Dispatches

In the Pines

Carolyne Montgomery

He focuses the camera on the unforgiving glare of his wife

It is the end of a year of fatherlessness, a year of pale blue aerograms and rare transatlantic phone calls. My father is here in Canada studying to qualify for his Canadian medical licence. My mother, brother, sister and I have recently arrived from Edinburgh.

It is a Sunday in August. We drive from London, Ontario, to the Pinery Provincial Park in a new green 1964 Mercury Comet. This is our first car. The children have already found their places in the back seat. My older brother, aged nine, chooses to sit behind my mother. I am the middle child and get to sit behind my father. My seven-year-old little sister is left between us with her feet on the hump. We travel in a thick silence administered by my mother, who has just confirmed that her forty-one-year-old husband is having an affair with his supervisor’s wife. The children will not know this for a few more years. At the gate, we buy the annual provincial park membership decal. After a careful application to the inside of the windshield, we enter the park.

My father leads us along the path through the windswept grove of pine trees, between the grass-covered sand dunes and onto the blustery shore of Lake Huron. He is an excellent swimmer—my mother is not. She does not come with us. We splash about in the surf, shivering in our new swimsuits. Huddling under our damp bath towels, we perch on the thick wooden planks of the immovable benches of our first picnic table. The sky remains cloud-covered. Goose bumps prickle our pasty skin. Under our mother’s direction, we strap our sandy feet back into our sensible leather sandals.

My mother has packed some things into the wicker basket that normally belongs to the cat. She also has brought an insulated bag—a cooler, we are told. An oval wrought-iron hibachi with small wooden feet squats on the picnic table. It has two adjustable grills, each not much bigger than a piece of toast. My father extracts little black pillows of charcoal from a colourful paper bag. We watch closely, squinting into the smoke as he struggles to light them. The smells of lighter fluid and burning newspaper mix with the fragrance of the pine trees.

Eventually, we eat warmed-up hot dogs and drink red Kool-Aid. This is the first time we have ever had hot dogs or the special soft buns that go with them. Until today, we have only seen Kool-Aid in advertisements on our new television set.

My father, tall and balding, is peering down into the viewfinder of his camera. Firmly holding the twinlensed body of the camera at his waist, he focuses on the unforgiving glare of his wife. He doesn’t ask us to smile.

My mother says she wants to go home. And six years later, she does.

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Carolyne Montgomery

Carolyne Montgomery formerly worked in the field of medicine. She is an emerging writer of fiction and non-fiction and recent graduate of the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She lives in Vancouver.


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