The Extraordinary Quality
of Happenstances of Small Importance
by Channie Greenberg
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The next stage of her trip took her to Winnipeg. Sassafras had aimed to stop at Eagle-Dogtooth Provincial Park on the way, but ascertained, at that park’s locked gate, that the park was no longer functioning as a public space. She used the side of the road for her toilet and then motored on.
At Winnipeg, itself, Sassafras delighted in a dinner bought from local food trucks. Her tummy smiled as it filled with gumbo from Beaujena Bus and with perogies from Better than Baba’s. Later, she slept at a cheap, downtown hotel. Unfortunately, she woke each time she heard footsteps pass her door. The sound of male and female voices mixing in the corridor made her think of Byron and of how his actions had devastated her.
The next morning, rather than go directly to the highway, Sassafras stopped at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Granted, the garden’s deer, bison, and elk were fascinating, but the animal expert had detoured to dialogue with the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre’s staff. Those wise care providers were renown in veterinary circles for their success with transitioning orphaned cubs. On her way out of the zoological park, Sassafras saw many mommies with young children. She returned to the keepers’ building to beg for Internet access.
From Winnipeg to Saskatchewan was a relatively long drive of more than ten hours. What’s more, having spent nearly the entire morning at the zoo, Sassafras had gotten a late start. It was bedtime when she finally pulled into the vacation suite she had rented at Regina Beach. Sassafras was so exhausted from the exceptional number of hours that she had driven that she reserved her suite for a second night.
During her “bonus” day at Regina Beach, she idled; she ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a neighborhood coffee shop. The shop’s fish were fresh, its coffee was hot, and its other offerings were good enough. Into the bargain, the limited parade of residents, who passed by the shop’s window, made for a satisfying distraction.
That night, Sassafras cried. She had been unable to locate any wireless local area networking. The totality of Canada’s beauty was as nothing relative to the voice that was most majestic to her. After a long period of tossing and turning, and a second breakfast at the coffee shop, Sassafras filled her tank and drove to Calgary.
That portion of her adventure took her more than ten hours. The driving ought to have taken only slightly more than eight, but at Medicine Hat’s Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Sassafras had questioned herself for nearly an hour, trying to decide between extending her trip by a day to rent a park cabin and pushing forward to Calgary.
Supposedly, there were no bears in Cypress Hills. In addition, its mule deer were legendary. The text that Sassafras had received from Bernie, while Sassafras was debating outside of the park’s rangers’ office, though, decided her. Candace was having so much fun with her cousins that Bernie and her husband had discussed the idea of Candace moving in, permanently. In fact, Bernie had thought her proposal was so marvelous that so had hurried to share it with her sister.
Hence, that night, Sassafras did not sleep in a cabin in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. She did not sleep in C-Town, either, but in a country inn at the mouth of Banff National Park, an hour west of Calgary. Every hour closer to Vancouver that Sassafras drove was an hour closer that she got to Candace. The hues of Canada’s hills, sky, and flora had suddenly become vexing. Sassafras increasingly wished for her once-in-a-lifetime trip to be over.
Accordingly, that morning, rather than hike into areas where caribou could be seen and wolf scat could be collected, Sassafras once more added gas to her tank and drove on. The portion of her drive from Banff National Park to Kelowna took her just six hours.
On the way, she had deliberated whether or not she ought to give up her deposits on her remaining nighttime rentals, backtrack, and then fly home from Calgary. She tempered those thoughts with: her belief that she wouldn’t want Bernie to provide her with a week of childcare, again, her knowledge that once Candace was old enough to enter first grade, placing her with relatives would become unrealistic even if they were willing to watch her, and her uncertainty about the permanence of her remission from cancer. Further, before Sassafras had begun her getaway, Dr. Jones had asked her to decide between selling her share in clinic to Jones and investing more hours into running it.
Kelowna was on Okanagan Lake, a location noted for coyotes and bald eagles. Ordinarily, Sassafras would have been charmed by the nearby presence of imposing wildlife as well as by the kitschy touches of the retro-style hotel in which she had booked a room. As it were, she saw Kelowna only as a layover on route to Vancouver.
Just before entering Vancouver’s limits, Sassafras weighed stopping at the Sema:th Preserve to talk to its inhabitants about the ways in which compromised aboriginal rights impacted their animal husbandry. She didn’t speak Halq’emeylem, but knew that many of the native people spoke English. Plus, folks who wanted to communicate with each other about critters can usually make themselves understood. Ultimately, however, Sassafras forwent that special opportunity. She reached Vancouver a little more than four hours after leaving Kelowna.
That afternoon, Sassafras visited the Vancouver Aquarium. There, she was guided by Mateo, the head of the Aquavan program. He was an offsite aquarium employee and was back at the park to resupply his vehicle. At night, the two shared dinner and drinks in a nondescript restaurant.
Mateo was a marine biologist, not a veterinarian. He was as kindhearted as Bernie’s husband, as lovable as Candace, and as easy on the eyes as Byron. Sassafras agreed to keep in touch with him after she returned to the States.
Sassafras, who intentionally slept alone that night, slept well. It had been a long time since she had slept well.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast in her hotel’s lobby, Sassafras drove the three hours that split Vancouver from Seattle and then boarded a flight home. Maybe, the Aquavan driver would become her lover; maybe not. Thousands of miles, her health crisis, her motherhood, her half ownership of a pet care clinic, and many other considerations separated them.
Sassafras reclined a little in her seat, all the while being careful not to disturb the woman sitting behind her. Irrespective of any future she might enjoy with Mateo, the road had provided epiphanies. She had been able to determine that despite her life’s significant disruptions, she remained dedicated to animal welfare and to fiercely protecting Candace. On top of that, she had come to terms with that fact that although her disease was presently in abeyance, it could resurface in months or years.
Withal, the veterinarian had also learned that given total freedom, she did not morph into a rowdy gal, that is, into an individual comfortable with casual sex. By and large, even though Sassafras had found herself still attracted to and still attractive to men, she continued to value her privacy and safety.
It seemed like only minutes ago that Sassafras was driving thousands of miles in a realm where urbanization was the exception, and where conifers, asters, and honeysuckle were the rule. It felt like just a short while earlier that she hadn’t had to urge Candace to go to bed, or to comfort per owners who were more afraid of veterinary procedures than were their four-legged friends. It certainly looked as if mere hours had passed between the present and her most recent pointless court session with Byron.
Shrugging, sighing, and slugging forward, Sassafras added back enough time to her clinic schedule to restore her to full-time status. Simultaneously, she hired Milo’s cousin, the one whose comeliness was second only to his, to help out; in Sassafras’ brief absence, the patient load seemed to have once more swollen.
That new hire, Martha, too, had been raised on a farm, and proved every bit as useful as Milo with calming frightened pets that required exams. She also proved every bit as good as her cousin at marketing Pets Need Care’s services to indifferent owners. Most importantly, Martha was willing to use some of her off hours to babysit Candace and to do so for a reasonable rate.
Sassafras needed a regular, reliable sitter since Mateo had developed a habit of flying out to Sassafras every month or so. During those visits, although he was never invited into Sassafras’ bed, he did use up most of Sassafras’ free hours.
By the time that Candice entered a multi-aged classroom at Reggio Emilie Preschool, Mateo had proposed. Marrying Sassafras would enable him to spend the rest of his life with her and would enable him to help nurture Candace. He was fascinated by Sassafras’ fearless method of engaging other animal care providers and he was enamored of her willingness to mop up pee and feces alongside of her technicians. He admired, moreover, that Sassafras hadn’t waited until she retired to drive across Canada; had she hesitated, they might never have met.
In view of his appreciation, one night, after helping Milo finish putting the waiting room magazines back into some semblance of order, Mateo announced to Sassafras that he hoped to share puppies with her. Her odd facial expression caused him to clarify that he meant human babies. He then presented her with a ring.
Sassafras was so dumbfounded that she accidently dropped her engagement gift into a nearby slop bucket.
Without hesitation, Mateo grabbed a pair of gloves, extended his hand into the can and retrieved the jewel. Using paper towels, he removed the bulk of the mess sticking to it. Next, he used warm water and soap on it. Afterwards, he applied an enzymatic cleaner to it and then rushed with Milo to the clinic’s black light to check for remaining detritus.
When Mateo returned to the waiting room, his precious gift restored to its former luster, the office staff howled. Sassafras laughed, grabbed the ring from Mateo’s hand, slipped it onto the correct finger and shouted an emphatic “Yes!” Cheers went round. More and more items, which ought to have been emptied into hazardous waste or into regular refuse receptacles, got accidentally knocked over.
That night, in Sassafras’ apartment, over warm milk, which was Candace’s favorite drink, and over piles of doughnuts, which had been boiled according to the recipe passed down in Martha and Milo’s extended family, the staff went crazy. Dr. Jones, who was smiling all along, muttered something about regaining Sassafras only to lose her. Bernie Skyped in an offer to watch Candace during the honeymoon. Guests reenacted the ring fiasco again and again.
A knock at the door, at first unheard, and then realized, stifled all of the good feelings. It was Byron’s lawyer. He had been dispatched to remind Sassafras that alimony payments would cease once Sassafras was wed.
Mateo poured a glass of warm milk for that messenger and passed him a doughnut. The stiff professional relaxed. He lingered at the party for more than half of an hour. Before he left, he tipped his hat to Sassafras and told the crowd that he, personally, was glad that Byron’s ex-wife, unlike Byron, valued self-discipline over self-fulfillment and that the former would almost always bring the latter but that the second rarely brought the first.
Copyright © 2018 by Channie Greenberg