I throw one more glance up towards Sam’s darkened, second-floor window, then continue up Pine. Around the corner onto Rideau and through the front window I can see Mama and Dad sitting at the dinner table like they’re saying prayers. It’s an odd sight. She’s pried him from the TV. As I step through the front door, I’m struck by how quiet the house is, like there’s a surprise-party about to erupt. They wait patiently for me to get out of my jacket and wet sneakers, then step into the bathroom to splash water on my unshaven face.

The hallway, the living room are like walking through a museum display with photos and memorabilia to evoke life in some other time and place. Mama likes photos, especially old photos, and she’s got boxes of them. There’s a handful of the four of us in various numbers and combinations, but many more of the family more broadly defined. The more public faces of the Magnons, captured for posterity. Faces, poses, frozen. The living room furniture hasn’t changed much either, from as far back as I can remember. A flimsy side-table, legs broken more than once, first and most memorably by Dad’s brother, Uncle Fred, who was demonstrating a curling move after too many glasses of wine one night over dinner and slipped on a rug like he was on ice. The legs have been mended each time they’ve broken since – each time less enthusiastically, or effectively, by Dad. There’s a sofa upholstered in worn green, last upholstered way back when and then some. The room looks like it should be dusty but it’s not. It looks like there should be little brass railings roped together in red velour to guide your path as you pass through.

The family room is different. That’s Dad’s domain. Comfortably equipped, fully loaded. Conspicuous convenience. The La-Z-Boy, latest model, is turned towards the kitchen and away from the muted TV where he swung to get up. It looks longingly after him, like a dog waiting for the master’s return. Through the door I see the kitchen floor, tiled in basic squares but in an odd mix of colors rather than just white and black – one of Mama’s whims. I become aware of dinner smells, something familiar, something I like but I can’t think what is it, just before I step into the kitchen doorway to see Mama pulling my plate from the oven. My appetite, marinated in beer, kicks up a couple of notches. She told me in the car that they ate earlier, but they’re both sitting there like they’re ready to go again. Dad’s dressed up in his bathrobe, and I’ll bet he’s got on those ragged slippers he bought many years ago on a trip to Montreal even though he’s got more than one new pair sitting in his closet. He half-turns as I approach the table and I’m struck by how his features have sagged, even just in the few months since I was last up here. I see, in profile, the loose skin on his throat and the folds on the back of his neck. His frame sags, too, like the barns outside town that have borne the snow of too many winters. [p. 26]