There were the stories she told of the wasted trees in this new country, those that refused to bear fruit. What was the point. When at home she could lift up one hand into any branch, and discover nourishment. Long before she a grandmother, or mother at all, far away from everything that she knew, sick a week for her ignorance, angry and embarrassed. How the doctor spoke to her like a child, admonishing. You should not eat what you don’t recognize, his forefinger wagged. Well then, she thought, perhaps I shouldn’t eat anything at all. Feigning spite, even under her breath. In her small rented room, she cried a long time, with no one to comfort her.
This was no city where men stood on the shoulders of other men, forming a human tower, but one where the other threats that she knew still held, a culture of language that quietly stewed and then steamed underneath the yoke of another. She had come quite a distance to hear the same frustrations along these Canadian streets, the same arguments, but with a breath as cold as a widow’s icy stare. The same arguments, yet unable to catch all the words, the nuance of meaning. She had devoted herself to such common sense, and this place made no sense to her. Not even the trees understood her.
This was a city with no sport, and no livestock, no fruit bearing trees. Where was the country in that.
The small moments and series of small moments that made up a life. When her husband had come to this country, fifteen years old, riding west to find work, a train starting Halifax, Montreal and Toronto to eventually Winnipeg. He had been but a week off a ship, and could still barely stand, find his footing. The train offered no respite.
They took his tickets and pointed, these train men. Kept talking, slower and slightly louder when they realized he didn’t understand. A foreign language will ever be that, no matter how loud or how slow, until it begins to seep in. Keep this pounding away from my temples and ears, he had thought.
But he was young, and too shy to ask, and not knowing the distance he had to travel, he remained on the train well past his mark. The distance from Moscow to Paris, he would tell to his children, from the city of czars to the city of lights, arriving not in Winnipeg but Edmonton. Once he realized his mistake, there was little to counter. From home, what was the difference. And so he began.
It would be another twenty years before he returned east, back to the city where she was battling trees and French-speaking snow, unaware of just who he was, and who he would be. After his years in the west, Montreal was the closest he’d found to his own setting, what he had left behind in Europe. After twenty years in the west, this was like home again, and he came back for good.