I noticed a change shortly after Thanksgiving. At first, I thought it was all that time he’d spent on the plane. See, Jack’s not used to sitting much. Even before supper when he’s talking back at the news, he’s always pacing around like some caged beast. Guests have often commented on it. “Sit down!” they say, “you’re making us nervous!” To which Jack will grin and joke about how he needs his exercise.
We’d been down to Victoria for a few days. We don’t get out of the house too often and I thought it would be nice to see our daughter before the snow started flying. She moved to the island a couple of years ago to meet David, a man she’d met on the internets, and ended up marrying. She’s only been back home once or twice since then: he’s never bothered visiting at all.
Jack’s never been much of a traveller. He seems lost without his wood-shop nearby, and isn’t much for visiting. It took a lot of convincing to get him out to that island again. We went there for the wedding, of course, and one time before that to meet David’s parents, but he always complained about feeling claustrophobic there. It wasn’t until Mary phoned, and personally invited him to dinner, that he booked our tickets.
He did quite well while he was there. It was so nice to see him turning on his old charm with some of Mary’s friends. I hadn’t seen that side of him in years. He even hugged one of them, though he told me later that it was because he initially mistook her for our niece. He blushed when he told me so.
We arrived at our Mary’s house a few hours before dinner so we could get caught up with her and David. We got to see their new place; it is tiny. I don’t know how they managed to cook that meal in their tiny little kitchen. Predictably, Jack started bugging Mary, asking her if there was anything that needed fixing. She explained that there wasn’t, and that even if there was, the beauty of renting is that it’s the landlord’s problem. Jack, of course, was baffled. Mary told him to sit down and relax: she’s never understood her father and he’s never understood her.
Dinner was served an hour late; we’ve come to expect that from Mary, especially since she married David. His head has gone to roost in the clouds. I could tell that Jack was doing all he could to stop himself from pulling out the few hairs remaining atop his head as we waited. A few of Mary and David’s friends arrived, I suspect to keep us company while they got the food ready. While I thought their friends were pleasant enough, one of them in particular drove Jack crazy.
Quite simply, the man wouldn’t shut up. He quizzed Jack about ‘life in the barrens’, as he kept calling it. He saw Jack’s natural introversion as a problem that needed to be solved, and kept on probing him maliciously even though Jack was obviously uncomfortable. He flirted with every woman in the room including myself and Mary– both of whom are spoken for. Jack sat in his chair drinking his sparkling fruit drink and wringing his hands, though I’m sure he was fantasizing about wringing the man’s neck.
When we finally sat down to eat, it was dreadfully apparent that many things were missing. There was salt on the table but no pepper, several guests were without knives and, even worse, there were no mashed potatoes in sight. The other guests were oblivious and drunk, so I was forced to point out the missing items. David’s face turned downcast and he ran to the kitchen, where Mary soon joined him.
David is a sweet boy, and I think he is good for Mary. In a way, he is much like Jack; he doesn’t say too much, at least when we are around. But he is an air-head. I have no doubt in my mind that the potatoes were on his list, and there they sat, atop the fridge covered in tin foil. They wouldn’t arrive for another half hour, which may have been a blessing in disguise as he’d also failed to make an adequate amount of gravy. Mary took to the kitchen once more, after loading up our plates.
No grace was said on Thanksgiving Day.
When we finished our thankless meal, Jack jumped up to clear the plates. Mary, angel that she is, protested, as did David (though noticeably not as whole-heartedly), but Jack managed to convince them that he loves doing dishes. He does, of course. Even though our house came equipped with a brand new dishwasher, that is how it shall forever remain: new. Every night after dinner Jack washes and dries the dishes. He says he finds it relaxing. I have never understood, but it gives me some much needed alone time with my television stories.
And inside that hot, tiny kitchen, Jack finally recieved the gift he’d been after all weekend. Mary sidled up to him with a towel, and for an hour or so, he had her all to himself, just like the old days, he said.
She did most of the talking, of course. She told him about her new job; they’ve made her the queen bee of that organization! Jack’s so proud of her, though I’m sure he’s never told her as much, lest she get big headed about it. She talked about what she wanted out of life, why she moved all the way down to Victoria. She talked about David, and what he wants from life.
I was fortunate enough to be there when they finished up. Mary looked him in the eye, which is a difficult task as, even with me, he has always avoided eye contact and told him she loves him. His eyes welled up with tears, a most rare occurrence, and he pulled her in for one of his famous bear hugs so she wouldn’t see. When he saw me standing in the doorway, he smiled and buried his cheek in her shoulder.
Mary drove us to the airport early the next morning. She apologized for David’s absense, explaining that he had some article to write for the magazine in town. She is proud of him, for reasons which are beyond me. Poor guy doesn’t get paid a penny for his writings and to be honest, I’m not sure they’d be worth as much.
Jack was even more quiet than usual as he sat in the passenger seat. Mary and I did most of the talking, she glanced back in the rear view mirror as we did so. “What a beautiful day” is all Jack said. It was indeed, a beautiful day. It felt more like July than October.
We got home late. Our connection in Vancouver was delayed by two hours and so we sat there, twiddling our thumbs. I noticed that Jack seemed less anxious as we waited, though I didn’t think much of it at the time. He commented on people’s clothing, hairstyle’s and children— something he never does. He’s always been too busy running around to notice what other people are up to.
When we finally landed in Whitehorse, the Henderson’s were kind enough to pick us up at the airport. Thankfully, Betty brought us a couple of turkey sandwiches to tide us over until we got home. We were famished. It was past midnight when we finally walked through our front door.
I was surprised when Jack didn’t insist that we unpack before going to bed. I was surprised when he came to bed without having had washed his face. And I was utterly shocked to be the first to rise the next morning, at almost 8:00. For the first time in our married life, I made the morning coffee. Jack slept until 8:30, and took a long shower before coming into the kitchen.
It has been a month now, since the trip: much has changed. Jack doesn’t spend nearly as much time in the shed. When I ask him about it, he simply says, “Well, there’s nothing that needs a fixing right now.” He’s constantly under foot. Last week, he pulled out the records he bought well before we were married and listens to them on the Hi Fi at a deafening volume. In the evening, he sits on the porch, as he always has, but does so without his pocket knife and wood.
I’m at my wits end. I’ve phoned Mary in tears on a number occasions. When I tell her about Jack’s strange new behaviour, she giggles as if she’s completely unconcerned.
“Dad’s getting old, mom. It’s totally normal. He’s not sick, and he’s certainly not dying any time soon, he’s just… getting old. I talked to him on the phone the other night and he seemed happier, more content. I think it’s great!”
It is certainly not great. We are not that old; not even 70, for pity’s sake! Jack’s always been a hard worker, it’s part of the reason I fell for him so long ago, and perhaps the reason I’ve stayed with him for all this time.
The house is falling apart all around us: the kitchen table had a wobble to it last week, and Jack didn’t get around to looking at it for hours after I’d told him. He just sat there listening to his records with that stupid smirk on his face, a smirk that seems to be there more often than not these days.
Winter is coming; the days are getting dreadfully short. We’ve decided to go back to the Island for Christmas: unfathomably, it was Jack who suggested it. I am scared stiff that our Christmas visit will push Jack even further off the deep end. Pray for me.