On the left side were things that mattered. Letters from estranged friends and family members on the east coast, old photographs of Sarah, ages five through twelve exclusively, beyond those years his privilege of fatherhood had worn thin, and finally, next to a stack of newspapers chronicling the Blue Jays playoff run in the 80’s was his engagement ring.
On the right side were things that didn’t matter; things of the essential. Empty water bottles were neatly lined next to full ones, and beside them was a small pile of folded faded blue jeans and clean button down shirts and tees. Of the things that didn’t matter, the ones that mattered most were a pair of worn out white running shoes.
They were the shoes he had worn the day the snow piled up to two feet high. The snow rested against the neighbour’s fence, heavy against its own weight and leaning into the wooden arms of the barrier between his house and that of the women he visited so often next door. The shoes had a small hole in the rubber sole of the right foot and the snow began to melt against the heat of his foot. He let the snow melt. Let it seep into his sock covered foot and spread through the thin cotton between his toes. Wet, cold, stinging. From the vantage point of his backyard he could just make out her leaving the warm living room through their back door and pulling on her coat. He could see her copper hair being pulled out from under her collar and tucked behind her ears. He watched her swipe her bangs across her forehead with her left hand, the hand with the ring he bought her. He watched his wife stand there for awhile, the wooden slats blocking her view of him on the other side while providing enough camouflage so that he is undetectable. The holes between the planks are just big enough for him to watch her breath heavy, a smog of perspiration forming around her mouth, but just small enough that the enormity of his mistakes can’t fit through. He shifted his weight on the balls of his feet, listening to the faint sound of snow crunch between his feet as he rocked back and forth letting the numbness from the cold take over his toes. It was time to go, he thought, Sara was waiting to be tucked in – trying desperately to postpone the inevitable onset of sleep by reciting the parts of The Velveteen Rabbit she has memorized while expecting him to fill in the parts she couldn’t understand. The big words that left a gapping hole in happily-ever-after endings. Instead, he stood. Let those worn out shoes sink through the last remaining snow beneath him and became rooted to the spot.
He reached for the shoes now, half contorting his body into a comfortable sitting position in the small open floor area between two bucket seats in the back of his van. It was only temporary, the van that is. It was a home of the transitory state. Personified in the big rubber tires and scratched silver chrome that shone when he was driving. Now that is was November the temperature was dropping, and whatever insulation the steel and aluminum van once offered was no match against the permeable chill of Calgary’s Chinook winds. Most days were spent visiting government aid agencies to look for work. His previous experience in the trade industry helped in the summer, but when snow banks started piling up, less and less work came. This morning however, he did not visit any agencies. This morning, he woke up early and moved the van from the empty mall parking lot where it slept most days and headed into the heart of downtown. The C-train started to run, herding workers off to their day jobs, and he followed the tracks for most of the way as he maneuvered the beast of metal effortlessly through intersections and stoplights. As if he was threading a needle, the can moved through impossibly busy roads until finally resting in the alley opposite the Calagary Herald building. The man put the van in park and peered anxiously through the front window. He waited there anxiously, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time with Van Morrison.
“Hey, where did we go
Days when the rains came?
Down in the hollow
Playing a new game”
The song had played at her wedding. Guests filed in under a large white canopy tent and sat down at their respective tables. Sara and her groom entered the room shortly after. He had always known she was pretty, even beyond the obligatory feelings of fatherhood, today though, she was a beautiful woman. Her awkward gawky legs now matched her long torso and accentuated her rounded hips and small waist. The scar under her chin from crashing into their glass coffee table when she was six had faded and all that remained was a small stencil of a memory. This is only what he could notice from the outskirts of the garden wedding. He could hear the music, watch her dance, sing and smile, but remained uninvited. Feet planted, not daring to show up unannounced.
He shook his head as he nervously tried to tie his shoes again. Finally the laces fumbled into a bow between his forefingers and thumbs and sat up straight again in the driver’s seat. It was 1:00 pm and the doors of the Calgary Herald began to open for the lunch rush to leave. He knew she would be coming down soon, probably accompanied by the girl who always wore a dark blue blazer on Thursdays. He tapped the dashboard again, waiting, waiting, his pressed against the plastic floor mats beneath him. 1:05 pm, the clock on the radio flashed as the doors opened again and a flood of workers came out. She was there, hair pulled neatly into a ponytail, laughing with the girl in the blazer, pointing to a coffee shop across the street. The song on the radio faded out as it reached its end
“So hard to find my way
Now that I’m all on my own.
I saw you just the other day,
My, how you have grown!
Cast my memory back there”
His feet left the floor.