“Well, how are you doing anyway?” Sandy asks me when Katie and I arrive at the farm on Friday night.
He doesn’t remember who I am or that he used to call me ‘Peeker’, but he smiles as his eyes scan my intentions.
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I left the island.
Sandy uses a walker now to roam his do-it-yourself castle. His breathing is more laboured than before and his chest moves in and out with a machine-like precision. He is perfecting the art of staying alive.
“There’s your cat!” he yells to Katie as she heads to her part-time bedroom to drop her bag.
“He’s out of cat food,” he says as he abandons the walker to drag the five kilogram bag of dog food over to the cat’s dish.
“Are you and Joan still in couple’s counselling?” I tease him.
The last time I sat with Sandy, his focus was Katie’s mom.
“We get along better now than we ever did,” laughs Sandy, “and we did have three children together.”
For the first time, Sandy doesn’t use humour to insult her.
I show him the video of his 80th birthday party from my phone. He names his friends as they appear on the screen and then grows quiet. I wonder what it’s like to see his family standing together five years ago, singing about their home on the hill.
“Woah,” says Sandy, “Who is that old guy? Is that me?”
“Yup,” laughs Katie who has been home for ten minutes and already has tears in her eyes.
“Was he once the largest masonry contractor on Vancouver Island?” he laughs brushing back a patch of invisible hair, “Is that the longest living member of the Carpenter’s Union?”
Sandy exhales like he’s sipping hot brandy through a straw as he sits on the ledge of his walker and begins to remember.
“I am the Captain of the Estevan and if we can’t settle that point with words, we’ll settle it on the deck,” he says reenacting a story about his father.
“If we can’t settle it with fists, I’ll use a Marlin spike,” he continues, “and if that doesn’t work, I’ve got a Parker twelve gauge shotgun.”
“The engineer said ‘Can I have another scotch Cap’n?’” says Sandy roaring with laughter.
His stories are now fragments of a jigsaw puzzle that few people know how to solve. Katie joins the pieces for me as he speaks so I can share the punchlines.
On his way to bed, Sandy sturdies himself over his walker without using the brakes.
“I have to keep rolling or you’ll be throwing dirt in my face,” he says.
I look at Katie in awe and she laughs with a face full of tears.
When I arrive on Sunday to collect Katie for the ferry, she is holding space beside a sleeping Sandy.
Leaving is always the hardest part. Sandy’s life is a temporary contract and he’s the hourly employee of the month.
She gives him some cough candies for his cold and tells him she loves him.
He reminds her that he never had colds when he drank whiskey everyday and smiles like that one was for me.
Katie and I pile into my car and descend the hill of the farm where time doesn’t exist and funny memories are cemented in forever.