Mountie and Horse, North Battleford, Saskatchewan
First prize winner of the 1st Annual Short Long-Distance Writing Contest.
For thirty-eight years, all I knew about my daddy was his last name: Buchanan, same as mine, and that was all right with me until Mama died. The station gave me three days for bereavement, exactly how long it took me to find an envelope of uncashed cheques in a box of her odds and ends. That’s when I found out my daddy’s first name: James, same as mine.
The last cheque was from 1988, the year I graduated from The Comp, Lloydminster Comprehensive Secondary. The address was over on the Saskatchewan side of town, a street named Fall Creek that spelled farm country.
I found him in the phone book and sipped whiskey until the end of Leno. I called him. He didn’t sound surprised when I told him Mama was dead. He agreed to meet me at Maggie’s at 7:00 the following evening for proper introductions.
The restaurant was only half-full when I stepped inside at a quarter to. I ordered a Blue and drank it before my watch said 6:59. The TV over the bar had scores from a Saskatoon station. The clock in the corner of the screen read 8:01, Saskatchewan time.
I asked the waitress if a man had been in here about an hour before, but of course I couldn’t describe him. A working man, I thought. Or a businessman. A cowboy hat, I was sure, though I couldn’t say why. Sweat ran down my back when she gave me a smile reserved for drunks, children and the insane, and she promised to ask around. A different waitress brought me a beer, and I drank it all before 7:20, when my daddy walked in.
He was windburnt and lean, with lines around his mouth like knife cuts. His shirt was the cleanest pressed denim I’d ever seen and he apologized when he shook my hand.
“Hope you didn’t think I’d come on central time,” he said.
My laugh came out louder than I’d meant it to. “Wouldn’t that have been funny,” I said.
“It sure would have,” he said, and we laughed again when the waitress came by and we found out my daddy and I drink the same beer.
It was no great thing, really, since everybody drinks either Blue or Canadian around Lloyd, but it felt like proof of something. I looked at the mirror over the bar and saw a thinner-cheeked version of myself and forgot all about the eighteen slips of paper in an envelope in my pocket.
But then I drank a few more beers and asked him why she never took the money.
“Your mother, God bless her, always was a stubborn woman,” he said, and winked.
I sipped my beer and just like that, I could tell we were in for a hard time.