We’re driving back to the prairies for your niece’s wedding. Hottest day of the year and the truck’s AC is broken. The mountains are blue ghosts under a gauzy sky. On the radio, the news is bad. Riots in Venezuela, squabbling world leaders, white supremacists. Everyone wants more than they have, even if they already have everything. The air tastes like wildfires and cow manure.
My horoscope says to stay positive, but I don’t buy it. You say you have a headache and my brain sidles into worst-case scenarios—a stroke, a tumour, viral meningitis. To cheer you up, I sing show tunes, but I only know the chorus to “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain.
I’m supposed to be navigating, but I never speak up in time and you never listen. I tell you to take the next exit, but you keep going straight. We have to cross a bridge and do a U-turn to get back on track. A couple hours later, after lukewarm sandwiches under anemic shade trees in Merritt, I ask you to pull over so I can get my bearings, but you’re already turning. Now we’re flying toward Peachland instead of Kamloops.
I tell you to turn around the next chance we get, but the map says we’re locked on the wrong highway for at least 20 minutes. Voluptuous hills with sun-bleached grass rise and fall on either side, offering no shade. The air in the truck gets heavy. It’s pressing on my lungs, my jaw, my shoulders. We sweat in silence, waiting for the other to talk, waiting for the other to apologize.
My horoscope says to stay positive, but I’m with the stoics on this one. Our strength shows not in good times, but in bad. That’s when we learn our hearts are not petals in the wind.
Where we’re going, there will be a beautiful wedding for a young woman who’s already seen more than her fair share of grief. There will be a family who drinks a little too much but only argues over the rules for crokinole. Your dad will be doing okay since he came off chemo and got a better hearing aid. He will hear your voice for the first time in years. It will all be fine, but I don’t know that yet. I’d rather not take any chances.
I swallow and speak first, knowing it’s the best way past this. We’ve been on this road before, I realize; we’ll travel it again. We get better at it every time.