Barbara Scott's "A Fragile Thaw"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

"Chinook Arc," an interactive, illuminated sculpture in the Beltline's Barb Scott Park (12th Ave & 9th St SW). Scott (no relation to Calgary author Barbara Scott) served as a city alderman from 1971 to 1995. She died in 2014, a few months before the park named in her honour was opened. Barbara Scott, the Calgary writer, is the author of a collection of short stories called The Quick. (Photo: City of Calgary)

"Chinook Arc," an interactive, illuminated sculpture in the Beltline's Barb Scott Park (12th Ave & 9th St SW). Scott (no relation to Calgary author Barbara Scott) served as a city alderman from 1971 to 1995. She died in 2014, a few months before the park named in her honour was opened. Barbara Scott, the Calgary writer, is the author of a collection of short stories called The Quick. (Photo: City of Calgary)

On Christmas Eve, Lily and her husband Martin go for a walk. A chinook is blowing in, taking the edge off the bitter cold. In the park, Lily tells Martin to carry on to the video store while she stays to watch the sunset. It is the first Christmas since their oldest daughter, Brenda died, and Lily is angry, picking for a fight, her emotions as cold and hard as steel. The night before, she and her family sat around the table for her mother’s pork roast dinner. A Norman Rockwell scene on the surface, but for Lily, a “wounded family suturing itself with remarks on the tender flesh of pork.” In the park, Lily thinks about her younger daughter, Melanie’s offering at dinner: a scene from Robert Graves’ memoir, Goodbye to All That. But Lily is no mood for a story about a Christmas Eve ceasefire on a World War I battlefield. The sound of shouting pulls her from her thoughts: three children are hurling insults at her from the top of the toboggan hill. Enraged, Lily decides to hold them accountable. She corners the trio and, after confronting the ringleader, lets them go.

 

It’s almost completely dark now but, with that wonderful irony of the chinook, the wind is warmer. The ice is crisping along the edges with the fragility that comes just before thaw. I press gently with my boot, hear the splinters trace spidery cracks along the thinning surface, think of spring runoff, summer mudholes and warm mud squishing between toes.

I think about Melanie’s story of the soldiers in the trenches. About the first soldier to make a move into no man’s land. The kind of courage it would take to walk out there, hoping the other side would understand the signals, wouldn’t blow you away with a careless round of ammunition. Or maybe the poor bugger had just gotten to the point where living and dying were all one to him. Blast away. Or not.

So I am standing in the looming darkness, watching it make a no man’s land of this park, and Martin lopes into my circle of vision. Melanie resembles him more and more. Right now she is tall and thin and gawky, but eventually she will move with that loose-limbed grace. I turn and look full at Martin, at Melanie in Martin, and I hope she has also inherited his patience, his strength. I step forward, not knowing whether he will embrace me or blast me. Knowing only that it’s time to lay down my arms.

 

Barbara Scott, “A Fragile Thaw,” The Quick (Dunvegan, ON: Cormorant Books, 1999)