Iain traced his brother’s blue-green aura through the mist. Will’s signature flashes of bright gold humour were absent this day. He sat on the wet grass in his backyard, stroking the rough coat of his old collie, whispering his good-byes.
“Ohhh, Badger. You had that dog a long time. I’m so sorry, man.” Iain tried to pat his brother’s shoulder, but, as usual, his hand disappeared into Will’s wool jacket. They both shuddered.
Will wrapped an ancient, hairy blanket around the collie and placed him gently in the pit. With a nearby shovel, he pushed soggy clumps of earth back into the hole.
“You have to go to Mum’s house tonight, bro. Go see the folks, okay?”
Will patted the earth, leveling the the mound. He flipped his dripping curls out of his eyes.
A glow in the everpresent fog caught Iain’s eye. “The phone. Answer the phone and go see the folks. Answer the phone, answer the phone, answer the phone.”
Will pulled his cell phone from his pants pocket. It buzzed. “Whoa.” He flipped it open. “Hi, Ma…Yeah, I just buried him…I’m not really up for a crowd tonight—”
Iain got right into Will’s ear. “Yes, you have to go! Go see Mum. Go see the folks. Go, go, go.”
“Okay, just for a while…Yeah, I’ll bring the fiddle.”
Beth weaved through princesses and ninjas crowding her mother-in-law’s chilly sunporch. Long, black, false hair and a witch’s hat crowned Kath’s stout body. Her rigidly permed curls held the wig out from her head.
“Come here, sweetheart.” Iain’s mother lifted Tassie from Beth’s aching arm. “Sit, Beth. I’ll bring you a cup of tea.” Kath turned to her tiaraed and sequined second youngest grandchild. “Boots on the mat, and mitts on the radiator, dear.”
Flora kicked off her winter boots and shook her charity box. “I got lots of change in my box, and I Silly Stringed your mailbox, but Shonny said I could.” She ran with a gang of cousins to the bedroom.
Kath turned to her eldest grandchild, who was supposed to be the responsible adult guiding the little ones. “Shonny, you’re cleaning the mailbox tomorrow.”
“I know, I know.”
Tassie was content cruising from auntie to auntie, smiling for pieces of cookie. Beth was temporarily off duty. She found an empty corner on the settee to survey the chaos. There was Uncle William at the table, shouting in her father-in-law’s ear. He didn’t look depressed. Was the entire family packed into Kath’s kitchen? Kath came back with two mugs of tea and a slice of banana bread and sank down beside her. They sipped in blessed peace for half a mug.
Beth said, “Flora’s seeing her father again. Or hearing, maybe.” She nibbled her banana bread.
“It’s been two and a half years since he passed. It’s good she still remembers him.” Kath waved to one of the aunties coming around with the teapot. “That’s why you came home to Cape Breton, isn’t it? Iain’s family is now your family, yours and the girls’. You can’t be everything for them.”
“You’re right, I know. With more family around, maybe they won’t need the imaginary dad.”
The screen door banged.
“Here’s Will.” Kath patted Beth’s arm and rose. “Don’t get up, dear. You’ll lose your seat.”
Come back tomorrow for part three.