton held open the door, and she walked out into the stinging cold.

He helped her into the truck and then got in and turned on the heater. She was crying silently, just tears and snot. Will handed her a crumpled tissue. "It's clean," he said. She held it limply and continued to cry as Will told her that Dean was a son of a b.i.t.c.h who didn't know how lucky he was to have a woman like her, and if she had been his wife, he would have made d.a.m.n sure she wasn't sitting in a parking lot crying her eyes out like this. When he put his arms around her, she made no effort to push him away, and when he started to kiss her, she let him. He rubbed himself against her, jamming his hands under her coat, squeezing her b.r.e.a.s.t.s, groaning in her ear, "Laura, Laura." Finally, he shuddered and sat back and said, "Jesus ... You wanna get a room or something?"

Laura pulled herself upright and b.u.t.toned her coat. "Can you take me to the bus terminal?"

"The bus terminal? Why? You wanna go somewhere?"


He was silent for a while, and then reached for the gears.h.i.+ft. "You know what? I'll drive you. What the h.e.l.l. It's Friday. I wouldn't mind getting out of town for the weekend."


Will Wharton dropped her off on Sat.u.r.day night, after spending Friday night in a motel room in Sudbury trying to convince her to come away with him. They would drive to Buffalo and keep going, get as far as they could with the company truck before it was called in missing on Monday morning; they could get a place, get jobs, start new lives. She said no. She had heard this story before. Will sulked. He was still sulking when they reached the driveway of her parents' home in Toronto. "You could at least invite me in," he said. She shook her head. He said, "Well, I'm gonna keep going. I'm-"

"Goodbye," Laura said and climbed out of the truck.

For the next three days, she did nothing but sleep, waking only to stagger to the bathroom or sit up and drink the cool, milky tea her father brought her. When she finally got up, he talked about the smallest of things: the book he was reading about birds of Ontario, the strange badger-like creature he had seen in a field at Don Mills. He said he was going to paint the kitchen a very light green. He asked her if she wanted a slice of toast.

He didn't ask her why she had left, or tell her that she had to go back. She leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes. The fog was gone, and the strange pains in her limbs. Her insides had been completely hollowed out. She was almost weightless. She had come through something terrible, but she was too weak to look back and see what it was.

After her mother left for work in the morning, her father asked if she wanted to go for a walk. She had to wear her old camel hair coat and a pair of her mother's boots from the front hall closet. Her father held her arm and guided her down the street to the corner. The air was sharp and clean, and her breath formed wet circles on her wool scarf. "Sh.o.r.e lark," her father said, pointing to a small bird on a fence. "They like the snow." They stopped to watch the small bird with its little cap and scarf of dark feathers. Laura pulled her fingers out of the ends of her gloves and balled them up against her palms for warmth. Her wedding ring was loose on her finger. When she pulled off the glove, it dropped into the snow. "Did you lose something?" her father asked. She shook her head.

Inside the house, she sat in the dusty-rose armchair by the window and watched the branches wave in the wind. "I should call them," she told her father, but she didn't get up. She wanted him to be sick with worry, with fear and shame and regret. She wanted him to wait by the phone, jumping every time it rang, pacing in front of the window, listening for a car in the driveway, footsteps up the walkway. She looked at her father. He patted her hand and asked if she wanted a boiled egg.

In the afternoons, she watched the branches, and in the evenings, she watched TV. When her mother asked her how long she intended to sit in the armchair, she said, "Until I feel like getting up." Her father said, "She's okay, Margaret. Let her be." Her mother muttered, "Oh, for G.o.d's sake," and went to bang pots in the kitchen. Laura could hear her but found that she didn't have to listen. She didn't care what her mother thought or said or did. She was warm and comfortable in the chair by the window, and when she grew tired of sitting, she walked with her father around the block or to the park, where he pointed out the birds and told her about their migration patterns.

After two weeks, when her father was out shovelling the driveway and her mother was taking a bath, she went into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Dean answered.

"It's me," she said. "I'm at my parents' place. In Toronto."

"I know."

"How do you know?" Her voice was clipped, flat.

"Your mother called us when you got there."

She waited for him to go on, but he said nothing. Finally, she said, "I'm not coming back."

"Okay," he said. "What do you want to do about the kids?"

The rage that rose in her was hot and ferocious and blinding. For a moment, she thought she was going to pa.s.s out. "They're your kids," she said. "You look after them." And she hung up the phone.

The rage remained, a conflagration burning behind her. She couldn't think her way back through it. But she was awake now, and she could think forward. She woke every morning and made a list of things to do. By the end of the day, every item was crossed off. In this way, she found a day job in a law office and a weekend job at the Canadian Cancer Society, registered for night cla.s.ses in management and marketing and finance, moved into a room in a house full of working women, opened her own bank account and bought a second-hand car.

It was amazing, she thought, how much she could accomplish simply by not caring what other people thought she should do or said she was overlooking or in danger of becoming. She was able to visit with her father by not caring how many sighs her mother heaved or how often she shook her head and claimed not to understand this new world where women swore like men and men grew their hair like women and everyone seemed to be sleeping with everyone else, and now, thanks to Mr. Trudeau, you could get divorced at the drop of a hat and marriage meant nothing to anyone anymore and people could get up from their obligations as if they were pus.h.i.+ng back their plates at a restaurant. Laura let the words pool and flow around her. She didn't have to answer unless she felt like answering, and mostly, she was content to talk to her father about how to build an aviary or the photos of herons he had seen at the library.

Her mother asked her when she planned to see her children. "You do remember that you have two kids, don't you?"

Seeing the children was not on her list. Laura said, "I have no plans to see them. If he wants to send them to see me, he can. He knows how to get in touch with me."

Her mother huffed and sputtered and threw up her hands. "It's not their fault you two couldn't get along. Why should they be punished?"

"They're not being punished," Laura said. "I'm the one who was punished. I upheld my end of things, all the way up to the end. I did nothing wrong."

"Laura, they're your children."

"They're his children too. He was going to walk out the door and leave me with them, and I guarantee you, no one would have said, *Dean, what about your children? How could you have left your children?' "

"You don't even think about them," her mother said.

Laura said, "They're fine where they are. They don't need me." She got up and put on her coat. It was true: she didn't think about them. She couldn't. They were on the other side of the fire.

"You can't just walk away! You can't erase the past," her mother called after her.

But she could. She could walk, she could erase, she could bulldoze everything and start again. With nothing except her own will, she would build a second life, because the first one was untenable, unbearable, irreparable, a mistake from the very beginning. Every piece of it, every action and reaction and relations.h.i.+p, had grown out of a tragic error. Thinking that it could be fixed or would get better was foolishness, the kind of fantastical thinking that had led her into error in the first place and left her stranded in marriage to a man who didn't want her and couldn't provide for her, with two small children she couldn't look after, with in-laws whose help would have erased her completely, in a story that made no sense. The only chance she had was to step out of the story completely and start again, wanting nothing that she couldn't give to herself. She wasn't waiting for the phone to ring or her wish to come true. She was done with waiting and wis.h.i.+ng.

She finished her courses, and the Canadian Cancer Society offered her a full-time job, and then a promotion. She moved into her own apartment. No one at work knew that she'd been married. Whenever someone asked if she had plans for the weekend, meaning a man, she always said she had no time. She studied on weekends and swam lengths at the Y. And in the evenings, she took more courses.

Three years and two months after Will Wharton had dropped her off at the end of the driveway, her mother called to say a letter had arrived from Sault Ste. Marie. She stopped by after work and opened it in her parents' kitchen. It was from a lawyer, notifying her that Dean was filing for divorce and would retain custody of the children. She signed everything and mailed it back on the way home. One less thing she would have to do herself.

Three days after she sent back the papers, she was standing in the kitchen of her apartment, reaching for a bowl, when she remembered Vera telling her to bring home puffed rice and Dawn waving her spoon. No, she told herself sternly, but the image stayed there. Bye, Mommy. After that, she woke up to the fog. She kept working, but she stopped eating. At work, she was given the highest employee performance evaluation possible and another promotion. She was determined to wait it out. It will pa.s.s, she told herself every morning.

Her father took her out for lunch, and the waitress took away her untouched chicken platter while her father stared out the window. "Laura," he said, "you need to see a doctor."

She said no. "It will go away on its own."

"Maybe," her father said. "But it won't stay away. You need to talk to someone."

"Did talking help you?" she asked. She'd said it sarcastically, but her father nodded. "Eventually," he said.

"And you're all better now."

"I've made my peace with my choices," he said.

Laura watched him stir sugar into his coffee. "Do you remember when we used to come and see you? In the hospital on Sat.u.r.days? You were always looking at the door or the clock."

Her father rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand and nodded. "I felt ashamed. Guilty."

"What did you feel guilty about?"

"Being sick. Being in there. Not being home to look after my family. But it was also the ailment. I felt overwhelming guilt over everything. Ants I killed as a boy. A girl I once called ugly and she heard me. Anguish over something I once said to my father in anger. That's the nature of depression."

So the ailment had another name.

His hair had gone completely grey, and his jawline had softened and sagged. Laura remembered him lifting her up onto his shoulders so that she could wave her hands through the branches of a willow tree. That was the father she had lost the summer he had sat in his chair and wept. The summer of Marcus Findley. He had gone away and never really come back. And yet here he was, his eyes saddened by her sarcasm, his forehead lined with worry, his hand reaching for his wallet to pay for the lunch she had not eaten.

She knew what would happen if she talked to someone. Her whole second life would come apart. And it would come out, eventually, that a second life was not possible unless it grew out of the first life. The person would tell her what she already knew: that you cannot step out of the story and start a new one. It was all one story. Then she'd have to go back. She'd have to do battle in order to make peace, and it would be a hard and joyless peace. She said, "Do you know someone, then?" He said, "I'll find someone."

It took another two years to get back, to find a new job in Sault Ste. Marie, to find an apartment and get set up, hire the lawyer who met with their lawyer to negotiate. Her lawyer, George Gerard, turned out to be a childhood friend of Dean's. He reminded her that the chips were stacked against her. It wasn't Dean she had to do battle with. Dean wasn't even in the picture. After his second marriage had fallen apart, he had slipped out of the frame, leaving behind a dozen variations on a theme: he had been arrested as one of Del Cherniak's confederates but talked himself out of a conviction, he had been convicted but escaped from jail, he had been jailed but new evidence was discovered and they had to let him go. He had gone to Toronto, or New York. The club was closed up. He was never coming back, or else he was coming back this weekend. The usual Dean Turner stories. The kids were with Vera and Frank, who would, George said, argue against any further disruption to their lives. "What can I get?" Laura asked.

"Visitation, most likely," George said. "If you want custody, you'll have to fight."

She could not fight Vera. She could not go to court and hear what a terrible mother she had been. How she'd lain in bed all day. Then one day upped and disappeared. Left her own children, drove off with a man in a delivery truck. It was easier just to take what was offered, and maybe that's all she deserved. She said, "Visitation, then."

George agreed to act as a go-between for the first visit, to pick up the kids and bring them to her apartment. She watched them approach from the window overlooking the parking lot. They were so much bigger than she had expected. Dawn was wearing a brown cord jumper and a white blouse. Her dark hair had been pulled up into a ponytail that Laura could already see was too tight. She held on to her brother's hand. Jimmy was wearing dark green pants, a white s.h.i.+rt and a bowtie, and was holding a stuffed animal of some sort. The wind lifted his hair and the edge of Dawn's dress. She couldn't hear their voices, but she could see that they were beautiful and whole. They were coming to visit. She was going to see them at last. Her daughter and her son.


At Frank and Vera's, Dawn woke in the night and couldn't remember where she was. "That happens to everyone at night, Tinker," Frank a.s.sured her when she confided in him. But she got confused in the day, too. One minute she was walking past the Pacinis' lopsided fence on her way home, the next she was in a completely foreign neighbourhood. Not a single house or car or front yard looked familiar, and she couldn't hear anything over the alarm clanging in her head. Then the houses seemed to undulate and she was in front of the Duchamps', on Sylvan Avenue, three doors from home. The alarm took a long time to wind down.

As her former life deteriorated in her head, the way dreams did, leaving only the gist of things, she felt a throbbing compulsion to see their old house across the street from the park. She asked Jimmy if he wanted to come, but he didn't see the point. Dawn said it was to remember better, but Jimmy didn't see the point of that, either. That was probably because he never thought people were really gone. For Jimmy, you practically had to be dead to be gone, whereas Dawn saw that there were stages of going, degrees of gone. Take Geraldine and Amy, who now lived in a townhouse on the other side of the city. Dawn and Jimmy still saw them a few times a year, when Geraldine called Vera to schedule a visit, so according to Jimmy, they weren't gone, but if Dawn wanted to see Geraldine or just hear her voice, she was out of luck. She could call, but that would be weird, because people always wanted to know what you were calling for. Also, Vera would ask who she was talking to. "Don't be bothering Geraldine," she'd say. "She has enough on her plate." So, even though she still saw them sometimes, she had to say that Geraldine and Amy were mostly gone.

At first the club was just closed (going), then it was closed down (going), then it was Gary's Pizza (gone). Del Cherniak, who had actually owned the club, was also gone, although his name was still in the news: "Cherniak Charges Piling Up"; "Police Step Up Search for Cherniak." He had been running a drug lab outside of Wawa and a stolen car racket in the Soo, and the club had been a front to launder the money. In court, Dean swore he hadn't been part of the criminal operations, which would have been more believable if there hadn't been a stolen Cadillac in his garage. At least, Dawn thought, there hadn't also been a garbage bag of money in his spare room. Dean didn't know where Del Cherniak was, but he didn't expect him to be caught anytime soon. Del had connections in Detroit. Del Cherniak was long gone.

Dean himself left in stages. During the trial, he was staying with friends downtown because it was helpful to be close to the courthouse. After he was given a suspended sentence, he was staying with friends in Toronto while he checked out the club situation. He wrote his number on three pieces of paper, one for Dawn, one for Jimmy, one for backup. He would come and get them as soon as he was settled. Jimmy said "away." Dawn said "gone." The operator said, "The number you have dialled is not in service."

Not everyone was gone. Frank and Vera never went anywhere. They didn't believe in running hither, thither and yon when there was work to be done, storm windows to be put up, at home. And some people who had been gone had come back: their mother had returned and she wanted to see them. "Over my dead body," Vera said, and the case had almost gone to court. Now there was a visitation clause in the custody agreement, so Dawn and Jimmy saw her on the first Sat.u.r.day of every month.

It was a lot to get used to.

At least at Frank and Vera's, once you got used to something, you never had to get used to it again. Even after Dawn started high school, or when Jimmy had to go to H.M. Robbins for grades seven and eight because he and Tommy Palumbo had smashed all the windows at St. Francis, nothing on Sylvan Avenue seemed to change. The old boxy brown armchair was replaced by a new one, slightly less boxy but still brown. The new blue Chrysler was nearly the same shape as the old blue Chrysler. The free insurance calendar changed from flower gardens to puppies in baskets, but the dates remained fixed. Monday, Dawn, piano, Wednesday, Jimmy, ball hockey. First Sat.u.r.day, Laura's. Easter Monday and Amy's birthday, Geraldine's. On Tuesday, Vera cooked spareribs, Minute Rice and canned peas. On Friday, they had fish. Dinner was at five, and bedtime was at least an hour before anyone else in their cla.s.s had to go to bed, no matter what was on television. When they got up in the morning, they made their beds before they went downstairs for breakfast, which did not feature Pop-Tarts (too expensive) or notes in the jam jar (foolishness). No one woke them in the night to see a meteor shower, but no one forgot to pick them up after swimming cla.s.s, either.

Vera wrote all their appointments in the calendar. She didn't like unexpected requests or cancellations. She didn't like it when Dawn and Jimmy came back from somewhere all riled up, either. Usually, this meant from Geraldine's, where, Vera claimed, they were allowed to run wild, which was more or less the case. At Geraldine's, kids wandered in and rummaged through cupboards, or rushed in to announce that Alex down the road was building another bomb out of a can of deodorant. It was hard to come back unriled.

But Vera didn't like it if they came back too quiet, either, like when they returned from Laura's, which was the least riled-up place they had ever been. Everything in Laura's apartment on Riverview Drive was white, black, heavy, thick and still: white sofa and carpet, black table, heavy drapes, pictures of snowcapped mountains in thick, heavy black and white frames. There was no clutter either: no bundles of coupons or baskets of socks to be mended. Nothing was old or patched or spliced together. It was even quieter in Laura's bedroom, which was the lightest possible shade of grey before white. The bedspread was silver-grey satin. It was like an apartment in a s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p.

At Laura's, they always started at the kitchen table with apple juice and m.u.f.fins and the day's itinerary: lunch, library or a movie, skating, shopping for school clothes. The first time, there had been no itinerary. Dawn and Jimmy had sat side by side on the white sofa, looking at their gla.s.ses of grape juice on the polished black tabletop. Laura asked them about school, who their teachers were, what subjects they liked, and leaned forward when they answered, like she was waiting for them to go on, but after "Miss Eliot" or "gym," they didn't know what else to say. "You must be wondering why I left," Laura finally said. "I know you were too young to remember, but you're old enough to understand now."

Dawn's head was suddenly cold. Just her head. It was the strangest thing. A picture of a s...o...b..nk came into her mind. She blinked, but the s...o...b..nk didn't move. The cold moved from her head into her throat.

Laura said she wanted to explain a few things. It had been very hard on her, she said. She had been very young. She had been overwhelmed. She had had no support. And their father had not kept his side of the marriage contract. He had not upheld his end of things. She had entered in good faith and she was left holding the bag.

Dawn was listening and not listening. The s...o...b..nk vanished, replaced by a bag, a bulging black sack tied at the top, like a cartoon bag. Something was squirming inside the bag, and it made her feel sick. She didn't want to see the bag. She tried to think about something else, but the only other thing was a s...o...b..nk. Was she going crazy? She was afraid of a bag and there wasn't even a bag. Now she started to feel faint as well as cold.

Laura said, "But I want you to be part of my life now. And that's really all I have to say. Is there anything you want to ask me?"

Dawn shook her head frantically.

Jimmy put up his hand. "Can we watch TV?"

Later, Jimmy spilled grape juice on the carpet, and Laura leapt up and opened a bottle of club soda over the stain. When they left, the stain was covered with a thick layer of lavender-tinged salt. After that, Laura served apple juice, and they always had an itinerary.

She told them to call her Laura. "It's probably easier for you," she said. Her name was in the paper sometimes for her job. Laura Turner, executive director of the Children in Crisis Foundation. Dawn always cut out the articles, even though she didn't have a place for them and they ended up creased under a dictionary or folded into a music book. Seeing her mother's name in the paper was like seeing her on a day that wasn't a Sat.u.r.day: she would catch sight of Laura outside the mall or going into a flower shop, and a jolt would go through her. She would think, "That's my mother." No other thoughts followed.

Sometimes, Laura told them about her work, especially if she talked to a millionaire. Jimmy was interested in the millionaires, one of whom had his own helicopter. That was her job, basically: talking to rich people, convincing them to donate money to the foundation. She went to conferences and, in the evenings, gala events. Dawn was interested in the gowns or almost gowns, cream or silver swathes of cloth. Laura had matching shoes, strappy sandals with high heels, and beaded bags, all hanging in protective slots in the closet.

The fridge was another marvel of order and elegance. Inside, everything was small and singular. A miniature jar of mayonnaise, a carton of milk. One apple, one bun. There would be no s.h.i.+pwreck at Laura's place. s.h.i.+pwreck was what Vera made to use up leftovers. She layered mashed potatoes, pieces of meat, beans, peas and noodles in a pan and baked it for the afternoon. It was covered over with gravy made from a packet. Jimmy liked s.h.i.+pwreck. Or rather, he liked gravy, and that was all you could really taste. Dawn hated it. She wanted to eat what her mother ate: a chicken breast, a green salad with translucent slices of radish. Food that stayed separate on the plate.

After dinner, Laura gave them each ten dollars for their allowance. Frank and Vera didn't believe in allowance; if you needed something, you asked for it, and Frank and Vera took you to Kmart after dinner, which meant you always had new underwear and winter boots, but never Pop Rocks or Pet Rocks or the soundtrack to Sat.u.r.day Night Fever. Laura said, "This is for you to save or to spend on whatever you want." Luckily, Laura and Vera didn't talk, except to confirm dates and times, so Dawn and Jimmy were able to prevent the automatic allowance confiscation and redirection into the bank.

Then it was time to go home. Stepping out from the lobby after a few hours inside the apartment, Dawn was always surprised by the clatter and patchiness of the outside world. That's why she was quiet when she came back from Laura's. She didn't know why Jimmy was quiet.

What really riled them up, Dawn thought, was when Dean called. Even Vera got riled up. She would start cleaning the inside of the stove or the floor behind the refrigerator as if her life depended on it. Her face would be flushed and damp, and if you asked her the wrong thing (anything, basically), she would yell at you for asking foolish questions when she didn't have time for foolishness and then give you a list of jobs as long as your arm.

Dean usually called to say that he was coming to see them: in just a couple of weeks, or months at most, just as soon as he could get away. Better yet, he'd send them tickets and they could come down to Toronto.

It would be better if he sent the tickets, because Vera said she wouldn't let him darken the door.

"I'm not stopping him from visiting you two kids," Vera said, scrubbing the baseboards furiously, "but I won't have him in this house. Not after all the trouble he's caused us." She and Frank had paid all his lawyer's bills, and all the other bills too, after Dean went to Toronto.

When Dean finally came to visit, he saw Amy first, and then Dawn and Jimmy went to see him in his hotel room. They ordered room service and watched TV, and then Dean took them out on a Secret Mission that involved the Clue of the Dented Fire Extinguisher and a lot of running up and down the emergency stairwells. Dawn didn't enjoy that part as much; she was thirteen-too old to be playing Secret Mission. But Jimmy said it was the most fun he'd ever had in his life. He said, "Grandma would never let us play that at home. I hope he stays at a hotel every time." Still, he thought it unfair that Vera wouldn't let Dean into the house. "Imagine, she hates her own son," Jimmy marvelled, but Dawn wasn't so sure. Once, Dean had called and asked Dawn to put her grandmother on the phone. It was such an astonis.h.i.+ng request that Dawn hid behind the dining-room door to eavesdrop. There wasn't much to hear. Vera said, "No. No. No, I won't. No, I can't. It's too late for that. *Sorry' doesn't help." Then she hung up. Dawn peeked into the kitchen and her knees turned to jelly. Vera was leaning over, her hands over her face, making a sound that was either crying or choking or throwing up. "Grandma?" Dawn whispered, but Vera didn't move. Then Jimmy came loping down the stairs, and Vera straightened up, emptied a can of peas into a saucepan and told Jimmy to get his nose out of the fridge. Her voice sounded almost normal.

The next time Dean came up, they still went to the hotel, but they didn't play Secret Mission. Instead, Dawn and Jimmy sat on the big bed, pillows on their laps, while Dean paced and talked and wrapped them in silky grey ribbons of cigarette smoke. Growing up, he said, he had always known something wasn't right. The way people looked at him, there was something ... Then he found the box with the adoption papers and it all made sense. All he wanted from Frank and Vera was the truth, but they wouldn't admit the truth. Number one: when he found out, they denied it. "Am I adopted?" he asked, and they said, "No, you are not." Two, when they couldn't deny it any longer, they said they didn't know who his parents were. Three, they said they got him from the Children's Aid. But he had seen a birth certificate and a photograph, and he had done his own investigation. His real name was Daniel Turner, and his real mother was Frank's younger sister, Grace, who had left home and left him behind and never come back. He had gone looking for her, but then he realized she didn't want to be found; she was married with another child and didn't want a stranger to show up on her doorstep and disrupt the whole set-up. The thing was, he wasn't certain. It made sense that she was his mother, but he didn't know for sure. It was pointless asking Frank and Vera, because of the lies. His whole life with them was a lie. He turned to Dawn and Jimmy. "At least you know who your parents are."

They leapt up and ran to him. "It's okay, Dad, it's okay," they said, throwing their arms around him. All this time, Dawn thought, she had been feeling sorry for herself because her parents were gone in various degrees, but it was true: at least she knew who they were. Her poor father! Later, they went to pick up Amy, and when they were eating banana splits for dinner and hamburgers for dessert at Dairy Queen, Dawn made up her mind to find out the truth. She would search for clues and keep notes in a little book, and then she would type everything up and send it to her father. She would call it "The Whole Story" and maybe someday it would be published in the newspaper. "Teen Detective Solves Family Mystery. Whole Story on Page Two." But after Dean had gone back to Toronto, and her search of the house turned up no doc.u.ments or photographs, her determination began to dissolve. She couldn't think what to do next. Asking Vera was out of the question. Frank was a possibility, but every time she tried to ask, her tongue twisted inside her mouth, and no matter how she started out, the words always veered off into another question altogether and she'd end up listening to Frank explain the steelmaking process or the difference between direct and alternating current. Even if she could get the question out, more than likely he would just say, "Now, now. Don't be bringing that up. It will only upset your grandmother."

She gave up on the idea of the book, but still, she hoped for something, a clue or a phone call, maybe. Not the kind that made Vera double over and choke, but from someone who could make all the locked-up, rusted-over pieces of the past ease open. Someone who had been there at the beginning. The long-lost, long-gone, gone-for-good Grace Turner, maybe.

Four years later, there came a different kind of phone call, and even things on Sylvan Avenue began to change and go haywire. Things with ugly names, like "tumour," rose up out of nowhere and ran around smas.h.i.+ng into other things-ordinary things like the china cabinet, but also other things with even uglier names, like "addiction." Schedules were disrupted and beds went unmade and things fell apart where they always did, where they had been falling apart for years.


"Jimmy!" Dawn stood at the end of the creek path, hollering into the trees. "Jimmy!" A breeze lifted the pale new leaves, and their undersides s.h.i.+mmered in the damp morning light. A bird called, two long, melancholy notes. "Time for church!" Dawn yelled. She didn't want to have to edge her way through the buggy thickets and clouds of gnats down to the creek. "I know you're down there, Jimmy," she called. Something buzzed near her freshly washed hair, and she slapped at it furiously. a.s.shole. Why did he have to pull this every Sunday?

She found him under the chokecherry tree, sitting at the fort. It wasn't really a fort, just a big, flat rock at the edge of the creek. Although the creek didn't technically belong to Frank and Vera, she and Jimmy still thought of it as theirs, especially since the city had fenced off both ends of the path, making their backyard the only way in. When they were younger, they had spent most of their summers here, making maps for buried treasure, daydreaming at the fort. Now Dawn hardly ever came down here except to find Jimmy.

Every Time We Say Goodbye Part 17

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Every Time We Say Goodbye Part 17 summary

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