SOBER RIDER
by Michael Hetherton

They watched them come. Summer monoliths plodding relentlessly toward the city on the plains. The birds silent. In the pre-storm stillness sunlight lit the houses on the streets above the river valley, the storm clouds coming, milky-grey and oil smoke-black, soon darkening all of the sky, shadows over all the land now, hard, jagged threads of lightening flashing out of the darkness, tearing open the breathless stillness. Then came the deep, rumbling thunder, rolling on and on, louder, louder, exploding in house-shaking krr-acks over the lightless, now wind-thrashed city. Residents peered out their vibrating windows at the approaching cloudburst, dreading ice-white hail with the inevitable dark torrents of rain, in a country where rain seldom falls.

Ty stood outside Maverick’s Quonset-garage looking at the sky. When he was just twenty-one years old, he remembered, his old truck had needed frontend work. Bobby Batra referred him to Maverick.
“He looks rough,” Bobby said, “but he’s a sober saint. Any bad people he used to know are dead or in jail. Best mechanic around.”

Ty found Maverick then working in his dilapidated garage near a run-down house-trailer on the outskirts of the city not far from the river. Rusty, partially dismantled vehicles sat scattered in the yard, weeds and grass growing up among them. The short, bald man, with indistinguishable tattoos on his biceps and forearms, greeted him happily, wearing stained shorts, worn running shoes, and a dirty white t-shirt with the sleeves tore off. He limped, one leg atrophied from injury or birth defect, Ty assumed. He provided Ty with a loaner while he fixed his truck. He did the work for next to nothing.

“A recluse. But he’s happy—and harmless these days.” Bobby said, later.
“What happened to his leg?” Ty asked.
“Hip and thigh are still full of shotgun pellets,” Bobby said casually.

Ty had months before, using a small inheritance, and his own meager savings from past menial jobs as a down payment, managed to get a high interest bridge loan for his first spec house, in the bright, windy city of Lethbridge, Alberta, and was renovating it. Bobby Batra had brokered the buy.

“You happy with it, man?” Bobby asked, smiling, as he confirmed the acceptance of Ty’s offer.

He said he thought he was, and thanked him.

Ty had moved there from Regina, Saskatchewan. He needed gas on a random road trip, and liked that a river ran through the prairie city, and you could see mountains in the distance. He’d been raised by his single mother, living most of his life in a rental-subsidized 4-plex. His mom, from a poor farmer family, had fallen out with them and they’d more or less disowned each other after she met Ty’s father. She worked shift in a commercial laundry, and was seldom home or awake during the day. When she was, her youth seemed drained out of her. Most evenings she smoked, and drank wine until she fell asleep in her chair long before bed. So he had grown up pretty much on his own, wandering the local streets, though he was far from streetwise. One thing his mom taught him was to always set aside a little money from his wages for a “rainy day”, and she’d made him open a bank account.

Bobby Batra looked to be in his mid forties, heavy set, with a dark, deeply creased face, the skin under his eyes puffy, baldness shining in places on his skull under thinning black hair. The day after Ty accepted his first buy offer Bobby pulled up at the house on a large, black, rumbling Harley-Davidson, a Sober Riders sticker on the faring. A young woman sat on the back of the bike wearing a black leather jacket too large for her.

“This is Lacy,” Bobby said.

Ty only glanced at her, too shy then to say anything.

Bobby, with his toothy smile, congratulated him again and shook his hand.

After another reno and sale Ty drove his old truck to Bobby’s house to sign papers. He lived in a large, recently built two-storey modernist, another Sober Riders poster in the window that Ty initially mistook as a Block Parent sign. Bobby’s SUV and Harley were parked in the driveway. He found him on the back deck standing at a smoking barbecue.

“These are wild pheasant breasts. My Langar. I’m going fishing. I like to eat as much as fish,” Bobby said, laughing.
Chunks of charred pheasant meat hung on sticks. Ty watched him slide the hot skewers into pitas, and ladle on grilled onions and peppers.
“You got sunglasses and a hat?” Bobby asked.
“I got a hat.”
“Come fishing with me. We’ll sign the papers and head out,” Bobby said, making it sound more like a demand.

Ty, always having had trouble saying no, passively agreed.
Bobby led him into his large open house, almost empty of furniture or adornments, and he signed the papers.
Bobby stocked and closed the cooler and they left.

“I stay outdoors on my own as much as I can, away from temptation. The Harley’s great for that … and fishing,” Bobby told him as they drove across the rolling, drought-stricken open prairie south of the city. “Ever fly-fish Ty?”

He had never fished, but thought he might like to learn.

Within the hour they turned onto a rough trail through the pale grasslands, a blue view of the Rocky Mountains in the distance; then into the fringe of steep, grassy coulees. The trail wound down to a slim river in the valley.

“Rainbows and a few browns live in some of these pools,” Bobby said, pulling to a stop in the grass.

He opened the rear of the SUV, unloaded a backpack and set out fishing gear. The call of grasshoppers beat up from the dry grass. He pulled a portioned fly rod from a case and put it together. “Your first lesson, Ty.” He attached an expensive looking green and gold metal reel to the rod and showed him how to string the leader through the eyelets. He opened a leather fly case, looked through the tiny colourful flies and picked one. “This is a hairwing dun.” He knotted it to the leader.

He opened the cooler and took out two brown bottles. “I’ve been sober for years, but when I fish I like to have just one.” He put the tinfoil-wrapped food and the beer into the backpack.

Bobby led the way. The path opened into a sunny, grassy meadow. The marble-green river swirled soundlessly beyond the shore grass. Bobby dropped the pack, removed the bottles and pushed them into mud along the stream.

Up river he said, “Here we go,” stripping line.

He worked it into a looping cast, describing what he was doing for Ty. The tiny fly found the moving water and the floating line drifted. The air was still and hot along the river. Ty, already sweating, watched him.

Near a riffle Bobby got a hit. “There,” he said, and worked a small, splashing rainbow close. He bent down to the silver trout and rested it in his palm as he gently unhooked the fly, then released the fish, flashing, back into the current.

The meadow narrowed to a strip of grass along a high cutbank. Bobby offered to let Ty try a cast, but rather, let him move upstream on his own.

Ty walked back along the river. He stood listening now to the quiet riffle of the mountain water over stones. A light breeze moved tall pale-yellow grass along the shore. As he stepped forward he stumbled, startled, over bones in the grass, a ribcage and skull picked clean white. Probably a winter deer. Death everywhere, and always, even in the most beautiful places. His father, who he had little memory of, had died violently in a federal prison. His mother had left home for a few days when he was ten, and told him when she returned. She’d had uterine cancer that spread, and died just thirty months ago, his final, failed year in high school. He walked on, and sat back in the warm grass on the riverbank.

When he woke from dozing sweat trickled down his neck. He saw Bobby making his way back, puffing, and sweating too.

He dropped the pack and rod by Ty. “Pretty slow.”

Bobby kneeled then by the stream and scooped water into his brown, pale-palmed cupped hands. He splashed his face and wiped his palms over his head. He pulled the beer out of the mud, rinsed off the brown bottles and cracked off the caps with a hiss. He handed one to Ty. Then he took a long drink, his eyes watering.

“Where are your people, Ty? Your mom and daddy?”

He told him they were both dead.

“So you’re on your own. I guess I knew that already. Well, you know where to reach me if you ever need anything.” He looked at him. “I’m serious, man.”

Ty nodded, “Okay.”

Bobby set down his beer and knelt on the gravel bank, clasped his hands, closed his eyes and bowed his head. After a moment of silence he opened his eyes and crossed himself. “I usually say something before a meal. I’m from a Sikh family. But I married a Catholic girl once upon a time in my younger years. I have my own faith now, you might say, with a few borrowed rituals,” he explained, his eyes sparkling.

He opened the pack and took out the food. They sat back in the sun and ate the tender pheasant pitas.

“Do you have kids?” Ty asked, Bobby’s house being so large.
“Two. I lost them, years ago,” he said matter-of-factly.

Ty did not pry further.

“I abandoned my wife and kids,” he volunteered after a minute. “They were better off. I had some real bad years. Didn’t know who I was. I was guilty of many great misdeeds, and breaking most of the Ten Commandments. The deadly sins.” Quieter, he said, “She thought she could save me. It didn’t work—not from lack of trying on her part. She remarried years ago. They’re healthy and happy; her and the children, thank God.”
“Is Lethbridge your hometown?” Ty asked quietly, more curious.
“Vancouver. My father moved us to Calgary when I was a kid. After he had a few bucks he borrowed more and started buying multi-units. Did real well. I was spoiled, and took it all for granted.” He lay back on the grass. “When I was a drunk, or using, it was all about getting more. My twelve steps turned inward. That can be a bad trip. I finally gave over to the higher power, the supreme light. I was saved.”

The beer made Bobby talkative. Ty listened as he finished his food.

“It was after my father died when I got clean. My brothers and I took over the properties. I hated being a landlord. Sold out to them, and started here.” Bobby shrugged. “There’s no such thing as coincidence, or accidents. I let the real power make the big calls,” he said, putting the empty bottle in his pack.

“I used to drink too much,” Ty blurted out. “And smoke dope.”
Bobby looked at him, waiting for more.
“Since grade seven. It’s all we did. All the time. Me and a couple friends. I was nothing but a drunk.”
“You still hang with them?”
Ty shook his head. “No.”
“Good,” Bobby said, in emphatic approval.
He squeezed Ty’s shoulder as he rose.
They walked back now along the river to the SUV and stored the gear away.
“It’s not easy to learn on your own. I took formal lessons,” Bobby said. “That’s one way.”
“Sure,” Ty said.

Bobby leaned on the SUV. “At your age I couldn’t function outside being the center of the universe. Overwhelmed by ego. Fishing gets you outdoors. You need to concentrate, but you can’t force it. Relax, be accepting. Be a witness. Murder your anger and impatience. There’s solace in nature—and reality. I’m thankful I found that.” He looked at Ty. “But it’s a human world, like it or not. You shouldn’t stay in the wilderness too long.” He held up his keys. “Feel like driving? One beer, you know.”

On the road back Bobby fell asleep right away.

He woke as Ty slowed and turned onto his street. At the house he parked next to Bobby’s classic Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. When they got out they walked to it.

“Take her for a run, man,” Bobby said, wide-awake now.
“The bike?” Ty asked, hesitantly.
“Yeah. Ever ride?”
“Once. A long time ago.”

Bobby laughed. “Don’t think about it. Just hop on and split.”

He put on Bobby’s leather jacket and helmet as he ran over the operation of the bike with him. The Harley was big and heavy but balanced. He let the clutch out. It lurched forward, and then went smoothly.

“Ride clean, man,” Bobby yelled as he pulled away.

He took the first turn carefully. Bobby waved when he looked back.

The Harley rumbled, and moved smoothly. He crossed the bridge over the river and up the long coulee slope. He touched the throttle and the bike, quickly and easily, rumbling louder, accelerated into the next shift, moving on up the slope without effort, the flood plains of the Oldman River below green and bright. Beyond the treeless subdivisions it opened into prairie, the mountains in view again. Then there was nothing but sunburned empty grassland. Heat waves obscured the highway. Atop a long slope Ty could see all the wide horizon, under the liquid-blue sky scattered with drifting white clouds.
 
His fear and adrenaline ebbing he pulled over. He thought of what Bobby had said, and wasn’t sure he understood very much about what he’d meant. But had sensed sincerity and that he meant well, that he cared about him for some reason, and that he was trustworthy. Ty had never trusted a single human being before.

Not all of the reno work went smoothly those early days in the city. One so-called tradesman Ty hired seemed to take advantage of his youth and naïveté. The man proved indolent, was habitually late, and left work incomplete.

“A guy I contracted isn’t showing up,” Ty told Bobby.
“Did he take your money already?”
“Half in advance.”
“You’ll make better contacts with experience. Talk to him. If that doesn’t work, just move on,” Bobby advised.
After the man missed another day Ty drove to his house, located in a poor area, the yard weedy and strewn with junk. He found him in the back by a garage. The man looked up, surprised.
“Couldn’t make it again today Ken?” Ty said, already angry, and shaking slightly.
“Oh, yeah,” is all he answered.
“Have you spent the money I gave you?”
“Why?” he said, shrugging.
“I want the cash in my mailbox by tonight, for work not done.”
“Pardon me?”
“We’re not negotiating.” 
“We’ll see. I can get to you this week—”
Ty picked up a piece of old eavestrough lying by the garage and swung it hard, hitting the wall next to the man’s head.
“What the fuck.” The man backed away.
“Get it to me tonight,” Ty said, spitting with anger.

He threw down the eavestrough and left.

On the way home the pulled over, his eyes filled with tears of rage, and allowed his breathing to recover and his heart slow. Like his father’s, his temper just spilled over sometimes. As it subsided, a feeling of uselessness and hopelessness, and a deep, disconnected kind of pain, flowed in. 
 
The man dropped off the cash. Ty didn’t tell Bobby about the incident.

Bobby later referred him to a retired, sober, journeyman carpenter, slow-working but reliable, who did quality work. He came with a dour demeanour, but he was patient with Ty, and appreciated his willingness to learn.

He did not live in that reno in a way to enjoy it before Bobby Batra sold it. He purchased and lived in another small house on a quiet, tree-protected crescent in Chinook Heights. He was slowly improving his skills, and accumulating tools.

An elderly neighbor approached him in his yard on a sunny afternoon that summer. The friendly man told him he and his wife, both retired teachers, were planning to downsize into a condo. He could see Ty “had some work ethic”, and asked if he might be interested in buying their house too.

Ty toured their home. It smelled of cinnamon and baking. After, Beth warmly invited him to stay for tea and cookies. He refused; he’d seldom experienced neighbourly gestures and unconditional kindness. Beth insisted, and sat him down at the kitchen table. The couple regaled him with stories of their past in the city, and their children and grandchildren. Ty started to feel relaxed there.

He liked the low-slope roof and floor-to-ceiling glass. He agreed to offer on their house if the price allowed for extensive renovation.

“You doing alright, Tyrone?” Simon asked, when he visited the couple again to discuss details. “Beth‘s worried about you living alone. You’re no older than our grandkids.”
Made self-conscious by his attention, he said he was fine, but thanked him, and meant it.
Within the week they accepted Ty’s offer.
“Beth is having a hard time getting rid of this stuff,” Simon told Ty in the driveway, holding a folded, worn child’s blanket. He seemed even older, and melancholy. “I guess I am too, if I’ll admit it.”
A son and grandson showed up and helped Simon and Beth set out a garage sale. A moving van backed up to their house a few days later, and they were gone. Ty missed them right away.
He lived in his own little house while renovating Simon and Beth’s. He told Bobby he liked the natural wood tongue-and-groove ceiling, and the tall windows.
“Yeah, I can dig that,” Bobby said. “It lets the outside in.”

Ty didn’t mention the many mistakes he’d made, and his anger sometimes exploding over small frustrations.

He attended garage sales and searched antique shops for furniture and accessories. He often stood in quiet areas of the house admiring it. The sun shone on the front door after a thunderstorm passed. The trimmed green cedars dripped rainwater. The sidewalk quickly began to dry.

That sense of fear when alone at night leftover from childhood, though more subdued now, was still with him, always a part of him. A windy night he woke up, his heart pounding, to a noise outside, something dragging along the exterior wall. He listened intently for someone trying to open a door or window, his heart rate and breathing blowing up. The sound did not come—it was quiet, but for the wind in the treetops. He remembered lying alone in bed at night in an old house somewhere in Regina, when he was maybe five, listening to a man’s horrible cursing, and slurping from a cup, probably whiskey, coming from his father’s bedroom, and he remembered the paralyzing fear. One of only a few unclear memories he had of his father, before his father was gone. His mother kept no photographs of him.

Lacy, the young woman Bobby introduced him to months earlier, showed up at Ty’s door out of the blue that late summer. She wore floppy, frayed jeans over worn cowboy boots, and a faded jean jacket. Her thick hair was full and frizzy in the last remnants of a perm. She looked several years older than Ty. She balanced a pizza box in one hand.

“Remember me? Are you going to ask me in so we can eat this thing?” she said on the front step.
Inside, Lacy took off her boots and set the pizza on the kitchen counter. Ty took her on a tour of the house, hardly knowing what to say to her.

“I love the big windows and the light. It’s a little austere for me though. Bobby told me you were an innovator,” she said, her fingers stuffed in her back pockets.

“I think he meant renovator.”

Lacy laughed. “He said you were a great guy. You’re good looking, you know,” she commented, casually.

Ty visibly blushed, word-stuck as they re-entered the kitchen.

“Did I interrupt something? Maybe I should go?” Lacy said.
“No. I was just watching a ball game.”
“I can do that. Let’s eat this pizza.”

She was as tall as him, and full-bodied. Used to being alone, the kitchen felt crowded with her there too. He took beers from the fridge. Lacy didn’t accept one.

Ty remembered she was a friend of Bobby’s. “Oh … I’m sorry.”
Lacy laughed. “I’ll take a glass of that milk though.”

He poured two glasses and they sat in front of the TV with the pizza. She took off her jean jacket, revealing a faded blue tank top, Cowboy Junkies printed on it, her shoulders brown and freckled.

“What do you do Lacy?” Ty asked politely, the room grown dark except for the TV light.
“Cashier at Safeway. I’m thinking of becoming a florist. I love flowers. They thrive in my hands. Maybe I’ll open a floral shop someday.” She rested her elbow on the sofa arm. “I was a city girl who wanted to be a country girl. Now, I’m willing to compromise.” She sat up. “You have a kind face. A lady might say anything to you.”
“Where do you live?” Ty asked, not knowing how to respond to her comment.
“Apartment on sixth. I really want a place outside the city though. A tiny farm or something.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah. You see, I’m married. Took a long time to admit it was wrong. We weren’t a natural couple. Some things grow obvious, eventually. Pain is one of the great guarantees in life. Love? Not so much. Anyway, we lived on an acreage. He had horses. One was mine, sort of—but I didn’t own anything, really; it was all his. I didn’t want to steal nothing from him when we separated. I’m going to have my own place like that someday. With a corral for a horse.” She looked at Ty. “Accidents and coincidences happen; miracles, not so much. I’m willing to work for it.”

Listening closely to everything she said, he remembered Bobby’s words that day fishing on the river, about there being no accidents, and giving over to the real power.

“I bet you will,” Ty said.
“Will … what?”
“Get a shop. A horse. And a place.”
She laughed again. “Appreciate the encouragement. Do I make you nervous?”
“I’m used to living alone.”
“Not everybody’s easy with everybody. Not everything comes natural all the time.”

Ty smiled in agreement, sweating a little, though the house was cool.

“I met Bobby at a meeting,” she continued. “That’s confidential,” she false-whispered. “I’m not an addict. Just need a little positive support now and then to reassure me. He always answers his phone. Looking back on things, I didn’t get trapped, thank God. I drank too much one night and rolled my truck. Survived it. Don’t touch the stuff anymore,” she said, waving her hand. Light freckles speckled her cheeks.

Ty nodded. “That’s good.”

They chatted more as the house grew darker. Then Lacy went to the bathroom.

When she came out after shutting off the light she stood, barely visible, in the hallway. “I’m going to bed,” she said, casually. She disappeared into his bedroom.

Ty sat watching the movie that was already on, uncertain what to do. He shut off the TV when it was over. He stood in the window looking out on the dark street. Trying to be quiet, he took his coat from the front closet for a cover and lay on the sofa.

He woke up in the coolness of dawn, having left the window open over the kitchen sink. He dozed again—then heard the back door loudly slam.

A few days after her visit Ty stopped by Bobby’s threadbare realty office. The renovation on Simon and Beth’s house was done and it was ready for listing. Ty casually asked about Lacy.

“Lacy? I think she’s in BC visiting family,” is all he knew.

Bobby sat back then and told him about a “female friend” who’d not had anyone in her life in some twenty years. “Met her after an AA meeting. No one sober wanted to be with her, and she was smart enough not to hook up with another alcoholic. Rehabbed, tried the cures, but relapsed probably fifty times. So she gave that up and tried to live with it. She said even on her worst days she always did the dishes—kept her pride, in a certain way. Her commitment to hold on to her addiction and still function impressed me, man. It finally burned her out though. She gave up all control; just let it all go. And she got sober. That’s not a common happy ending.”

Ty told him he’d had a friend in high school who drank too much and that it had worried him, even though he was no better. “I still worry about her. I don’t know what she’s doing now. How did your friend make out?”

“Still sober. Some people can never accept anything offered up … ever. Some just manipulate and use the kindness and charity of others, every day. She’s neither of those. Found love finally. He drives a potato truck. They live over in Taber. I started the local Sober Riders after meeting that woman.” Bobby looked at him. “It teaches you, doesn’t it Ty. Never give up.”

Lacy appeared at Ty’s door again a month later, from wherever it was she had gone. They sat in the kitchen while Ty made tea.

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking into her bone china teacup, one of his mom’s he’d inherited. “For leaving angry that other morning.”

“I didn’t know what to do,” Ty said, honestly. “I’m not used to having someone around.”
She laughed. “I can tell we don’t naturally connect. We’d never make a natural couple.”
“You can stay longer if you like,” Ty said, her comment not clicking with him.
“Well … maybe for a while,” she said, shrugging. “Then I gotta go.”
She dressed quietly early in the morning and left without talking to him.

Ty thought about Lacy all the time after that, and found himself shopping at Safeway hoping to see her, but she was never on shift, or had quit.

He scoured the public library for books on fly-fishing and insect life in streams. He bought a cheap fly rod. He worked most of the time, seldom seeing anyone other than tradespeople, but more and more drove to the foothills to fly-fish. The hills and mountains, the high blue skies and stony streams, the silence and sun and fresh cool air, was a revelation after his early life never leaving the city, and it calmed him. And now and then he golfed the old nine-hole course in the river valley not far from the large abandoned rail aqueduct. The poorly maintained course, surrounded by river cottonwoods, prairie grass, wetlands and waterfowl, accepted any kind of player. He’d done poorly in high school, except in shop, and had not taken part in team sports. He played the golf course now with old rented clubs, alone, learning the game, and patience, on the weedy fairways.

The elderly male shack attendant at the nine-hole, who was always accepting and talkative, looked distracted and upset one early morning. “They found a woman in the river the other day. Probly murdered. The police tape came all the way to the sixth hole,” he told Ty. He shook his head slowly. “Doesn’t feel the same here anymore. They wreck everything … everything … eventually.”

Ty stood with Maverick on his dusty driveway and paid him cash. He’d repaired all of Ty’s vehicles over the years, and had early on taken to calling him, “my young lion”, as if to give him confidence. An old man now, bent over and stooped, Maverick hardly looked human anymore. He’d die soon, Ty knew.

Maverick turned back to his garage. Watching him, Ty remembered the deep sense of aloneness, the foreboding and fear in his mind and body, just below the surface, all the time, in those young days. The worst time then was in the hours and days after Bobby Batra’s suicide in September. He remembered the cottonwoods along the river were in full fall blaze.

Ty was not in good shape emotionally those years, and had come to understand that, but not known what to do about it. It had always been, just how life was. Those feelings, for the most part, had been gone for a long time now, and as well, mostly, the bouts of rage. Numbing fear still came up when he was alone, a black and collapsing sky, strange noises in the night, but that too was rare, anymore.

The ash ceremony for Bobby had not been held until December. Ty stood next to Lacy. On a prairie hill not far from the St. Mary River, with a view of the Rockies, under a relentless, massive sky. The real estate broker with whom Bobby was a partner said a few simple words, Bobby’s Harley parked nearby, its chrome glinting whenever the sun came out. If his family were present Ty did not know who they were in the sizable crowd. It hardly seemed enough, but was what Bobby had stated in his will he wanted: a simple ash ceremony above the river.

Ty had not seen Lacy since she left his house that morning. She’d arrived with one of the office real estate agents. She smiled when she saw him, her grey eyes wet from the winter wind; a Chinook, as if in timing for the ash ceremony was blowing through making the hills snowless and bare. She came to his side, and stayed there. Part way through the spoken words she reached for his hand, and he accepted it. Something burst open then, standing in that blustery prairie wind. They both cried, and could not stop until Bobby’s ashes were spread, and the other teary-eyed mourners slowly breaking up.

After the ceremony Lacy left with Ty and they drove downtown to a small coffee shop. Strangely, to him, he felt uplifted after the service and the crying jag, and walking to the truck with Lacy still holding her hand. Lacy, always talkative and upbeat, seemed extra so. Maybe it was how everyone felt after such ceremonies.

They talked over coffee; the most Ty had said to anyone, ever. Lacy listened, and responded in turn. Her divorce had come through she told him. They did not talk of Bobby.

Lacy stayed in town, and eventually moved into Ty’s house. They were married six months later. They took a honeymoon in British Columbia, and visited Lacy’s family there.

Later they drove to Regina to see Ty’s mom’s grave. “I didn’t know her very well,” he confided with Lacy, after placing flowers. “She died an alcoholic. My dad didn’t treat her good. He was a violent guy.”

She hadn’t lasted long after her cancer diagnosis; her will to live depleted, for reasons Ty felt little connection to or understanding of. She held his hand, but had nothing to say to him before she slipped away. She’d named an estranged sister her executor. The aunt helped Ty with arrangements, and was sympathetic, but remained mostly aloof and left quickly after the burial.

He didn’t know if his mother loved his father, or what he was like when they met, when something about him must have attracted her, or if she missed him after he was gone. He had never asked her. He had a photograph of her as a very young, attractive woman, that could have been someone else, not the mother he remembered. His early time in that city already seemed like another life.

Ty and Lacy have never talked over the years about what “compatibility” means. They live their lives with an ongoing sense of casual good fortune and thankfulness for having found each other. In addition to his real estate speculating Ty eventually took on maintenance work with the local school division. Between them they saved enough for Lacy’s florist business, that she named, Back to the Garden, with two small antique tables for customers to sit and sip tea, a tiny feng shui fountain bubbling nearby. The shop has done well; Lacy a happy, hard worker, with a sly sense of humour, her personality well suited to interact with others daily. Over time they bought a house out of town, and a couple acres of fenced pasture. Ty built Lacy a small barn, with a water hydrant in the corral. She purchased and trained a young gelding she named Bobby. They chose not to have children. In a way, they live separate lives. Ty has his interests—fly-fishing, occasional loner golf, and his work—Lacy has hers, and she still goes to AA monthly. But they come together, daily at home, as they age, where the house often smells of flowers and saddle leather. From their veranda they see the approaching summer storms, rumbling slowly closer, closer, and they smell the rain long before it falls.

About the Author:

Michael Hetherton’s short story collection, Grasslands, was an Independent Publisher Book Awards finalist, Danuta Gleed Award nominee, and winner of a Saskatchewan Book Award. His most recent stories appeared in Confluence Magazine, and the Honest Ulsterman, UK, both in Oct. 2019. He lives in Canada.

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