Forgetting who went before
The little car appeared at the crest of the hill and descended the slope toward the dead end of the road. Its jet black colour made a stark contrast with the pure white of the overnight snow. The car moved very slowly over the icy road, where the blade of the snowplow had passed. The road had been well-plowed here, exposing grainy gray patches of asphalt, linear scratches in every shade between the black of the car and the white snow.
Surprisingly, as it neared the end of the road and approached knee-deep drifts, the car accelerated. Here, the plow had stopped short and turned around without reaching all the way to the last house at the end of the road.
The car did not stop until it had buried its nose deep into the snow as though it was trying to make it all the way home.
For long minutes there was no sign that the immobile car was inhabited. Then, slowly, the driver’s door swung open. Another pause. A black trouser leg ending in a black boot emerged and pushed down into the drift. Then came a black cane, held by a hand at the end of an arm attached to a pair of hunched shoulders. The old man pushed the cane down firmly into the snow and, shifting his weight, swung his other leg out of the car.
He stood up. The two legs and cane formed a tripod of stability.
The man took a backwards step and swung the car door shut. Laying his forearm on the roof of the car, he leaned over and caught his breath.
The old man had been driving a car less than half his life. In the first half he had got about in boat or on foot. He grew up on an island in Bonavista Bay, peopled by fewer than two dozen souls. As a young man he left home and moved to a village of 300 on the mainland of the island. The weather willing, he had been able to row there in punt in fewer than two hours to visit the young woman who became his wife.
Like his childhood home, there was no road to his new home either. There was no electricity, no telephone, only a trail through the woods to the railway station, a day’s walk away. As a young man he had walked there every spring to take the train to Gambo, then walk to Wesleyville for a berth on a sealing vessel for the Front.
Things were different then, he thought, as he placed each foot and the cane carefully in the snow and gently moved toward the house, stopping to rest every couple of steps. At the corner of the house he took hold of the railing he had attached there. He had built it to make it easier for both his wife and now himself to get from the car to the door.
It had been important to her that he built the railing. She had trouble walking. She was in pain a long time before she finally left him last spring to join the angels.
Now he was glad of the railing’s support for himself. We were always able to make the things we needed. Ever since I was a boy. We cut our wood for heat and our fish paid for kerosene to light our homes.
He took a couple more steps