I found it on the counter by the microwave, under a stack of yellowing envelopes. It was sticking to the bottom of the pile and I would have missed it altogether when I picked them up had it not leapt free at the last second, spinning down wildly to land at my socked feet. A small rectangle of butter-coloured paper, creased down the middle in both directions as if it had once been quartered and tucked into a pocket.
I’m not sure how long I stood there in the kitchen holding it, with only the sound of the curtains stirring in the window and my own wet, choking shudders before Aunt Ginny found me and steered me to the couch.
That was August.
My father died in May.
The truth is, I hadn’t felt it –– not a thing –– that whole summer, not until just then. When I first got the call from Mom, I remember her words had seemed smudgy and distant. It was as if I’d read them, grey sentences on newsprint. Fifty-nine. Man. Dead. A heart attack in his home. Alone.
“I’m sorry,” I had said when she finished talking.
“I’m sorry.” I had said again at the funeral. There was nothing else to say.
I hadn’t known my father.
When he died, I hadn’t seen him in fifteen years, and I hadn’t talked to him in seven. I had harboured no secret wish for a change to that arrangement. He had his life, and I had mine. We were not sentimental people.
I suppose that’s why the fallen slip of paper took me by surprise. If I held it up straight, I could see sunlight coming through, like a window.
It might have been his handwriting, the unexpected familiarity of it. The thin, slanting pencil lines, so nakedly vulnerable I almost had to look away. Eight words –– that’s all it was.
A grocery list.
A grocery list for a man I didn’t know.
Ridiculously, I could hear the faint splat of my tears on the buckled linoleum.
Dawn Muenchrath is a writer from Calgary, AB, currently living in Saskatoon, SK where she is completing her MFA in Writing. She had two cats.