[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Nathalie had never been so grateful to have found Marc than that particular week. What a rock he’d been. Even when he was still away up north on an exercise, he’d found time to text her many encouraging notes (he would have found time to skype, too, if only there had been half-decent internet where they were, but fat chance of that in the bush or tundra or whatever the hell it is they call the wilderness outside the “towns” of northern Quebec. Nothing up there works like it’s supposed to. Cellphones do, most of the time, if you don’t mind your call dropping six times during a conversation. Marc had tried phoning Nathalie a few times but disliked having to redial her every third minute. It felt to him like he was letting her down, somehow. Much better to text.

He was back home this week, and he called in sick to help his partner of nearly 10 years and the mother of his beautiful children get through the emotional rollercoaster of losing both parents in a week. He sometimes called Nathalie his wife but in point of fact, like most couples their age in Quebec, they’d never bothered getting married because they didn’t see the point of sealing their union with a bit of paper in a church neither belonged to. And truth be told, while plenty of common-law partnerships went south in that province, the relationship Marc and Nathalie had was as solid as any marriage. Probably more solid than a bunch of them, actually. They were extremely committed to each other, having both had bad break-ups before finding each other.

Marc had carved out a comfortable enough life for Nathalie and their kids. They weren’t rich, but he pulled in enough overtime to provide them with a reasonably decent living. Nathalie worked at a corner store part time, and they used her salary to pay for restaurants and movie outings once or twice a month. They weren’t putting money away, much. They wanted to, but they didn’t earn enough to cover that and their share of the cost of living at Résidence des Érables for Nathalie’s parents, which came up to $2,000 a month (Nathalie’s brother Jean-François covered the other $2,000, goodness only knew how). It was an arrangement that had been decided on mostly by their mother, and she’d sure laid on a fine guilt trip on them to make sure they accepted the expense.

“I’ve spent so much time and money raising you,” she’d said, over and over and over again in the two or three years before they finally settled on which retirement residence they would live in, “now I expect you children to help us live out the rest of our lives in as much comfort as I gave you.”

As I gave you, Nathalie remembered. Yeah, that was an interesting way to put it. It was her dad who’d earned the money, not her mom. And while they weren’t poor, they also never really lived in the kind of luxury their mother expected to get now. I mean, considering the government was subsidizing some of the costs by capping the amount the residence could charge the family at $4000 a month per couple ($2500 per single individual, provided the person was mostly autonomous; it got a lot more expensive as the level of care required went up), it was a big cost for Nathalie and Marc to absorb. It was also difficult for Jeff some months to come up with the money. Poets didn’t usually get a very reliable income, and there were months that were pretty dry. Nathalie had more than once had to help him cover his half of the costs, and had also gotten on his case a lot about the need to get a job, any kind of job, to help cover his expenses, but he always resisted that.

“Artists aren’t meant to sweat at menial jobs,” he’d sniffed, completely oblivious to how offensive that sounded to Nathalie, who had to be happy with her menial job at the corner store down the street, not because she couldn’t find work someplace else, but because at least at that store the owner was exceedingly understanding of her family’s needs and offered her the kind of flexibility in her hours that was hard to come by.

Nathalie’s parents had been living at the residence for nearly five years now, which meant Marc and Nathalie had had to come up with nearly $120,000, and that wasn’t money they’d been planning to spend for that purpose. In fact, they’d had to dip into their line of credit more than once to make the payments, and of course their own kids’ education funds were pretty dry. While he hated himself for thinking such thoughts so soon after their deaths, Marc couldn’t help thinking how much this freed-up money would help him retire sooner and spend more time helping with the kids and maybe take up a second career as a boat fixer. He’d always loved boats, and when he allowed himself to daydream he saw a nice little profitable business crafting beautiful custom houseboats. He’d even found his supplier of pontoons and had found a small lake not half an hour away where he could rent a slip and test his boats and everything. He could turn the garage into a shop and earn enough, on top of his pension, to keep them comfortable and help the kids get through college if that’s what they wanted.

Not that this was a good time to think about this, of course. His wife – I mean, partner – was in his arms, sobbing, and his was stroking her hair gently, not saying much of anything except to remind her that he was there for her and that they’d get through this together.

[next chapter]