[8FOLD][REPOST] Template #1
jamie.rosen at sunlife.com
Mon Mar 20 17:08:45 PST 2006
................................................. "Consider this fair
................................................. The next time we
................................................. "...it won't be on
................................................. friendly terms."
The Greyhound bus let Billy Kidman off just across the street from his
parents' house in Rex Falls, Ontario. The December air was a wicked
kind of cold, the kind that chapped flesh and left Billy's cuticles
frayed and bloody, but still he hesitated before crossing the street
towards his destination. The hard-pack snow crushed steadily beneath
his feet, however, and soon he found himself standing on the front
step, ringing the doorbell.
The woman who answered the door was clearly his mother, but the years
that had seemed to leave her untouched for so long had all hit her at
once, now, with interest. She looked frail and paper-thin.
"Billy," she said. "I'm so glad you came." She smiled, but her eyes
He stepped into the warmth of the house and placed his bags on the
floor in the hallway. "Of course I came, mom."
He hugged her, afraid that he would feel her break in half in his
embrace, but the only thing that broke was her control; she began to
cry, and he held her tighter until the tears dried on her face.
"I'm sorry," she said, wiping the corners of her eyes with the back of
"Don't be sorry. It's perfectly natural."
She smiled again, tears drying on her face. "Not for me," she said.
"I'm your mother." She took a deep breath to steady herself, then
straightened her skirt. "Would you like some coffee?"
He shook his head. "No thank you. Do you have any hot chocolate?"
"I think so. I'll go check." She hurried off to the kitchen. "I've
fixed up your old room, if you'd like to put your bags in there."
"Thanks." Billy removed his coat and boots, then picked up his bags and
carried them upstairs, to the room at the end of the hall. He noticed
as he passed that the door to his parents' room was closed.
Some parents, when their children move out on their own, leave their
bedrooms exactly as they were, a mausoleum to the childhood left
behind. Others strip the room bare of any ties to its former occupant
and turn into a study, or an office of some sort, or let it out to rent
in a subconscious effort to find a replacement for the child they have
lost. Billy's parents -- his mother, most likley -- had taken the
middle ground: there were no old ball gloves or grade school pictures,
the furniture was all new, but Billy could still feel comfortable in
it, could still see thinking of it as 'his' room, at least for a while.
Just as Billy put down his bags, his mother called to him that the hot
chocolate was ready.
"I'll be right down," he called back. He left the room and paused
outside his parents' door. He didn't blame her for keeping it shut; in
fact, he was thankful for it, and wondered if she even slept in there
The hot chocolate had marshmallows on it and was just the right
temperature to warm him up without burning his tongue -- no one but his
mom seemed to be able to get it like that.
"I'm glad you came," she said.
Billy nodded, his mouth full of hot chocolate.
"I was worried, the way the weather is these days, and you having to
come all the way from Vancouver... I know how hard it is for you to get
here in the best of times."
He put the mug down. "Mom, I'm here now, aren't I?" he said. "How are
She took a deep breath through her nostrils. "I'm managing," she said.
"Your father told me I'd have to."
Billy chuckled. "That doesn't surprise me." He took another sip of his
chocolate. "Do you need anything? Help with the funeral home, or
groceries, or anything?"
She shook her head. "No, no. Thank you. Everything's taken care of for
now. You just get settled in, okay?" She reached across the table and
took his hand. "It's good to have you back." She squeezed his hand, and
then let go.
Without warning, a yawn came over him. "I'm sorry," he said, stretching
some of the kinks out of his back and shoulders.
"Oh don't be! You must have had a terrible ride all this way. Why don't
you go lie down and I'll get started on dinner?"
"Are you sure?"
She was already up and at the sink, doing dishes. "Of course. You
should get some rest."
Billy did as she suggested, and lay down on the bed in the room that
had once been his. The long ride and the stress were enough that he was
soon sound asleep, the strage and yet familiar surroundings giving
birth to uncomfortable dreams.
He woke up the next day stiff but clear-headed. The clock on the
dresser read 5:45 but gave no clue as to whether that was AM or PM, and
at this time of year the darkness outside was no help whatsoever.
He left his room and walked quietly down the hall. The bedroom door was
still closed. The top stair complained loudly when he put his weighto n
it, so he moved to the side of the staircase where the steps had seen
less use over the years, and descended fairly softly.
Stomach grumbling, he headed for the kitchen, passing through the
living room on the way, and in the darkness he saw a lumpy form lying
on the couch. As his eyes accustomed themselves to the dim light, he
saw it was his mother, sleeping. Moving even more cautiously now, he
continued on into the kitchen and tried to make himself breakfast
without making any noise. It didn't work, however, and soon he heard
her stirring in the other room.
"Billy?" she asked, coming into the kitchen. "What are you doing up?"
"I'm making myself breakfast."
"Oh, let me," she said, trying to take the butter knife from him.
"No," he said, pulling it back. "I can make myself breakfast. Go to
bed." He went back to buttering his bagel, and a thought occurred to
him. "Mom? Why were you sleeping on the couch?"
"Well, Billy..." She trailed off.
"I -- Well, ever since your father passed away, I've been sleeping in
the guest room."
"Well, I didn't want to sleep in the same room, you know, after so
"That's not the point. How could you let me take your bed away from you
and make you sleep on the couch?" He put the bagel down on the plate.
"From now on, I sleep on the couch, you sleep on the bed."
"Oh, I couldn't--"
"Yes. It's ridiculous, a grown man making his mother sleep on the
His mother relented. "Thank you," she said after a few moments of
He ate his breakfast alone and then returned to the living room. His
mother was nowhere to be seen -- presumably she had followed his
instructions and gone to bed. Settling onto the sofa, Billy turned on
the television and flipped past the early-morning news to the sports
show, watching it with the sound turned down low, more for background
noise than anything else. Quebec had defeated Minnesota; Winnipeg had
played to a tie with Hartford; and hometown favourites Ottawa had
routed Toronto in record-setting fashion.
As the scores along the bottom of the screen began to cycle through for
the seventh time, Billy reached out and shut off the television once
more. The sun was still a ways from coming up, but he decided to go out
for a walk anyway, to refamiliarize himself with the town.
The air outside was cold but not as bitter as the day before, and when
he took the time to put on his hat and gloves he found the pre-dawn
winterworld to be really quite beautiful.
Rex Falls was just like he'd remembered it -- the same buildings along
the same streets. Some of them were empty, some had different tenants
or housed new businesses, but it was almost eerie to see how little had
changed over the years. He walked down Prescott Street with the street
lights glistening off the snow crystals on the ground, the whole main
street a string of shining jewels in the darkness.
Billy turned back for hom just as the sun threatened to peak over the
horizon, and in that twilit moment he felt the first hint of tears
behind his eyes, and swallowed them down.
Back inside, he shook the snow off and hung up his coat once more. His
mother was up again, and drinking coffee in the kitchen, the sun
streaming in through the curtains and across her face. "Will you be
stayling long?" she asked. "I'd imagine you have to go back to
Joinin ghis mother in the kitchen, he decided it was time to tell her.
"Actually," he started, "I'm moving back here, to Rex Falls."
A look of confusion crossed over his mother's face. "But your job--"
"I left it," he explained. "I sold the condo and I bought a business
here in town. A bookstore."
"Down at the end of Prescott Street -- Myriad Books." He paused. "I
thought it would be good to -- to be near you, again."
"Oh, Billy," his mother said, "thank you. But... where will you stay?"
"The bookstore has an apartment on the second floor. It neesd a bit of
fixing up, but I can sleep in the back room until it's taken care of."
She put down her cup. "Don't be silly. You'll stay here."
"Don't argue. That's what the guest room his for, after all. Guests.
Like you said, it's just until your place is fixed up." She sipped her
coffee. "I should probably start sleeping in my own bed again anyway."
"Are you sure?"
She half-shrugged, half-nodded. "I'm sure," she said uncertainly.
Abruptly, she stood. "I should clean up," she said. "We have to go
He glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's not even eight o'clock yet,"
he said. "We still have three hours."
She was already washing her cup. "Still."
He knew better than to argue with her over something like that. "I
should take a shower, then."
She turned off the tap. "Go ahead. I'll finish when you're done."
Lathering up in the shower, he mused about how quickly people settled
back into their old routines and patterns of behaviour. It was like his
uncle Marty had said once: old habits die with their owner.
He quickly moved his thoughts to something else.
After the shower, he dressed in the one suit he owned and prepared
himself for his father's funeral, mostly by trying not to think about
it. When the time came, he joined his mother, bundled up against the
cold, for the silent walk to the churchyard.
The funeral service was held indoors, of course. The minister said kind
words about Billy's father, then asked his mother to say some words as
well. By previous arrangement, Billy himself was not asked to speak --
something he had conflicting feelings about.
Afterward, they went back to the house to prepare it for the wake --
something Billy's father had been adamant about even when Billy was
just a boy. "When I pass on," he would say, "you'd better celebrate my
life. There's more than enough sorrow in the world already." Billy's
father had been keenly aware of his own mortality and good fortune ever
since his service in World War II.
Before the guests began to arrive, Billy's mother brought him to the
attic, where old clothes and knickknacks were stored. "Here," she said,
clearing off a surface. "Your father always wanted you to have this."
It was an old steamer trunk, beaten by time and weather but still
"What is it?" Billy asked.
He popped open the latch and lifted the heavy lid. Inside were old
newspaper clippings and journals, and at the bottom, a broad silver
belt folded neatly across a crimson cape and cowl. Some sort of
Hallowe'en costume or outfit from a masquerade ball? He looked closer
at the clippings -- there were some dating as far back as the start of
the war, others as recent as the mid-1950s. All had yellowed with age
but were otherwise intact, and all dealt with the same subject: the
exploits of Canada's first and perhaps best-known wartime super,
Template -- a man who, in the pictures, wore a mask and belt just like
those in the trunk.
Billy looked from the papers he held to his mother. She was smiling --
beaming in away he had never seen from her before. "I..."
"Your father," she said, wetness glistening in the corners of her eyes.
"These were his things. He was Template. And he wanted you to follow in
Billy looked down at the neatly folded costume and belt in the trunk.
Delicately, he put the clippings back in the trunk and shut the lid. "I
don't know what to say." The doorbell saved him from having to think of
The gaterhing was small and generally older than Billy. He had no
siblings, nor any cousins in the country, and so it was mostly friends
and family of his parents' generations. This wouldn't have bothered him
before, but now all he could think of was which of these ageing and
aged men and women may once have donned garish costumes to fight the
good fight beside his father. All? Half? None? Rex Falls didn't strike
him as a costumed crimefighter retirement community, but then, what did
he know anymore?
A solid knock on the door let him extricate himself from his thoughts
and a conversation he'd lost track of when they started.
The cold air rushed in as soon as he opened the door, and he regretted
not putting on his coat. "Hello?" he said to the man standin gbefore
him. He wore a grey duffle coat and a brimless fur hat pulled down low.
"Billy Kidman?" he asked.
"My name is Terrence Hutter," he said. "You don't know me and I don't
know you. But my grandfather knew your father."
"I see." He began to move aside, assuming the man was here to pay his
respects, but something about Mr. Hutter's demeanour made him stop.
"I know things about your father," he continued. "Things most people
don't. My grandfather was a proud man, Mr. Kidman, and a criminal. Oh,
I make no bones about it, because he was a *good* one. Until your
father came along, that is. He beat my grandfather, sent him to jail,
humiliated him at every turn. Of course, he never told me this. I found
out from my father." He looked Billy in the eyes. "He used to beat me,
my father. That stopped when I started to hit back -- and then he told
me about how your father ruined his father's life, and what it was like
growing up in his house after that. And how that ruined his life. And
"I'm not sure--"
The stranger cut him off. "I swore one day I'd get even with your
father for what he'd done -- ruined the lives of *three generations* of
Hutter men. But when I found him, he was old, sick, broken down -- I
couldn't bring myself to take vengeance on a man in his condition. And
now he's dead." He looked off into the distance. "Consider this fair
warning. The next time we meet, it won't be on such friendly terms." He
turned back to Billy. "My condolences on your father's passing."
Without another word, he turned down the stairs and walked away.
Billy shut the door and suddenly realized he'd been standing in the
cold for minutes without a coat on. His shirt felt frozen to his body,
and he wished dearly for another mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows
"Are you all right, Billy?" That was Doctor Hawthorne, who'd been the
family physician for longer than Billy'd been alive.
"Yeah. It's just -- a lot to handle."
Dr. Hawthorne touched him on the arm. "I understand," he said.
*No you don't* Billy thought.
"Your father was a good man," the doctor was continuing, "and he was
very proud of how his son turned out."
Billy smiled weakly. "Thanks." He looked over to the kitchen. "Excuse
There wasn't anyone or anything in the kitchen that needed his
attention; it had just seemed a convenient excuse to get out of a
conversation that he didn't want to take part in. He shut the kitchen
door behind him and sat alone at the table with his thoughts. The
phone mounted on the wall caught his eye.
*Consider this fair warning...*
What was he expected to do, just sit there and wait? He wasn't any sort
of hero, just an ordinary guy, but that didn't mean he had to just let
things *happen* to him without any say in the matter. He reached for
the receiver and dialled, waiting for someone to pick up.
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