We were in the Keg at the foot of Lonsdale when she told me her stance, and I told her of my counter-decision. For the first time since I'd known her, she froze me out. For Kent's funeral she'd showed me forgiveness, but that night in the restaurant? She went crazy with a calm face, justifiably so. We'd shared so much, and to have our bank of memories turned against me? Ruth had no idea that even though I was sitting there with zucchini sticks and dipping sauce in front of me, blinking my eyes, in my mind I was already dead, and I was standing at the gates of heaven, the way I'd always imagined the first part of death to be like, being shown a film clip version of my life - a naive vision, but one common to men of my age. Even after all I'd been through, I'd still a.s.sumed I'd sail through those gates; such presumption is itself a sin. But as Ruth listed smaller reasons for leaving me, I knew I was further away from the gates than I'd ever dreamed. I had always believed I'd been leading an upstanding life, immune to all forms of interrogation, but among other things, Ruth told me I thought like an infant, that I was confusing what I thought was right with what G.o.d thought was right, and that I was harder to please than G.o.d, and who exactly did I think I was? And then she told me that she was leaving, and that once she was out the door I would never be loved by anybody ever again, and that I'd brought all of this upon myself.
Have you ever known what it's like to be loved by n.o.body? Maybe you have, but no, that's not possible, because your mother never failed you. Me? I didn't know what to do - I was shattered, and in a moment of weakness I phoned your Heather. I arrogantly a.s.sumed that because her family all lived far away, she must feel equally unloved from her side - and in this I was correct, but she said I didn't have to feel guilty for calling her for that reason.
It's strange, but once you begin to confess your weaknesses, one confession leads to another, and the effect is astonishingly liberating. At my age, it was a little like having food poisoning - all that bile and poison sprayed out of me in every direction - a process that took a few weeks as Heather and I tried to find you. It wasn't until I felt emptied of lies and weaknesses that, as with recovering from a poisoning, I felt mending begin.
I want to discuss that false psychic you paid to bring Heather messages from the dead. It was a thoughtful idea, but one that backfired and then, ultimately, in its own way, frontfired, giving Heather more hope than you'd imagine. But, Lord Almighty, did that psychic woman pull a number on Heather! Right from the get-go she began extorting money - thousands. People like that woman make it clear just how asinine it is to believe that human beings have some kind of built-in universal sense of goodness. These days I think that everybody's just one spit away from being a mall bomber. People say sugary nice things all the time, but believe none of it. See how many weapons people have stockpiled; inspect their ammo cache; read their criminal records; get them drunk and bring up G.o.d; and then you really know what it is you have to protect yourself from. Forget intentions - learn the deeds of which they're capable.
Anyway, in the end, Heather twigged onto this psychic's game plan. In doing so she told me about your characters; I had no idea you had this other world inside your head, and if you ever read these words, I imagine you'll blush as you do so, but don't. Froggles! Bonnie! Gerard! The characters are pure delight - they're lime sherbet and maraschino cherries -they're almost holy.
Your characters - that was the sort of thing I ought to have been telling you at bedtime rather than squeezing out of you your daily list of trespa.s.ses. G.o.d, I was a grim old sucker. Just so you know, Heather quit her job at the courts, and she's now working full-time making children's books using your characters. They're good little books, and one might even be published locally.
Heather and Barb allow me to read them to the twins, so I come out of this a winner. And again, I have to say how much the twins resemble you. I wonder what Kent would have thought? He's fading from my memory, you know. Sometimes I have to work to conjure up his face or his voice. I oughtn't be telling you that, because it means that I'll forget your face and voice someday, too. (But don't take it that way.) I'm in a Kinko's writing this. I haven't said that yet. It's downtown and open twenty-four hours.
It's maybe one A.M. and I'm the only customer here on this side of the store. Two other people - homesick German tourists, I'm guessing - are across the room trying to send a fax.
I think heaven must be a little bit like this place - everybody with a purpose, in a beautiful clean environment. They even have those wonderful new full-spectrum lights that make you look like you've just returned from a stroll in an Irish mist.
Why am I here? I'm here because I still don't have a computer, and I'm here writing this because today I got a call from the RCMP out in Chilliwack. They called to say that they'd found your "highly weathered" flannel shirt, and in its pocket, your Scotiabank debit card. It was tangled in some bulrushes in a swamp beside a forest out there, found by some kids shooting BB guns. I asked the RCMP if they were going to organize a manhunt, and while they didn't laugh aloud, they made it clear that one was not being planned. How dare they. All they gave me was a map.
And so I'm typing this letter out. I'm going to print it and make a thousand copies, and come sunrise I'm going to go out to that swamp and its surrounding forest and I'm going to tack these letters onto the trees there with a pack of brightly colored tacks I saw up by the front desk when I registered to use this machine.
I know that kind of forest so well, and at this time of year, too: spiderwebs vacant, their builders snug inside coc.o.o.ns; sumac and vine maples turned yellow and red, smelling like chilled candy.
The hemlocks and firs and cedars, evergreen but also everdark. The way sounds turn into shadows, and how easy it is to stay hidden forever should that be your wish. You're the Sasquatch now, searching for someone to take away your loneliness, dying as you live with your sense of failed communion with others. You're hidden but you're there, Jason. And I clearly remember from when I was growing up, the Sasquatch was never without hope, even if all he had to be hopeful about was b.u.mping into me one day. But isn't that something?
You might ask me whether I still believe in G.o.d; I do - and maybe not even in the best sense of the word "believe." In the end, it might boil down to some sort of insurance equation to the effect that it's three percent easier to believe than not to believe. Is that cynical? I hope not. I may sell insurance, but I grieve, I accept. I rebel. I submit. And then I repeat the cycle. I doubt I can ever believe with the purity of heart your Cheryl once had.
We never once spoke about her. We never even spoke, period. I never told you that her mother phoned me about eight years ago - I'm listed in the book - and she said that until that day she'd always believed you were involved in the shootings, but then, "It's the funniest thing. I was making coffee this morning, I went to put an extra apple in Lloyd's attache case, because the apples are so good this time of year, and inside his case, between two folders was a paperback about the ma.s.sacre, and it was open to the page with Jason's photo - I hadn't seen that image in years. I don't know why, but I finally realized Jason was innocent." Stupid, stupid woman, but a woman whose daughter was lost in the worst imaginable way. As you were never a father, you can never imagine what it is to lose your child. That's not a challenge -how grotesque if it were. It's a simple statement of fact.
But I haven't lost you, my son. No no no. And you will find one of these letters. I know you will.
You never missed a trick of mine, so why stop now? And when you do find this letter, you know what? Something extraordinary will happen. It will be like a reverse solar eclipse - the sun will start shining down in the middle of night, imagine that! - and when I see this sunlight it will be my signal to go running out into the streets, and I'll shout over and over, "Awake! Awake! The son of mine who once was lost has now been found!" I'll pound on every door in the city, and my cry will ring true: "Awake! Everyone listen, there has been a miracle - my son who once was dead is now alive. Rejoice! All of you! Rejoice! You must! My son is coming home!"