Final Excerpt of short story – The Coffin

Photo by Roseanna Smith on Unsplash


His husband love got overtaken by business.  In the moment he justified his focus on growing the business.  And his children’s inheritance will prove he was successful – was his mental argument he would have with himself, as he raked leaves or swept the driveway – as a way to  assuage the discomfort of regret.

Gord felt he didn’t have the connection with his children for the same reason as when they were growing up he was growing his business.  Selling plumbing supplies came easier to him than being there for his children.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be there. It’s that if he didn’t grow his business no one else would.  Plus this business put food on the table and would pay for university as long as he kept his foot on the gas and didn’t let up. 

‘There are different kinds of love, sweetheart!’  Gord remembers growling over his shoulder at Linda.  His teeth were clenched down hard perhaps in an attempt to not let these silly words out.  He can see it now.  They were in their bedroom one Saturday morning when he was getting ready for work instead of taking Phil to hockey practice and teaching Martha to skate and buying the groceries with Sue.

‘Of course there are different kinds of love.’  Linda was paused by her absolute frustration that her good husband still didn’t get it.’  That’s the point!’  Linda schooled Gord looking him right in the eyes as he buttoned his shirt.  Linda’s abstention from swearing gave her message that much more ummph.  She was no longer in an argument with him but had already transported herself to how it was going to feel in the car later that morning as she drove Phil to Saturday morning hockey practice instead of his dad. Gord could feel Linda’s disappointment but he couldn’t somehow say he was sorry.  Because, he told himself in the moment some 35 years ago, he wasn’t sorry because he was supporting his family.  This memory, and others, were the life recordings that went through Gord’s mind as he would slowly sweep the clean front walk of its minimal weekday dirt.  

In the few years since the death of his wife Gord had this urge to connect with his family so they know their unique value.  Therefore his anchored vision project.  Yes it would have been easier to say he loved them.  And that if he had failed in some ways as a father he was sorry.  But that would have been like the first route he walks in the mornings: short and simple and gets the job done without complications.

Mercifully Gord heard the toilet flush all the way down the hall which yanked him out of his swamp of regret. 

‘It’s all very spiritual and transformative and, and, and earthy.’  Cedar vibrated her hands at her sides as she sat back down to show Gord how she was impacted by their chat.

‘Yes but without the sweat lodge.’  Gord fake laughs quickly. ‘ Or if you want the sweat lodge go for it.  That was never my thing.’  Gord was trying to be funny in case he was coming on too strong.

‘What was your thing GG?’ Cedar asked, using her position as the preferred grandchild to be so direct.

‘I …’  Gord’s shoulders briefly pumped up and down as he gazed out the kitchen window looking out over the driveway and leaned back into his personal journey.

‘My thing would be whatever my thing was at the time.  One thing at a time.  When your grandmother was sick, that was my thing.  When I started my business, that became my thing.  When each child was born, that was my thing.  But, as the years went on, with each child it was less of a thing.’  Gord paused and looked into Cedar’s eyes because Cedar’s mother Martha was his third and last child.  They could both feel that this could be taken to mean that her mother’s  birth and existence amounted to less than the birth of her two older siblings.  

“You mom being the third wasn’t loved less by any means.  There was just, I don’t know, more going on and as parents we weren’t petrified as we were when your uncle Phil was born.’ 

Cedar was the third child as well.  By 7 minutes.  Her twin brother Red went to the light before she did.  

Was I less of a thing? Cedar had never even thought of it.  In the moment she felt good about being a twin, or having Red as her twin because of how it echoed her existence.  Gord saw her face quickly disappear inside of herself but didn’t grasp she was cherishing her birth not feeling any anger for getting the bronze medal.  She was very happy to be on the podium.

‘You and Red were born at the same time so you were a big deal.  A lot of diapers.  Jack loved being your older brother, he was like a mini dad organizing your toys, helping you walk.

‘Actually when your mom told me she was having twins I thought it was great.  But then she said, I have to confirm it with the doctor.  And that always stuck with me.  How did she know?  Now Gord was lost inside his mind where fireworks were going off of beautiful family memories.  And then, as it had come to be a recent habit, it circled quickly back around to Linda.

‘Your grandmother always loved the whole mystery of giving a child a name.  It gave her joy and energy so for me I couldn’t see how others saw it as overbearing or imposing.  Anyway it would be an innocent imposition.  She would bring her little notebook and look into her child’s eyes for a clue – then look to the sky for inspiration. She really loved doing it and thought it was her role to participate.   Martha says it was the only time she saw her mother write.  That wasn’t true.  Martha just felt that they were her children and she, plus her husband, had the ability to name them.’  

‘So how did she know?’  Prompted Cedar for more information on her mother being a young mother.  She wanted to admire her mom as the young, dynamic woman she could see in family photos before she was transformed into a bossy mom.

‘Know what?’

‘That she was pregnant with twins?’  The juicy confessional type of conversation with GG was so novel and satisfying.

‘I didn’t really capture that.  Martha came up with your names before your grandmother could really process that there would be twins and get her motor running, so to speak, on what could be possible matching names.  And truth be told, the names Red and Cedar that your mom had already come up with were so far off Linda’s screen that, well there was nothing to say really.’’

‘So my mom came up with the idea for our names?’  Cedar couldn’t remember asking and hadn’t really ever wanted to get into it.  Her brother had a bit of a hard time because his name was Red but as life would have it Cedar got the red hair of the two.  It confused people that a guy named Red didn’t have red hair but he had a twin sister who did.  So they would get bullied in high school.  That’s what teenagers do when they are presented with something that is beyond their grasp.  They would stand up for each other but he was basically a wimp so he got brushed aside.  Guys would even just hug him instead of beating on him.  Beating on Red was so easy, it was comical.  

As a result, sometimes they would play down they were twins, and a few times even siblings.  There was no abandonment of one by the other.  It was actually an effective teenage social strategy.  It was a way to avoid ridicule.  They would retreat into the fact that they were twins born Geminis.  Twins squared.  It made no difference to anyone who wasn’t them but it just made the route to get to them emotionally more convoluted so it provided an extra layer of protection.  

But in the same breath, in high school her name gave her a way to sound different.  Which she liked because it mirrored the way she felt.  It also spiced up how she dressed and helped her come into her own style.  Tall with her long, wavy red hair she took on a Boho look that seemed to work for her.  

‘I remember your mom saying that she loved the red cedar trees because…’  Gord started.

‘Wait GG.  Actually, I think I will ask my mom about our names.  If you don’t mind.’  Even though she was eagerly soaking up the downloading of family history from her grandfather she stopped him.  

‘We haven’t avoided the conversation, we just made sure we never had it.’  Cedar explained to her grandfather.  As it came out of her mouth she could hear how lame it sounded, but it was basically true.

Cedar was glad she had dragged their good-byes outside because in that way it broke the proximity of the two of them that had grown around the kitchen table.  She didn’t want a hug so Cedar fumbled with buttoning her coat moving toward the door.  Cedar skipped down the stairs and they waved good-bye.   Cedar put in her ears buds as she turned right to catch the bus uptown.   As Gord stood on his front steps breathing the cooling November evening Cedar was reconnecting with the sound track of her generation.  Gord, GG, dad, daddy, hesitated.  He stood on the front steps of his fully paid off house, where 3 beautiful children knew innocence  and joy; where Linda, his wife would bring each of them home from the hospital and nurture them with sincere service that inspired and humbled Gord.

Waiting till after Cedar had turned the corner he then headed back to his garage.   The same garage where he started his plumbing business.  The same garage that was his first warehouse for his plumbing supply business.    This old man was in a negotiation with his own shoulders to determine if he walked back with the hunched shoulders of a defeated man who had nothing better to do than to test drive his coffin.  Or if he was an aging man engaging the role of elder as he addressed mortality with humility/fear/awe/respect.   

Gord was comfortable in his coffin.  It was only the second time he had laid down in it. He kind of felt like a Formula 1 driver slipping into their sleek race car. He had used his yellow measuring tape to get his height and width and depth.  Then he added 6 inches to each measurement.  It was snug, not cramped. 

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