Missing Dad
September 13, Day before moose-hunting season starts in Newfoundland. From Hampden, the tiny outport where I grew up and where my father still resides, I can hear the primal beating of his heat straight across the Gulf of ST. Lawrence into the quiet of my room in the south end of Halifax.
No, he wouldn’t go hunting alone, would he? Not with his heart and legs as weak as they are? Cripes, he can hardly walk. And how can somebody with 13 percent of a
heart left carry a gun? Fifty years of waking to the hunt – how can he not? Snatching up the phone I hit the redial, Hello?
Dad, you’re not going hunting, are you? You better wait for the boys.
Luvy, luvy, you just called.
Promise you’ll wait for them.
If they ever gets here, he says.
They’ll get there. Two weeks, daddy, two weeks. You better not go till they gets there.
No, lovey, no, I’ll wait.
I hang up, haunted by the quiet of his voice; its boisterousness buried along with mother. I remember the quiet of her kitchen last time month when I went back. How empty the whole house felt without her. I wondered whether he sometimes thought my footsteps were hers when I walked through the rooms, unable to sleep. He’d gone in the woods that time whilst I was there. And had fallen. Legs too bad to walk uneven ground. Quarter of a mile he had crawled, carrying his gun. No, he won’t go again without the boys there.
I leave off calling again till six o’clock the following morning. No answer. I keep calling every fifteen minutes. Eight o’clock I call Aunt Beat who lives a half mile along the shore from Dad’s.
No, maid, haven’t seen his truck yet this morning. Strange. He’s down around five or six times by now.
I call Uncle Gord, who lives near the end of the road.
Nope, he wasn’t at the turn-a-round all morning. Not like him.
Finally, the post office opened.
He haven’t picked up his mail yet. He’s usually here before now.
I lie back on my pillow. Where is he? I imagine myself inside the truck with him. I know exactly where he is – driving twenty miles over the bumpy woods road down to Chouse Brook, now walking a quarter mile down a rugged path. I see him holding the gun and watching. And waiting. Till eleven o’clock. Then, he’d be driven home by hunger. Undoubtedly, he’s not eaten breakfast. Not since she left has he eaten breakfast. He’s up and gone from the house at daybreak. Unable to stay there one breathing moment longer, flicking through the tv channels. All night long he lies on the sofa, flicking through the tv channels. Sleeping in bits. Hasn’t slept in their bed since she left. Driven! Driven out the door by a loneliness no beamed-in world can ever distract him from. Smokes. That was his comfort. He smoked all through his insomniac nights, all through his days. God bless tobacco.
Twelve o’clock, he should be home by now. I call, no answer. I make another round of phone calls.
No maid, haven’t seen your father; strange he haven’t picked up his mail; wasn’t at the turn-a-round all day. He must’ve went to the city. Forgot to tell me. Needed to pick up a part for the truck or the ski-doo or – or whatever….
Five o’clock. It is now getting dark. Knew it, I bloody knew it – he’s went bloody hunting by himself and something’s happened. I hadn’t called my siblings all day, not wanting to worry them. I call them now. They come over and both sisters curse and cry and break out the whiskey bottle. Our brother Tommy is shouting through the phone lines, has anybody seen him, go look for him, get a search party going. Our brother Glenn chews his fingers. And we wait, our eyes closed, praying – something we’ve done a lot since Mommy left us and we all ended up huddling next door to each other in the same city. But not him, no, sir, Not drivin on the gawd damn pavement no more! That was his final say on our want that he move to Halifax with us.
Five hours we sit around the table, waiting. Seconds ticking into minutes, into long, torturous hours. Sixteen hours since he’s left the house this morning. It was wrong, all wrong. When the phone rings at ten o’clock, no one wants to answer.
Slowly, I pick up the receiver, click speaker. Hello?
His warm, tired voice sounds through the speaker, Back tire of the truck got stuck in a boghole, luvy. I know’d ye be worrying, but I couldn’t get her out. Jeezes, I didn’t want ye worryin…
You’re supposed to wait for the boys, I yell, and then all hands start yelling – sisters, brothers – cursing him.
He chuckles, Ye’ll all there, are ye? Good, good, got ye all the same time, did I? He laughs, we all laugh, bawl, yell.
No smokes, that was the worst of it, he says. Not one gawd-damned smoke. I picked out every butt in the ashtray, 10 months old, some of them.
We all start yelling and bawling and laughing again and ordering him to stay in the house and not put one damn foot inside that truck till the boys get there in two weeks. I’ll wait, he promises, I’ll wait, and we hang up and everybody goes home.
Five o’clock the next morning, I reach for the phone and hit his number. No answer. I bury my head into the pillow. No, I will not call again.
Nine-thirty my phone starts ringing….
Haven’t seen his truck yet this morning, says Aunt Beat.
He wasn’t at the turn-a-round, says Uncle Gord.
He an’t picked up his mail, yet this morning, says Madeline at the post office.
Don’t suppose he went in the woods agin?
He’ll be fine, I say, he’ll be fine, and I hang up. My sisters call, then my brothers, and we talk, we worry, we’ll give him another couple hours, we decide, and hang up.
Eleven o’clock the phone rings.
Got him, luvy, he says. Got him. A bull moose.
You couldn’t wait? Jeezes, dad, you couldn’t wait?
He says nothing, the emptiness of the rooms behind him, pushing through the quiet.
Can’t, lovey. I can’t.

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