Shade Tree Haven by Mitchell Toews

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On hot Sundays, I often think of the Tourist Park in Ste. Anne. Their new concrete pool was a cube punched into the grass and filled to the white-tiled rim, the water mirror bright. With our family bakery twenty miles distant—dark, quiet, and still—Dad would rest in the shade on our picnic blanket. While we kids splashed, he’d sip a beer, pretending to read a paperback novel.

On the hockey rink, he’d been a brick wall, separating the big talkers from their bullshit. Now he was a man and had put aside childish things. He toiled in the heat—no number on his back—heaving dough in the hopper. Bent over, his rounded fists punching and turning the batch, he made our daily bread.

“There was no money in it in my day,” he said. We were watching the Leafs and Detroit. “You either made the NHL or you went home and got a job,” he said, staring at the television. He held his glass out to me, rattling the ice. “Refill.”

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After a good while in the Sunday shade, he’d get up from his seat against the tree and stretch. Then out in the sun to stand on the back of the springboard. With two driving steps, he’d arc into a perfect swan dive, piercing the surface like a dart into cork.

When he finished his swim, he’d come back and kneel on the blanket. Mom would dry his back with a coarse towel. “I’ll verubble you!” she’d say, rubbing so hard that Dad had to steady himself with one hand against the tree trunk. He’d eat a sandwich, grinning eggs and onion bits at us as we tried to mimic his dive. Then it was time for his nap—short legs crossed at the ankles and fingers interlaced on his chest. 

“Oh, let him sleep,” Mom said when we came running, a finger to her lips. She lay her Chatelaine face down on the blanket, saving her page. I watched her hand rise to remove her sunglasses, then pause as she glanced around quickly, including a peek behind us. She cleaned the lenses with a special silky cloth from her purse. I heard a plastic scrape as she unscrewed the lid of a small jar. It smelled of medicine. Her finger turned powdery beige as she rubbed cream below one eye, smearing the make-up caked there. “Just let him sleep,” she whispered, replacing the dark glasses and clasping her bag with a soft click.

Hockey, I think now, closing out the memory as I pull onto our bright driveway, kids chattering in the back seat after church. I bet he dreamt of hockey, cold as blue hell.

 

Mitchell Toews’s fiction appears in a variety of anthologies and publications. He tramps the woods around and—in those months ending in “brrr”—on Jessica Lake in Manitoba. Follow him more conveniently on twitter, @Mitchell_Toews or his website, mitchellaneous.com.

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