We’d play cards late into the night listening to the radio, and if I didn’t feel like talking he never pushed me to it. Instead, I always felt like he could see into me and understood that there were territories in me that I never travelled. He was content to see me recover and get my feet under me again.

“Saul,” he said. “You ever pine for anything other than this? Ever have dreams of family, your own home, things like that?”

“No time for dreams,” I said. “I had some once. They didn’t pan out. I don’t have them anymore.”

He looked squarely at me and I held the look. Then he nodded and let it go. That was the first real conversation we ever had. For the most part he let me work and let me be. We were friends. There were always more silences between us than words but we understood each other’s need for privacy. I knew he missed his wife. He wore it like clothes. He told me some of it. How they’d been together almost thirty years. How he’d drive his father’s tractor twenty miles just to park on the hill overlooking her house on the chance that he might see her. How he met her at a country dance and she knew who he was. Had seen him on the hill. A faraway look would fall over him and he’d light his pipe and sit back in his chair and smoke and I knew to let him be.

Erv Sift was an angel. I have no doubt of that. He understood that I bore old wounds and didn’t push me to disclose them. He only offered me security, friendship and the first home I’d had in a long time. But there were times when I would get up suddenly and feel the need to walk, to be away. It billowed in me like a cloud. He wouldn’t say anything and neither would I. I would walk beyond the boundary of his fields and into the bush. Most times I would just wander. Sometimes I would find a tree or a rock and sit there and look out over the land and let the silence enter me. For a while the effect of the land was enough to keep me grounded. But there were always things swimming around in me that I could neither hold on to long enough to comprehend or learn to live with. It was like the change in the air that comes before a storm. You feel the energy build but there’s nothing you can do to stop it. That’s what it was like for me.

When those times came I couldn’t talk. There was no language for it. I suppose when you can’t understand something yourself it’s impossible to let anybody else in even if you’re motivated to. I wasn’t. The bleakness and me were old companions by then, and the only thing I knew how to do about it was to drink.

At first it was only a few furtive sips while I worked. Then it became longer periods of walking out alone and coming back when I knew Erv was asleep. Then it became a morning gulp or two. And then the roof caved in.

I sat out on the tailgate of the truck with the saws and the axes around me. I’d stopped to pick up a crock in town before heading out to where I was cutting a good sized deadfall of fir trees. The sun was out. The day sparkled. But I felt dead inside. There was no reason for it. Everything was on the rails and it was looking as though I could stay with Erv for as long as I wanted. The work was good. I had money. I had a friend. In the end, that was what busted it. As I sat there drinking I thought about how much I actually owed Erv, how much I owed him the truth about me, of where I’d been, what I’d done, the whole shebang. There was a part of me that really wanted to do that. There was a part of me that desperately wanted to close the gap I felt between myself and people. But there was a bigger part that I could never understand. It was the part of me that sought separation. It was the part of me that simmered quietly with a rage I hadn’t ever lost, and a part of me that knew if the top ever came off of that, then I would be truly alone. Finally. Forever. That was the part that always won.

So I drank. I finished off that crock and threw the tools and gear into the box and drove back to Erv’s place. He was gone. He was out making arrangements for a few head of cattle from another farmer thirty miles away. I put the tools away. Then I walked into the house and gathered my belongings. I stood in the emptiness of another kitchen in another house in another life that only meant to offer me shelter. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t run the risk of someone knowing me, because I couldn’t take the risk of knowing myself. I understood that then, as fully as I ever understood anything. I didn’t know why it was that way with me. I only knew it was. I only knew that I would run and that I would always continue running because I’d learned by then that it was far easier to leave if you never truly arrived in the first place. So I drained the one bottle of wine Erv had under the kitchen sink, and when the buzz had me hard I scribbled a note telling him where he could pick up the truck, and I drove away. Again. I was on a Greyhound bound for Winnipeg within an hour, with another bottle in my coat and the taste of another dried-up dream in my throat.