“Just go with him to the mall. Kat can help me with the cooking. He’s missed you, ya know? He needs help too. Last year he bought me a pair of pink sweatpants with ‘peaches’ written on the bum.” Mom rubbed Sara’s shoulders while whispering quietly. Dad had always thought he was the boss of the family, but only mom had the talent of getting the kids to do exactly what she wanted.


“And can you pick up some bread? Don’t let him get any of that squirrely stuff.”


Herb was waiting impatiently for her at the door leading into the garage.

“You ready?”

Sara got into the Subaru and buckled herself in the front seat.

“What are you carrying those around for?” she asked, noticing what looked like panty-liners sticking out from the coat pocket on Herb’s chest.

“Oh yeah, these. Well, it was jo…uh, your mom’s idea.  Guess she, uh…heh! Well, with my condition, keeps my underpants…”

“Ah. Yeah, I get it. No more explanation necessary.”

“I’m doing better though.”

“Mm-Hm. Well, maybe you should put them in your inside pocket.”

“Oh, yeah…probably a good idea.”

The Subaru kept drifting onto the wrong side of the road. They reached the first intersection and Sara noticed that the car stalled.

“Um, the car stalled.”

“Oh, yeah, uh…gas is real expensive now. So I just turn it off at, uh…” The rest of the sentence was lost to Never-Ever-Land.

He parked the car in a handicapped space at the front of the mall’s crowded parking lot, explaining that with his “condition” he was as good as handicapped.  They headed toward the front doors. A glum looking native woman rang a bell near a Salvation Army bucket.

“So what do you need to buy?” Sara asked, already planning a quick getaway so that she could have a smoke.

“Oh, well, uh…I haven’t really.”


“I guess I should probably still get your mom something…I mean, of course I still need to get her something.”

“And we need to get some things for her stocking too. Did you get anything yet?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“What did you get?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Well, I just want to make sure I don’t get her the same things.”

“A knife.”

“You bought mom a knife?”

“Paring knife.”

“Okay, well, why don’t you go ahead and go to The Bay. I’m just going to have a smoke and I’ll meet you in there.”

“Yeah, yeah. Uh…restroom.”

She lit up and sat down on a bench at the front entrance, watching Herb truck off to the nearest facilities.

“You can’t smoke here.” It was the glum woman with the bell.

Sara glared at her. “It’s outside!”

“You gotta be five metres away from the entrance, eh?”

Sara stood up and walked five exaggerated paces to the left. “Is THIS okay? Are my smoking fumes killing you from all the way over here?”

“I don’t make the rules, honey.”

“Yeah, Merry Fucking Christmas!”

After looking for her dad in The Bay for twenty minutes she found him in the lingerie section.  He was holding the frumpiest nightgown she had ever seen…apparently designed by Laura Ingalls Wilder herself.

“What do you think of that?”

“Um, well it’s a bit, uh…frumpy, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but it’s thirty percent off.  And I can’t get her something like THAT anymore. Not really approp…yeah, better not.” He pointed to a selection of lacy housecoats done up with feather trim.

“Well, why don’t we look around a bit first?”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. I should just get her that heating pad for her bad back, eh?”

“Well, no, I mean I think getting her a housecoat is a good idea, just maybe something, uh, a bit nicer?”

“Oh, okay. Sure. Or what about perfume?”

“Yeah, that’s always nice.”

They headed over to the perfume counter. Sample bottles were displayed upon disappointingly empty boxes wrapped in beautiful paper. Herb reached for a bottle of Polo Black and sprayed it at Sara.

“What about that?”

“That’s for men, and don’t spray any more on me.”

She watched her father approach a counter filled with more feminine looking bottles. A crystal glass of paper strips for testing sat near the display. Herb grabbed the first bottle and sprayed it on his arm.

“Dad, you can use those test strips.”

“That’s okay.”

“Well, they’re women’s perfumes.”

“I don’t care.”

He sprayed three more on his arms then smiled “Oh, I like that one!”

“How can you tell? You’ve sprayed four on your arm.”

“I can tell. Yeah, your mom really likes gar…”

Honestly, she wished he would learn to finish a sentence. What did she like?  Gardening? Garage sales? Garbage? She watched as he grabbed the tester bottle and started trotting toward the cashier.

“Dad!  DAD! That’s the tes…”  Never mind, she thought.  TWO can play this game!


After another forty minutes at Purdy’s Chocolates where Herb threw a fit because the clerk wouldn’t let him try a “sample” of the Crème de Menthe chocolates, another restroom emergency, and the purchase of the aforementioned heating pad, they headed out the mall doors.

“Wanna go to the Sally Ann?”

“Not really. We need to pick up some bread, though”

“I really want to check the Sally Ann. They bring out all the good stuff in the morning, ya know. Wanna get there before all the antique store owners do.”


They drove two blocks and dad parked the car in front of the local Salvation Army.

“You comin’ in?”

“No, I’ll just wait.”

Fifteen minutes later he emerged with a bulging plastic bag.

“Yeah, got some real good stuff. Fenton, Fenton.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“The candy dish. It’s Fenton. I got a real good deal on a couple Golden Books too.”

“What in the world is this?” She pulled out a cookie jar in the shape of a large hippo. It was in 1970s green and orange.

“Oh yeah…that’s REAL collectible. I can easily sell that on the Net for a hundred dollars.”

“For this? But it’s hideous.”

“Yeah, Americans. They’ll buy anything. So, where do ya wanna go now?”

“Well, we still need to pick up some bread.”

“Oh yeah, I think there’s a real good bakery by the Pro-Life Thrift Store downtown. They’ve got some of that real good fo-ko-shu bread.”

“Mom said she just wants regular bread.”

“Well, what’s it for?” Oh no…here we go. Dad was getting that annoyed, condescending tone in his voice.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, did you ask?”


“Well, how are we supposed to know what bread to get if you don’t ask?”

“She just said get bread and not to let you get any of the squirrelly stuff.”

“Well, that’s what I needed to know, isn’t it?”


“Well, if you feel you really need to, you can call her on my cell.”

“Dad, I don’t care. It doesn’t really matter. She just said to get some bread! Get whatever you want.”

“There’s no need to get upset.”

“I’m not upset!”

“Oh! There’s The Mission Thrift Store. I’ll just pop in real quick to see if they have any new stuff. Got a nice pair of Royal Albert salt and peppers there last time. They’re worth $120. Actually, the salt is chipped so probably less than that.”

They pulled up to a small parking lot in front of a two-story building.  There were three people-of-sorts hovering around a grocery cart filled with sleeping bags.

“You coming in?”


Another thirty minutes later dad emerged with another plastic bag.

“Got something in there for you.”

He reached in and pulled out a well-worn copy of Danielle Steele’s Fine Things.


“Have you read it?”


“Good. Thought you might like that. I know how much you like reading. Plus, they gave it to me for twenty-five cents because the cover was ripped.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Anywhere else you wanna go?”

“I guess just the bakery then home.”

“Oh yeah, right. You can get the bread and I’ll just check the Pro-Life place next door.  Get a couple of those fo-ko-shu buns too. They’re real good.”



“What took you guys so long?” Mom was pretending to wipe the already sparkling kitchen counters.

“Well, apart from stopping at every bathroom in sight, we also had to stop at every thrift store in town.”

“Oh no. What on Earth did he buy now?”

“Whole bunch of junk.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do!  Look at this house!  I don’t have an inch to even put a toothpick with all the crap he brings home. Come here…come look at this.” Sara followed her to the breakfast nook where a window sill had been filled with orangey-red glassware in the shape of cockatoos, pineapples and cabbages.

“What the Heck am I going to do with this stuff? He tells me to sell it online…well WHO is going to buy it? And it is hideous! I don’t want it in my house! I hope Kat’s stupid dog breaks some of it while he’s here!”

“Well, just wait until you see what he got today.”

“He is putting us in the poor house! I thought when he retired he would do something useful, like volunteer or take up a hobby. But, no! All he does is shop for crap! I don’t know why he can’t keep some of this stuff at her..” Mom heard the garage door open then became quiet. Herb’s footsteps clomped up the stairs.

“I got you the bread you asked for,” he said placing a regular loaf of plain, brown bread on the counter.


“Got a real good cookie jar at the Sally Ann too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.  Well, I’m gonna go watch Judge Judy.”


He trotted off to the family room downstairs.

“The cookie jar is a green and orange hippo.”

“Oh, honestly. I have a headache.” Mom pulled a bottle of Advil and Tylenol out of the cupboard and took one of each.

“You get much done?” Sara asked.

“Well, Kat came up and peeled some potatoes then said her gout was bothering her so went back to the motor home after an hour. But, I have the meatballs done, the jelly salad done and made a batch of shortbread. Now I’ve got to figure what to make for supper.”

“Why don’t we just go out?”

“Hmm. Guess we could.  Joe said they’ll be over by six. He’s over at your brother’s place right now. His friend is taking a nap upstairs.”

“So, it’s four now. Well, I might have a quick nap too. Jet lag is starting to set in.”

“Sure. I’ll wake you up in an hour or so.”

Sara walked upstairs. There were three bedrooms. One had been hers, and the boys had shared a bigger room. Mom and dad’s room was a larger suite, which actually had a tub in it near a window overlooking Swan Lake. The boy’s old room was now mom’s room. Mom had started sleeping there after dad’s surgery. She said she couldn’t handle the smell. Sara walked into what was now her dad’s room. It didn’t smell. Swags of pink, silk flowers covered one wall and antique furniture was arranged cosily in a small sitting area. A painting Sara had done of Elizabeth I with a grey face hung over the tub. She had told them she painted it grey because of the lead used in make-up during Elizabethan times. The truth was, she just liked the idea of the virgin queen sullied by grey.

She opened the doors to mom’s jewellery case.  She found the cameo sitting at the bottom where it always was. Dad had bought it for mom on a trip to Naples when they were young. Mom had promised it to her. She was just checking up on it.

Her room was across from mom and dad’s.  It was now a jumble of Barbies and teddy bears. When Ned’s daughter moved with her mom down to Kelowna, they had left her toys at “grandma’s” house.  She hadn’t seen Tiffany in three years either. She was nine now.

Laying down on the bed, which seemed insanely soft compared to her futon in Tokyo, Sara fell asleep almost instantly.