No one ever saw him again.
Jeb begins to speculate anew of what might’ve happened to Norton when the skitter of a squirrel overhead disrupts his thoughts. He stops to look up. Standing under a large maple tree that has already shed its reddish leaves, with only a few here and there reluctant to let go, he finds it easy to watch the clever brown acrobat dart from limb to limb, chattering. Jeb soon loses sight of the critter when it darts up the trunk of a neighboring spruce tree. Turning his gaze uphill, he contemplates the sharp rise. He tugs on the straps of his pack, tightening them across his chest. Sniffing the cool air, so clear he can smell the trees, he pauses a few moments longer. Pleased with himself, he heads out to rendezvous with his granddaughter.
Eight hours later, Mindy and Jeb are sitting on a fallen log three meters from their tent complaining about their overworked muscles. Jeb is reminded of some he hasn’t used in years. A large fire crackles in front of them in a makeshift pit they made with odd sized rocks. The surrounding trees provided the wood. A slight breeze from the north moves the sharp smoke away from them. The pleasant aroma of burning pine seems almost therapeutic. The clear sky is black with a million pinpricks of light. It’s down to 12 degrees and both have donned heavy fleeces. The flames flicker in the dark, throwing off a welcome heat. Mindy uses a long slender sapling as a poker to prod the wood into flames. They talk about their day in gleeful rapport.
- How Jeb had bragged about his famous salami and gouda sandwiches, which he’d made for their lunch, only to discover he’d forgotten to pack them. They’d had dry gorp and granola bars instead.
- Their astonishment when they climbed above the tree line – nothing but grey, cracked stone the last two hundred meters – where they discovered the whole valley and sister mountains to the south were visible. They both loved the sensation of height and had remained silent for many moments.
- The abandoned Ranger’s station at the very top of the mountain – a four-by-four square meter structure with a double-hip roof. Guy wires of thick twisted steel braced all four corners to solid rock. The fierce winds that streamed across the mountaintop at times would otherwise carry it away. Jeb scolding Mindy for trying to climb the structure – exclaiming that the apex of the roof was actually the highest point in New Brunswick. Her slipping off the roof, and Jeb breaking her fall.
- The kettle of bald eagles that coiled about the sky on hidden thermals – updrafts created by the mountain sides – and how majestically they had soared. They had left Mindy wishing she could fly.
- The vivid orange and ovoid globes dotted with yellow patches: amanita flavocona – a poisonous mushroom they had found attached to red spruce the species favored at high elevations. Jeb showing off, telling Mindy the common name was “yellow warts.” Ugh! was Mindy’s response.
They shift into silent spheres on occasion, one pondering what the other has said. Jeb asks about her boyfriend. Is he taking the job out west? Is that what she wanted to tell him? No answer! So he talks about her experience testifying at court as a member of the RCMP’s Firearms and Tool Mark Identification Section; her knowledge of firearms is extensive.
Jeb tells her how many of his acquaintances passed away in the last year. They argue about which team will win this year’s Stanley Cup. Even though they haven’t won a championship in her lifetime, she refuses to turn her back on the Maple Leafs. They touch briefly on the dead body she found last year. She chatted about the new Glock 19 Gen 4 handgun she purchased. Jeb told her about the marvelous young woman of 68 he had met at dance classes, and asks if Mindy minds?
They both stare at the flames and become quiet. Jeb has a closed mouth smile; Mindy has a smooth brow and glad eyes. Yet they look uncannily alike.
Jeb’ stomach rumbles and he breaks from his trance. “Time to eat, my dear. Open the wine if you don’t mind.”
He jumps up, hastens to his pack just inside the unzipped tent to remove two heavy tin foil plates – like supermarkets sell their pies in – each wrapped in a thin thermal towel. Mindy already has the wine, plastic glasses – his neon green, hers bright pink – and the cork screw. She had taken them out when she’d unpacked her sleeping bag before dinner. With a practiced hand, she slits away the top foil, twists in the corkscrew and opens up the grape.
The coals are pushed into a heap, with two pockets shaped on top, into which the heavy tin plates fit. The coals glow with heat, manifested by pink, white and red flares. A lick of blue flame erupts around the edges, where the heat finds something solid. Jeb puts on his hiking gloves to place the plates on the fire and the heat singes the loose threads on the end. The burnt nylon stinks.
Once the homemade roasters are sizzling, with aromatic juices of garlic and butter scenting the air, Mindy says, “Oh, Gramps, those smell good. How long?”
“Probably twenty minutes. Why?”
Jeb can see her smile in the light of the flames. It couldn’t be any bigger.
“I want to tell you the surprise now.”
Jeb is jubilant, he’s been thinking of every possible scenario since she informed him of something she wanted to tell him earlier. “Excellent.”
He grabs his neon green wine glass and tips it toward the wine, noticing she brought a bottle of Jacob’s Creek, Select. One of his favorites.
“Good choice, young lady.”“Yeah, I know how much you like it.”
“Must be something special.”
After filling their wineglasses, she touches the edge of her glass to his. Mimicking fine lead crystal, she chants, “Pa-tinnnnnng. Here’s to the best Grampy ever.”
Jeb blushes and clears his throat, soaking up the comfortable vibes.
“To my favorite granddaughter.”
“Hah! I’m your only granddaughter.”
“Okay then, my favorite grandchild… and don’t tell the boys I said that. I love your brothers just as much.”
Mindy winks at him and takes a sip of wine. The firelight makes the blonde highlights stand out in her short curly hair. He has a hard time seeing her as a cop.
Mindy balances her glass on the log beside her and reaches into her jeans pocket to withdraw a small bag the size of a book of matches. She holds it up so he can see it. It’s too dark to see it’s made of grey velvet and silk tassels as she tugs the puckered opening apart. Reaching in with two fingers, she withdraws an original Vera Wang engagement ring. The 1-carat marquis diamond encased in an ornate band sparkles in the glow of the fire. She slips it on her left ring finger.
“That’s wonderful news, Mindy. I’m so happy for you. Congratulations!”
“Darrick asked me to marry him.”
Jeb can see how happy she is. He can read it in her eyes, the way they widen in delight. Jeb’s good with this turn of events. After all, Darrick’s a solid man who dotes on his granddaughter.
“And you said yes of course.”
She concentrates on her ring for a moment, the facets teasing her eyes as she turns her hand toward the light as she happily nods her head.
‘Thank you, Grampy”
They both stand to hug. Mindy gives him a loving squeeze. By Jeb’s reaction, she knows she’s made the right decision. He backs off and holds her at arm’s-length.
“What did your mother say?”
“I haven’t told her yet. I wanted you to be the first to know.”
Mindy is shy now and breaks away from her grandfather. Pointing at the roasters, she says, “I think those might be done now.”
Jeb turns to eye the sizzling platters, steam escaping from the holes he made in the tin foil with a fork.
“A little more will be okay, I cut those potatoes kind of thick. So, you didn’t plan this trip just to tell me that did you?”
“No, there’s more. C’mon, sit down again.”
She rests upon the dead tree and when Jeb sits beside her, she holds his arm close to her and leans her head on his shoulder.
“I want you to walk me down the aisle.”
Jeb stares at the embers as she tells him. His elation is complete, a pulsing sensation of love and happiness. The coals turn all bleary as he tries not to blink. His reaction confuses Mindy and she asks gently, “Well?”
Jeb can’t talk, scared he will blubber. He offers her a gentle wave, asking her for a moment. She leans forward and sees the gleam in his eyes. She knows he will say yes.
The glowing embers and tin plates fade away. In their place a little girl walks from the living room and approaches him in the kitchen. Jeb is standing with his back against the cupboard, arms crossed as he munches on an apple. Mindy stops three or four steps away. He stops chewing and looks down. She’s almost eighteen months old and only thirty-one inches tall. The face that looks up at him is a
perfect oval, the eyes uncertain. Jeb can’t think of anything more dear. After a few seconds she blurts,
That was the first time she tried to say his name. The boys called him Gampy then because they couldn’t pronounce Grampy and that was the closest she could get. Jeb glowed with adoration, thinking nothing could make him happier.
Until the same little girl grew up.
Jeb untangles his arm and hugs her close.
“Thank you for this, Mindy. I guess I’m just about the happiest Grampy in the world right now. So… when’s the wedding?”
She replies nonchalantly, “In four weeks.”