Her is the final online entry in my Winter Short Story Series. I’ve been telling the story of a father and daughter on a long road trip across Canada. In this installment, they finally arrive at their destination. Where will the story go now? Well, it’s time to head into my writing room and see if there’s really enough story here to make a book. I’ll keep you posted on the progress. But, for now, scroll down to catch the earlier installments. Enjoy, share, and wish me luck!
Finally, he asked me to drive. At the last gas station before the Causeway, my father tossed the keys onto the driver’s seat and said “Think you can make it home?”
I shrugged. We hadn’t talked much for the last three hundred kilometers or so. I spent the ten dollars I snagged off that dingy truck stop bathroom on a super-sized package of Skittles and two bottles of Perrier. I sucked the color off the candies then washed them back like pills with the fizzing water. Now my head buzzed. I shook it and climbed across to the driver’s seat.
“Don’t forget your space cushion,” my father said as he clicked his seat belt.
“I know. You don’t have to tell me.” I straightened my back to peer over the dashboard and counted one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, before accelerating into the line of cars heading toward the Causeway. Home was right there, just across the channel. And suddenly it felt too close.
“Did I ever tell you about my first car?” my father said.
“The one with no seats?”
“We put lawn chairs in it,” he said. “If you took off too fast, you’d flip backwards into the trunk.”
“They don’t make cars like that anymore,” he said.
“That’s probably a good thing.”
The Jeep hiccupped across the steel band where the paved Causeway met solid land. Behind us, the mountain crumbled into an open wound of gravel where a few decades earlier, they’d blown the granite apart to harvest rock to build the Causeway. I wanted to skid straight down it into the sea. Jeep and all. But up ahead, the Trans-Canada persisted North and East, pulling us toward our sleeping house in the pines in the deep heart of Cape Breton.
I’d never been behind the wheel on the drive home before, but I knew the road. The cars thinned out the farther North we drove and soon we were alone. I started to ache from someplace I couldn’t find. Maybe my spine bisecting my lungs and my heart pounding it all into a throbbing mess. Or maybe just my blood coming down off the sugar.
“The roads are bad this year,” my father said. “Looks like Buddy got a new roof… I hope the squirrels left our wood pile alone this year, the rascals.”
I could never see the changes he saw. Never looked for them. Every year, he listed off who painted their shutters, who got a new truck, whose driveway needed grading. He knew if it had been a hard winter or a light one just by the way the trees looked. He could tell when any of the old folks moved into town, or worse, and he knew by the look of their empty houses if their kids had come around to care for them. To me, it all just looked the same.
“We won’t make it before dark,” he said. The sky was indigo. I flicked the lights on.
Around St. Anne’s Bay, the air cooled and sank against the forested hills that climbed toward the highlands. Finally, I turned the Jeep onto the last dirt road and approached the tall, straight tree he called “Mama Pine.” She stood at the edge of the road marking our property line.
“Home,” my father said.
Only when the Jeep was parked and we were standing in the cold looking up at the stars, our suitcases piled at the base of the stairs and the door of the house wide open to the night, did I feel the great stillness collide so heavily with my chest that I stumbled backwards and fell onto the damp earth.
My father looked down at me, his square shoulders barely silhouetted against the blackness. “Come on inside,” he said. “I’ll make a fire.”
Read the complete series here.