Outside the rain fell hard. A pair of headlights cut through the downpour as a car approached the foster home. A moment later the lights extinguished and a woman emerged. The bell rang and heavy footsteps moved to the door.
“Ms. Engel, please, come in.”
“Where is she?” Ms. Engel asked as she stepped inside.
“She’s fine, she’s fine. I’m Ms. Green. I run this household. Fiona enjoys the little nook we have by the kitchen window — spends hours every day there since she arrived three weeks ago.”
“Sorry, I got here as fast as I could — when I heard the news.”
“Oh, she’s been no trouble at all. Anyway I’m sure you’re tired from the drive. I’ll get you some coffee.”
“I was hoping we could get on the road as soon as possible.”
“I understand, Ms. Engel, but you can’t just grab Fiona and go.”
“I thought this was only a short-term facility?”
“It is,” Ms. Green lowered her voice, “but Fiona’s had quite a shock for a thirteen-year-old, and there is paper work to cover.”
Ms. Engel nodded and followed Ms. Green into the kitchen.
“Fiona, honey,” Ms. Green said, “could you come here for a minute. I’d like to introduce you to someone.”
“She knows who I am,” Ms. Engel said.
Fiona got up from her spot by the window and shuffled over to the two women.
“At least she…” Ms. Engel uttered. “She’s grown so much.”
“Sweetie, do you know Ms. Engel?”
Fiona shrugged her shoulders.
“I’m your Aunt,” Ms. Engel said, “Aunt May.”
“Yes, and your aunt would like you to come live with her in Winnipeg. Like we talked about — remember? It’s far from Calgary.”
Fiona shrugged again.
Aunt May crouched to make her height the same as Fiona’s. “Look, I don’t know how to… How ‘bout, can I give you a hug?”
Fiona’s arms hung at her sides — not a ‘yes’, but not a ‘no’ either. Aunt May threw her arms around her niece and squeezed.
The drive from Calgary to Winnipeg was long, too long for one night. Fiona and Aunt May stayed in a motel on the outskirts of Saskatoon. Now the morning arrived. The gray clouds continued to dominate the sky as they headed back on the highway, but at least the rain had stopped. Fiona leaned her head on the window and gazed as the fields of wheat flew by.
“Fiona,” Aunt May said, “do you want a juice box?”
Aunt May handed Fiona the juice box, which Fiona took without turning.
“I got them for you. You won’t mind if I have one too?”
“Apple and kiwi. I didn’t know what kind you like.”
“… Grape,” Fiona said.
“Grape, yes, well, I’ll make sure we fill the apartment with grape juice.”
“Dad didn’t allow grape juice at home.”
“He said grapes were made for wine, and not to be had on a daily basis.”
“I see… Look, Fiona — I know what it must’ve been like.”
“Yes. I remember all of it: Nostradamus, Revelations, ancient Aztec calendars. I didn’t want to hear about the end times anymore.”
“Exactly. I haven’t seen you since I was six.”
“You’re right, but I can imagine.”
“Can you imagine three a.m. bomb shelter drills?”
“He built a bomb shelter?”
“Yup. What we’d do in there if the entire world around us was dead, I don’t know. I got bored just doing our camp-outs.”
“I guess he wanted to prepare.”
“Prepare,” Fiona echoed. “And if a meteor hits the earth, or the sun goes nova, what good is a crappy homemade bomb shelter anyway? Not to mention all my friends at school would laugh. They saw him buy hoards of toilet paper, carts full of canned spam. They’d say my Dad was planning to lock me away.”
“They don’t sound like true friends to me.”
“At least they weren’t crazy.”
“You shouldn’t call your Dad crazy. It couldn’t have been easy as a single parent.”
“He’d tell me this time he was sure Armageddon would be this date or that. I couldn’t sleep for weeks before — then nothing.”
“What was he so afraid for?”
“… You know I can’t do that.”
“Yeah,” Fiona turned back to the window, “I know.”
The clouds were just breaking as the car approached Winnipeg, and the city embraced the penetrating beams of sunlight. The car stopped at the Forks — the main pedestrian hub where the two rivers that run through Winnipeg meet. It was a good place to go for a walk and stretch after such a long drive.
“So,” Aunt May asked, “do you do any sports?”
“But I love track and field.”
“Track and field, that’s sports.”
“I don’t consider it sports.”
“What’s your event?”
“High jump! I can see that. You’ve got long legs.”
“You’ll drive boys crazy one day.”
Fiona blushed and turned away. The two of them walked along the river in silence for a minute. Then Fiona stopped and turned back to her Aunt.
“Dad wasn’t really afraid of that,” Fiona said.
“Afraid of what?”
“He wanted it to happen.”
“Well I wouldn’t say…”
“He did. Otherwise — he’d still be here, instead of swallowing all those pills. He saved some for me too, you know. He couldn’t even wait to see that he was wrong about the end — again.”
“Fiona,” Aunt May hesitated, “your Dad…”
“He thought it would be so spectacular to go out in a big bang like that, and believed that life couldn’t possibly go on once he’s gone.”
Fiona turned toward the river. Then Aunt May pulled Fiona to face her.
“Life will go on,” Aunt May said. “You have to believe that, Fiona.”
Fiona began to cry, burying her face in her Aunt’s chest.
“I know,” she said.
The sobs quickened, until Fiona’s whole body shook. Aunt May grabbed Fiona’s hand.
Fiona squeezed back — hard.
Writing is Paul Friesen‘s passion, and nothing feels better than having one of his stories read. He says: “I thank all those who have found my small smatterings of prose here on the net.”