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Authors: Carol Windley

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BOOK: Home Schooling
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He took a quick, nervous step aside, as wedding guests who'd gone out to the deck for some fresh air or a smoke began drifting back in. The disc jockey played Jonah's favourite song, “American Pie.” Nadia loved the part about driving the Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry. It made her think of the island in summer, when the creeks dried up and the mud cracked like an old clay pot and the rocks in the creek beds were bleached white as bone.

She sipped her wine. She felt cold in her silk dress. It had a little chiffon cape trimmed with fake fur that kept slipping off her shoulders.

Sherry came over, a glass of champagne in her hand, and said how pleased she was to see Maurice. “He's family,” she said to Nadia, adjusting Nadia's cape. “I mean it,” Sherry said. “He really is. You should call him Uncle Maurice. Uncle Maury.”

“Oh, please,” Maurice said. The unscarred side of his face was flushed. His scars made Nadia think of the curdled foam the sea left on the sand after a storm.

“Darling, have you seen Marni?” Sherry said, shouting to be heard over the music. “We have to find her,
tout suite,
to say goodbye.” She smiled at Maurice. “Nolan and I have a plane to catch,” she said.

“Well,” Maurice said. His expression at that moment made Nadia see him as a trial lawyer, coaxing some witness to sound honest and believable, which no one ever was, she was starting to think. She almost wished she could rest her head on this man Maurice's shoulder. She wished someone would bring her a glass of water. Or anything. A life raft. A new life.

Jonah was waiting for Nadia at the far end of the yacht club's parking lot. He was leaning against his car. At the opposite end of the parking lot Marni's mother, Samantha, was sitting in her car, waiting for Marni.

Sherry hugged Nadia and kissed her. She said, “Imagine me, in Paris.” She promised to bring Nadia something back. And Marni, too, of course, she said. She put her gloved hands on Marni's shoulders and drew her close and thanked her for being such a beautiful bridesmaid. With a small smile Marni stepped out of Sherry's grasp. Her hair was a dark tangle around her pale face. Her bare arms were all gooseflesh. “Marni, where's your coat?” Sherry said.

“I lost it,” Marni said.

“What do you mean, you lost it?” Nolan said.

“Someone stole it,” Marni said.

“Don't be an idiot,” Nolan said. He wanted to go back inside and look for the coat, but Sherry said they didn't have time. “You know what airports are like,” she said. She took Nolan's arm. She was wearing a dark blue coat and a fur hat. Nolan wore an overcoat that flapped around his ankles. As Sherry climbed into the waiting limousine, he gave her a slap on the butt.

Nadia glanced over at Maurice. He was standing on the steps of the yacht club, turning his collar up. It was raining and there was a wind. You're doing fabulously, he'd said. Well, he was wrong. She was doing awful. She watched as the limousine drove off. It got smaller and blacker, like a beetle, and then with a roar folded itself into the dusk. Nadia gathered up her skirt and ran over to Jonah. They got into the car. Jonah said, well, how was it, and she said fine. She could see he was upset. Last week he'd told her he'd rather die than see this day. Then he said, Don't listen to me, Nadia.

I shouldn't talk to you like this, Maurice had said, minutes ago. Did they think she cared to listen? She didn't. She'd had champagne and wine and way too much tiramisu; her head ached, she felt woozy, numb. She wasn't drunk, though. She couldn't even get that right, it seemed. In the car she fell asleep and when she woke they were already at the ferry terminal, rain pounding on the car, and Jonah was paying for their tickets.

Jonah was a wood carver and an artist. He'd built their house the year Nadia was born. It was a small house. It was halfway up a mountain and looked out over pastures and forests and, in the distance, the Strait of Georgia. The house had arched doorways and little clerestory windows — as Jonah called them — that let in sunlight and the shadows of trees. The walls were white; the ceilings were pine boards. The floors were wide fir planks. A woodstove stood on a raised brick hearth, its chimney poking up through the roof. Over the years Jonah had added his carvings to the doors and cupboards and the backs of chairs. Scenes of deer and fawns, and spotted frogs, bug-eyed frolicsome rabbits, blackberry vines, Scotch thistles, fir trees with ponderous branches, stars that seemed to shine like lamps. Nadia liked to trace over the carvings with her fingers. The wood was cool and smooth as stone. When a winter storm knocked out the power and the room was lit with candles, the images came to life. In these carvings, every single thing was happy. It was like living inside someone else's dream. Jonah's dream, quirky and childlike, irrepressible.

She dusted the carvings with a damp cloth. She got at the corners and little hollows where the dust collected. Sherry used to do this. Sherry was everywhere and nowhere in the house. Nadia would think she saw her in a corner of a room. She would hear her walking up the gravel path outside. She would think she heard her at the door. It never was Sherry, though. It was just her memory of Sherry.

Nadia went over the carvings again with a clean, dry cloth. It took her a long time and made her shoulders ache. It was like a ceremony, her way of saying she'd stay here, she'd be on Jonah's side. This would be the home she'd come back to, whenever she went away. She loved her mother and she would forgive her, a little at a time, as much as she could manage.

She remembered the morning of Sherry's wedding day, how she'd found her way through the house, down the long halls, past closed doors, to the kitchen. Nolan Ganz had been sitting at the breakfast
table. When Nadia walked in, Nolan had rustled his newspaper impatiently. Sherry had refilled his coffee cup, her hand on his shoulder. The fridge had been full of wedding bouquets that gave off a dank syrupy fragrance every time someone opened the door for the milk. Nadia had tried to eat a piece of toast. She had tried to drink the coffee Sherry poured for her. Marni had scraped her chair noisily across the slate tiles so that she could sit near the window and yank a comb through her freshly washed hair. When Sherry had spoken to her, Marni had responded with a blank stare that had made Nadia angry. As for Nadia, Marni had acted as if she were a bug on the floor. She hadn't even glanced at Nadia when they walked together down the church aisle in their matching Russian princess dresses, as Maurice had called them. He, at least, had been kind. But how kind was it, really, to give her a rundown of the bridegroom's previous brides, two of whom were dead?

Nadia had repeated Maurice's story to Jonah and he'd said Nolan Ganz's personal mythology was of no interest to him whatsoever. Nolan was a scoundrel, Jonah said, but he wasn't going to fall into the trap of hating him. Anger just rebounded, in the end, he said, and smacked you in the heart.

“We'll do fine,” he said. “We'll adapt.” He said this to cheer himself up, Nadia thought. She worried about him. Jonah the bone rack, subsisting on black coffee and raw nuts and dried fruit he took to his workshop in a bowl and ate while he painted or carved. He'd grown a beard as blond and ratty-looking as his hair. He bought a five-year-old Volkswagen Cabrio, parked his pickup behind the workshop, and drove around the island in his new car with the top down on the coldest days, a Norwegian-knit toque on his head. He picked Nadia up after school so she didn't have to wait for the bus. In the village they shopped for fruit and vegetables, bread and cheese. They went to the library, where Nadia did her homework while Jonah read newspapers and chatted with the new library clerk, Laurel, who wore sweaters that looked just like Jonah's toque.
When she revealed she'd knitted his toque, which he'd bought at a craft co-op a few doors down from the library, he acted like a miracle had occurred. “You're kidding,” he said. “That's amazing. How's that for synchronicity?” He kept touching his toque. Nadia wanted to walk out, but how could she leave Jonah alone with Laurel, who couldn't take her eyes off him. She waived his fines. She handed him his books in both her hands. “What's up with her?” Nadia asked when they got outside. “Not a thing, as far as I know,” Jonah said cheerfully.

They went to a café on the waterfront, close enough to a ship-wright's that the smell of varnish and copper sulphate paint seriously infiltrated the smell of pizza and hamburgers. Jonah and Nadia sat near a window that looked out at the street and the pool hall. Above the pool hall there was an apartment where Jonah and Sherry had lived when they were first married. When they were young and happy, Jonah said. Nadia knew what would come next: Jonah's story of how he and Sherry had met when they were only sixteen years old, yet they'd known at once there'd never be anyone else for either of them. A moment like that was a contract, a covenant, Jonah said. It was something to be honoured. Even at sixteen he'd known that much.

He took off his toque and raked his fingers through his hair. He stirred his coffee. Island kids were wild, he said. At least, when he was a kid they were. He and Sherry were surely the wildest, in their day. They drove at insane speeds on the narrow island roads and hiked up Cufra Mountain, the only real mountain on the island, to spend the night in the woods. They'd drink and smoke dope — not that he was necessarily advocating dope — and stare in rapture at the stars. He'd hide behind a tree and leap out yodelling like a fool and Sherry would pretend to be scared, but she wasn't, she'd known it was him. Their friends called them the golden couple. They got married the year after high school, in Jonah's parents' backyard, cherry blossoms drifting onto the grass, both of them in
white, equally tall and blond and righteous. What tender idiots, he had to say.

He said he wanted Nadia to know he'd always be there for her. Nothing had changed, as far as that went. However, he had to be realistic. As if he didn't have enough work, he'd just taken on a commission for double entry doors for a vacation home a Microsoft engineer in Seattle was having built on the island. The doors were a massive undertaking, a good six months' worth of work. One thing, a project like that gave him plenty of time to think, which allowed an interesting retrograde view of every mistake he'd ever made, every wrong turn and ill-considered action. And there were so many.

“Don't be like me,” he said to Nadia.

“I'll try,” she said, but he didn't get the irony.

The café was warm. People were talking, a juke box was playing, dishes clattering. There was the hollow thunk of waves against the building's foundation. She felt happy, spooning up her soup, ripping little pieces off her bread roll. She didn't want to leave. When she and Jonah got outside, it was dark. The library was closed. Music was blasting out of the pool hall. Blinds were pulled down over the windows of the rooms where Jonah and Sherry had once lived. The air was damp, the streetlights haloed in mist. She loved the smell of the sea. She loved the island in darkness, stars burning coldly above the sleeping forests. Or in rain; she loved it then, too.

On the way home, Nadia imagined Sherry would be waiting in the house. She'd be curled up in a chair near the woodstove. When she heard the car, she'd run to meet Nadia and Jonah at the door. Nadia always imagined this, but it never happened. When they got home the house was cold and dark and empty. She had to make herself walk in. She put the groceries away. Jonah threw himself in a chair and stared defiantly at his reflection in the window.

“Here's what I hate,” he said. “I hate that I'm turning into such a relativist. Nothing seems all that wrong to me anymore. The love
of my life marries her own worst enemy and she's happy as a pig in shit, and I think, well, good for her. Good for Sherry. She's got the life she thinks she wants. She's got the six-burner kitchen range, the trips to Europe, the sessions with the Reiki master, her own car. Meanwhile, Nolan Ganz goes on clear-cutting mountain slopes and silting up streams, burning slash, polluting the air for miles around, and I can't condemn him, can I, because I work in wood and the wood comes from somewhere, doesn't it? So, you know. What can you do? Adapt or die. Isn't that how it goes?”

At first, they were outraged, thinking the logging was taking place on their land. Jonah went outside. Nadia went with him. This happened on a morning in April, more than two years ago.

The sun, rising over the Coast Mountains, illuminated the forest, where the underbrush was just leafing out and the trilliums were in bloom. The air smelled of loam and pine needles and diesel fumes. As Nadia stood there with Jonah a Douglas fir fell with a crack like knuckles striking bone. The earth shook. Dust and alder pollen swirled upward in a cloud. Jonah was so pale Nadia thought he was going to pass out. Sherry said he should go back to the house before he made himself ill.

Sherry and Nadia got in the truck. Sherry hesitated a moment before starting the engine. She waved at Jonah before she put the truck in gear, but he didn't see her. He just stood there, braced against the noise, the incursion.

After Sherry dropped Nadia off at school, she drove into the village, to the bakery and coffee shop her parents owned. One of their employees had gone to Mexico for two weeks and Sherry was helping out. Soon she had a regular customer. Every morning at ten a man came in and sat at the same corner table and read the
National Post.
He always ordered coffee and a cinnamon bun, warmed in the microwave. He asked Sherry her name. She hesitated and then told him. He nodded. He took off his glasses. He said his
name was Nolan Ganz. Of course Sherry already knew his name, because by this time he was a topic of conversation on the island. People either vilified him for clear-cutting on Cufra Mountain, or praised him for giving a boost to the island's economy. There was no middle ground. Sherry, however, pretended ignorance. She'd asked him if he was visiting the island.

BOOK: Home Schooling
6.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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