by Angela Leuck

Every year Martine goes to the country to stay with her father, a retired geologist. This year it has been raining almost steadily and the two of them move uneasily around each other in the cramped confines of the log cabin, past piles of mineral samples and charts from her father's lifetime of digging. Like all old geologists, he knows of a strike that would make them rich, if only there were money enough to be able to reach it, to build roads through the bush and sink a shaft deep into the earth.

As usual, Martine tries to play the dutiful daughter. She wonders who is more uncomfortable with these visits, her father or her. She has always sensed there is no contest with his piles of rocks. Even in his seventies, he is still intrigued by what lies beneath the unpolished exterior, the meaning and often startling beauty within. She attempts to fill the long wet days with sessions of meditation using the motley collection of musty cushions she finds around the cabin. She regrets now not bringing her own sitting cushions, but while her father has never expressed any outright objection to her midlife fascination with Zen, she suspects he does not entirely approve.

As one day of rain follows the next, Martine finds that time drags on unbearably. There are no unread books on her father's shelves that interest her. Thinking that she would be spending much of the time outdoors, taking long hikes and canoeing, she herself brought only one, an unfortunate selection she now thinks, a dense Buddhist text that she can't quite settle into.

She stares out the large window of the living room. The rain is at times so thick that she can see the trees and the lake only indistinctly. Will the cabin become like an ark and carry them off in all this rain? A bizarre state of affairs, she reflects, if they were the only ones to be saved. Yet, of course, the cabin holds firm and the days blend monotonously into one another.

One night at the end of her first week, after dinner, during which they both only picked at their food until they finally gave up and carried their plates to the kitchen and scraped the leftovers into the bin, she suddenly notices that her father is getting thin. Too thin, she notes with concern. She herself is tall and lean. Since taking up Zen she has felt herself growing lighter as if she is hollow, and when sitting has to fight the absurd feeling that she will float off somewhere. There was a time too when she would sit on her cushions and weep uncontrollably. She knows that this is only one of many stages to be passed through on the road to enlightenment.

In her other life, as a translator, she has had quite a successful year. One of the books she translated—a short novel by a young and edgy Quebec writer—has even won a prize. She did not attend the presentation ceremony and the award was mailed to her. Initially she placed the framed certificate on a shelf, then after a week put it into a drawer out of sight. She has not told her father about it. He would probably be pleased, but she does not know how to tell him without making it seem as if she is in some way still seeking his approval.

Tonight they are both sitting in the living room. The overhead light has not been turned on and they are each in their own respective pools of light from the unmatched lamps. The rain has eased. They are bent over their books in silence, when suddenly her father speaks. It is so startling that at first she wonders if he actually is speaking to her or if he is merely reading aloud something that has struck him.

"How is your life these days?" he asks her. "Is everything alright?" She can't see his face, which is in shadow.

Her life is the same as always, her work, her meditation, or perhaps the priorities are now reversed. Her friends too have changed, older acquaintances being replaced by those sitting beside her in the meditation hall, every particle of their being focused on gaining some small understanding. How can she explain this to her father?

"Well enough," she replies, "No complaints."

She thinks of a window in her apartment back in the city that had been painted shut and which was difficult to open. It had been years in fact that she had simply let it be, until last summer, the heat was so unbearable, that she had determined at all costs to have it raised. At first it seemed to be permanently lodged, until with continued shoving and heaving it finally began to move. So it seems now with her father, his effort to speak when for years they have scarcely discussed anything other than the most superficial aspects of their lives.

"You are becoming too much alone," he goes on, surprising her, because her father has always seemed to be happy enough by himself, has never seemed to need the company of others. "You're still young. Have you never thought of getting married again?" Now that he has begun, he seems unable to stop and barrels forward. "You and Roger were both too young when you married, Martine. It was bound not to work. I don't like to think of you alone."

Surely it is her place as only child to worry about him, an aging parent living on his own in the country. She does not know why he is saying these things. It is not like him at all. That he has mentioned her ex-husband Roger is also astonishing. She hardly ever thinks about him anymore. She knows he has gone on to become a successful lawyer, remarried and has several children. Their own brief marriage had been passionate and intense and had simply, and perhaps inevitably, burned itself out. The several unsatisfying relationships that followed had the effect of sending her deeper into her work, which she has never regretted, even if now translating has been overshadowed by her interest in Zen. In any case, surely her father must know that his days of expecting grandchildren are past, that she is too old, too set in her solitary ways.

"I'm sorry if I wasn't there when you were growing up," her father resumes, now clearly like a swimmer out of his depth, frantically grasping for something to hold onto. "When your mother died I didn't know what to do. I relied on others, perhaps too much. I felt the terrible loss of your mother, but you were a blessing, Martine. I want you to be happy."

Never in all their years together has her father spoken like this. There was a time perhaps when she needed more than anything to hear these words, when they might even have altered the course of her life. But now they seem misplaced and oddly perplexing. She knows that her mother dying when Martine was born is no one's fault, that it was the flow of life, something outside their own choices. It has taken her years of meditation to accept this. Martine decides to attribute her father's outburst to the effects of too many days of rain. It has put him in a strange, overly sentimental mood. Still, she senses he needs something from her.

"I'm happy with my life," she says at last, unwilling to venture into uncertain and unexplored terrain. She listens to the sound of her own voice, wondering if the words ring true.

And then the window, which has somehow been opened after all these years once again falls shut. Her father lapses into silence. The pools of light around them enclose them in their separate compartments and she has to convince herself that the conversation actually happened. After a few minutes she gets up to go into the kitchen, busies herself there for awhile putting away the dishes. When she returns her father has already switched off his light and gone to his room.

The next morning the rain has stopped and by noon the sky has begun to clear and the sun comes out, bright and blazing. Wearing a pair of her father's old rubber boots, too big for her but a necessity on a day like this, Martine walks down the three front steps of the cabin and stands on the sodden earth. The air is fragrant with the scent of moss and leaves and she breathes it in hungrily. She walks down to the lake and looks around as if she can't believe this sense of freedom to walk outside. Avoiding the deep, oozing patches of mud and large puddles, she heads to the tract of forest, which begins on the other side of the small wooden bridge to the right of the cabin. She doesn't go far, but stands for a long time beneath the still dripping pines and feels the tension slowly leave her body. For the first time since she has come to the country this year, she begins to relax. When she returns to the cabin, she feels refreshed, greets her father with a smile and sits on the top step to wait for the neighbour, Rejean.

Athough he has called to say he is coming, it is already past three and Martine begins to think that he is not coming at all. Not that they need the supplies that he is bringing or the mail, but she wants to see another face, needs some connection with a world outside their own too small and isolated one. She has known Rejean for years, a rather half-hearted farmer, who Martine suspects makes more money helping out her father and plowing the roads in winter, than he ever has from farming. At last, she glimpses his red truck flickering among the trees. She walks down the path to the clearing to meet him. Slowly his truck descends the steep incline and then follows the narrow, rutted road along the curve of the lake. He waves when he sees her.

She smiles as he gets out of the truck, but he returns only a pale version of her own. "I didn't know if you would come," she says, all of a sudden not knowing what else to say.

"You and your father need anything, you only need to pick up the phone and call me. You know that," he replies, almost defensively, as if she has criticized him.

"My father's lucky to have you as a neighbour," she says quickly. "No one could have done more than you have." She would like to say more, how he has made it possible for her father to continue living here, and how for her, when she's back in the city, she can feel secure that there is someone to check in on her father, to look out for him.

But Rejean seems moody, turns quickly away to retrieve the bags from the truck. She knows that he has personal problems, this man who was still young when she first met him and one time used to flirt with her. Today he gives no evidence of his usual joviality, and they walk without speaking to the cabin. The long stretch of rain, she thinks, has taken its toll on him too.

The days that follow are hot and sunny. The ground dries out and she walks through grasses that have grown waist high and thick. The mosquitoes and flies are worse than usual. To try to escape them she takes out the canoe, pulls it down the narrow sandy shore into the water. The canoe glides easily across the water, which is almost completely still. There is just her own small wake as she makes her way across the water. She paddles lightly, only enough to nudge the canoe along and not cause too much disturbance. In a way it parallels her life in the city. Alone in her large, nearly empty apartment, she lives a simple life, trying not to create disturbance, trying not to do harm in her passage through the world. She feels this is what her life is about, learning how to accomplish this.

She heads for the rock directly across the water from the cabin. It is a huge squarish mass of granite. Years ago, before her father owned the property, someone had built a rough wooden stairs that led to the top about 40 feet up. She guides the canoe to the shore, hops out into the shallow water and pulls the boat onto the pebbly beach. The stairs is old and rickety. She takes a few tentative steps to test if it is still solid, then begins to climb.

Once on top of the stone she can view the whole of her father's property, the two small connecting lakes, the marshes beyond, the curve of the wooded hillside. She can also look back at the cabin, where she now sees her father come out the front door and head for his chair on the deck. She notices that he does not look around for her, which both pleases and disappoints her. The giant slab of rock on which she sits feels warm beneath her, its great dark bulk a familiar element of her childhood. This is the rock to which she has come on many occasions, not for anything other than to feel its solidity, immovability. Lodged in her memory from her years in a French convent school, she cannot help but recall the potent Christian symbolism it represents. Yet she has left that behind long ago, the faith of her ancestors. Like the mother she has never known.

She tries to imagine her father at the beginning alone with her. For a man not even then so young and so accustomed to his rocks and inanimate world, how had he managed to adjust on his own to the demands of a newborn, needy, crying? Martine remembers the long series of people, always turning up at the necessary time, looking after her during her early years and when her father was away for his work. After that had come the refuge of boarding schools and university. Somehow they had managed, her father and her.

Martine glances across the lake again and notices her father going back inside. Above her she sees as well the first dark cloud. It was too much to expect, she supposes, that the rain would not come back. She was too ready to believe that all would be well and untroubled. Like the clouds that imperceptibly yet surely are racing across the sky, changing the light and her own mood, she begins to let her thoughts wander, lets them form their own patterns. And it comes to her, only now, here, high on this stone, that things are not well. Her father's thinness, his unexpected comments, the way in which Rejean was not able to meet her eye. Yes, it is becoming obvious to her now, so obvious that she can't believe that she has been so blind. How could she not have known? Is she so wrapped up in herself that she cannot see what is clearly right in front of her—that her own father is ill. The knowledge, the sureness of this intuition, spreads through her. Already she knows, as if it were a fact, that there will not be another year, that her father will not be here next summer.

For a moment her world threatens to disintegrate, but she is here on this rock, this immense piece of stone, that will not give way, will not register so much as the slightest shock at this revelation. Her mind races ahead, trying to grapple with what is to come. But then, intruding on her thoughts, is her sudden awareness of the trees behind her on the slope. The wind is blowing and they have begun to rustle and sway. The sky is growing darker, the clouds more threatening.

She must go down now, before the storm comes. The old wooden staircase shakes alarmingly as she descends. Once on the ground, she hurries to the canoe and pushes it into the water. On her trip back across the lake, she is not frightened by the rough waves. She is experienced, has crossed the lake many times in worse weather, but it takes all her effort to paddle the canoe. How slow her own progress now, how small her own wake seems, swallowed up in the larger waves of the lake.

Angela Leuck is a short fiction writer and a haiku poet whose work has been published in journals around the world. She is the author of haiku white and haiku noir (carve, 2007) and Flower Heart (Blue Ginkgo Press, 2006) and has edited numerous poetry anthologies, including Rose Haiku for Flower Lovers and Gardeners (Price-Patterson, 2005), Tulip Haiku (Shoreline, 2004), and, with Maxianne Berger, Sun Through the Blinds: Montreal Haiku Today (Shoreline, 2003). She is the current Quebec Rep for the League of Canadian Poets.