It had been a perfect day; busy, exciting and best of all Simon was part of it.
It began early with Hardev coming by to discuss converting Bodine’s studio into a refuge and rehabilitation facility for rescued wild birds, plus adding an event space and gift shop to the existing sanctuary.
Being a carpenter, Simon got on well with Hardev. The two men had a lively discussion about the project’s possibilities.
“We don’t take on many small jobs anymore,” Hardev said, after hearing what was planned.
If nine hundred thousand dollars was considered a small job, his brother’s imminent marriage to a daughter of one of India’s wealthiest families must already be paying off.
“How is Raj?” Mattie said.
“He’s in Mumbai working at the head office with Indra’s father. He’ll be back in a week in time for the wedding celebrations,” Hardev said. “When you’ve got some plans drawn up, let me see them and I’ll give you a quote, though I think your estimate of the cost is in line.” He gave Simon his card. “I could put you to work tomorrow, Simon. I always need carpenters. Steady work, union wages and good benefits.”
“Sounds great,” Mattie said.
“Thanks,” Simon said. “I’ve a few jobs lined up, but I appreciate the offer.”
“If we get Mattie’s job you could be site foreman,” Hardev said.
“That would be wonderful.” Mattie couldn’t think of anything better than working with Simon, having him close by twenty-four seven.
The rest of the morning was taken up with preparation for the celebration of the release of the rehabilitated birds. Mattie booked the same catering van to be on-site between two and four, while Simon invited some elders from the Tsawwassen First Nation, “since the event is taking place on their unceded land” to say an opening prayer. Jeremy was providing certificates of appreciation for all the volunteers.
In the afternoon, they went shopping for of all things, groceries. Simon bought eggs, mushrooms, spinach and cheddar cheese and when they came home, he made them an omelet for dinner.
They were relaxing on the front porch, the blueberry field in the foreground was in shadows, Boundary Bay shimmered in golden light and a fiery tangerine sky silhouetted the Gulf Islands scattered in the Strait of Georgia.
“I want the event space to have a Pacific Northwest feel,” Mattie said. “Lots of natural wood and large windows that face the ocean.”
Mattie was happy. She wondered if the absence of happiness made you more aware of when you were happy, made you feel it more intensely? Did people ever become useD to this blessed state? Were there people out there who felt like this all the time, most of the time? Their faces must ache from smiling.
“Post and beam construction with overhanging rooflines for protection from the rain,” Simon said.
“The decor will reflect Coast Salish culture and we’ll sell their art in the gift shop.”
“And the work of other local artists,” Simon said. “You wouldn’t want to be accused of reverse discrimination.”
Mattie needed to contact Bodine regarding the recording equipment left in the studio. Did he want it put in storage or should she sell it off? She hoped his father could get a message to him. Considering the three hour time distance between the west coast and New York, now would be a good time to call him.
“I’m going to call Marv about the equipment.”
“I’ll be watching the news,” Simon said.
Mattie was reluctant to call Marv. For three years she'd talked to Angie at least once a week. Her death was like a fresh wound that wouldn’t heal. Repeatedly over the past months she’d been about to call only to remember this warm, loving, practical person was gone. Mattie missed her advice, her thoughtfulness, but mostly her love. The best thing by far to come out of the relationship with Bodine was getting to know his mother.
“Hello.” It was a woman’s voice.
“May I speak with Marv, please?” Who was this answering the home telephone at ten in the evening?
“Mattie.” It wasn’t a question, it wasn’t a statement. The woman sounded wary.
“That’s right, Mattie. Who are you?”
“I’ll see if Marvin’s available.”
“Mattie, how are you?” Marv sounded like his old self.
“I’m good. Whose answering your phone?” There was no point being coy, Mattie wasn’t going to disconnect until she knew, even if that meant calling back–numerous times.
“Oh, that’s Dorothy. You might remember her, she was a big help during Angie’s illness.”
“Dorothy.” Mattie remembered all right, she was a divorced friend who'd been insinuating herself into Marv’s life in the guise of sympathy and compassion even as Angie was drawing her last breath.
“I guess you heard about Bo,” Marv said. “I mean who hasn’t?”
“How’s he doing?”
“Good. He had a slip that’s all. You know, his mom’s death and all that other stuff.”
“Sure.” Mattie told him about the equipment.
“I’ll tell him and let you know.”
Moving on. Mattie guessed that’s what Marv was doing and having no problem finding a companion to do it with. Couldn’t blame the guy, knowing Angie it was probably what she wanted him to do. Mattie couldn’t imagine being so magnanimous.
Mattie stared into the deepening twilight. Angie had committed her life to two men, one who couldn’t find any time to spend with her during her last days, and the other who had hooked up before the grass had grown on her grave. You were better off with birds.
Why did bad things happen to good people and vice versa?
Her cell phone interrupted her existential musings. She didn’t recognize the number. Maybe it was Ann-Louise confirming her attendance at tomorrow’s celebration?
“Shaughnessy Treatment Centre.”
“This is Madison Saunders.” Mattie stayed on the porch and out of earshot of Simon. She liked to process information before she was confronted with questions. It helped her prepare the appropriate answers.
“I’m Rachel Kaplan, administrative assistant. I’m calling to advise you that Franklin Leonard has left treatment.”
“Sometime yesterday. He was absent for bed-check last night and hasn’t returned today.”
“We don’t know. Initially, he was having difficulty adjusting, but he seemed to be settling in. It could be he’s overconfident, thinks he can maintain his recovery on his own.”
“So what do you suggest?”
“If Franklin contacts you tell him you don’t agree with his decision to leave and that he must complete treatment before he’s welcome back home. Don’t enable him by giving him money for a hotel, food, anything.”
“So he can return to treatment?”
“It’s up to him and you. We can leave the bed open for another day, but you’ll be charged for it. Then there’s the additional two day empty bed fee.”
“Empty bed fee?”
“That’s how long it takes us to contact and admit another client when someone leaves without being properly discharged.”
Why was she so surprised, so disappointed? Louise had warned her about the odds against Franklin staying clean.
“Would you like us to keep the bed open or close Franklin’s file?”
“Close the file.”
Mattie was seething with anger, not at Franklin, at herself. Once an addict always an addict and yet this time she’d hoped. Hope, she’d be a lot better off if she gave it up.
Now she had to decide whether to be the bearer of bad news or let Simon find out for himself. What good would telling him do except ruin their time together and send him on a futile search of gutters and alleys until he eventually found his cousin in the morgue? But if she didn’t tell him would he blame her thinking if he’d known Franklin was AWOL he might have been able to rescue him yet again?
Simon was in the living room fixated on the news.
He held up his hand to silence her.
“What are you watching?”
“A First Nations youth has been shot to death by a farmer in Saskatchewan.”
“Breaking news indicates he and a few friends drove onto the property to get help with a flat tire. The farmer felt threatened and opened fire.”
Simon looked pale. He went into the kitchen and booted up his laptop.
Mattie picked up the remote and switched to an all-news channel and watched the coverage again. A reporter was saying there was fear the event would spark a vigilante response on both sides. She turned off the television and joined Simon in the kitchen.
“Why would the farmer feel threatened?” she said.
“It’s near the Red Pheasant reserve. There’s lots of tension in the area, farmers claiming Indigenous youth are responsible for thefts and vandalism.”
“The news said there were four of them in the SUV, they’d all been drinking and previously they’d been to a neighbouring farm where someone in the group tried to steal a vehicle and tools.”
“Allegedly.” Simon didn’t look up from his computer
“The farmer’s son told police they drove onto their property and he saw a young man get out of the vehicle and go into his father’s pickup truck parked in the yard.”
Simon slammed down the lid of the laptop. “What are you saying?”
“That’s not the way I’d have acted if I needed help with a flat tire. Maybe the farmer had a right to feel threatened?”
“Maybe he did, but is that how you respond? You go into a shed, grab a handgun, load it and shoot a twenty-two year old in the back of the head while he’s sitting in the driver’s seat of a stopped vehicle?”
“The farmer said the gun went off by accident,” Mattie said.
“What do you expect him to say?”
“I’m just saying there are two sides to the story, Simon.”
“You’re right, and this one goes back two hundred years.” Simon picked up his cell phone and headed for the porch.
He didn’t want her to hear his conversations either. So much for trust.
“Better not use your cell phone,” Mattie didn’t want him being recorded counseling others to break the law, commit acts of sedition or whatever else he might be planning.
“I got a new one.” Simon closed the door behind him.
Mattie had some decisions to make and fast. Her first reaction was to confront Simon, tell him he wasn’t being irrational, it was nothing more than a tragic accident, besides the victim wasn’t entirely innocent, and nothing could be gained by putting himself in the middle of this shit storm.
She quickly dismissed that option and considered crying, pleading, telling him she loved him and they could have a good life together or he could take off to a nowhere place in Saskatchewan to fight a losing battle and likely end up murdered by a pickup truck full of red-necked bigots or a professional assassin contracted by the federal government or its corporate allies. Oh yeah, and irreparably break her heart.
When had she started crying? She wiped away the tears and went out on the front porch.
She waited for Simon to end his call. “Are you going there?” she said.
“Mattie, try to understand–”
“I do, Simon,” Mattie said. “But you have to understand, I love you and I have a terrible feeling something bad will happen to you.”
“I love you too, Mattie.”
That was nice to hear, but it only made it worse. That he loved her meant they maybe could have a future–if he survived.
“I have an idea that will keep you safe and advance your cause,” she said.
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