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The boy twists in his sleep. His hands fidget, lost in some dream. The scar on his thumb reveals itself. He was just five when he got it. Against her warning, her husband had taken the boy out chopping wood. It wasn’t even ten minutes later when the boy came running into the house with a bloodied thumb. It wasn’t until she kissed his cheek that he began to cry — not because of the pain, but because he didn’t want her to get mad at his father.
The boy opens his eyes, and smiles. “Why don’t you get some sleep, mom?”
“I slept for the last hour,” she lies.
“Do you want something to drink?”
“It’s okay, I have the three dollars they gave me.”
Once again she fights back her tears. “You keep it for yourself, but don’t go blowing it on one of those townie girls.”
The boy laughs. “You’re the only girl for me, mom.”
She looks out the window to hide the quiver of her lip. A white wintery scene flashes by.
An hour later, they reach the outskirts of the city. The look of amazement on the boy’s face is enough to hold her anxiety at bay. Oh, the sights you have left to see, she thinks.
She can remember the first time he went to the fair. He spent the entire night running around. His little hand fit perfectly into hers. It was the first time he ate cotton candy. The sugar went straight to his head. He never slept the entire night.
The train comes to a slow, squealing halt. The boy is so excited that she has to remind him to not forget his duffle bag as they disembark at the station. A large clock on the wall shows a time of 10:34.
We’re fifteen minutes early, she deduces. Her stomach cringes.
To the mother of...
“Don’t get too far ahead,” she says. It’s more of a plea than a demand.
The boy smiles back. “Keep up, slowpoke,” he teases, as they leave the station.
“We’re a long way from home, uh?” the boy gasps, looking at the endless row of wooden buildings that line the street.
It’s cold outside, but not unbearable for February. The air stinks, tainted with a mixture of salt and coal. The price of progress.
“We can take a carriage,” the boy says. “I’ll use my money.”
“Don’t be daft,” she answers. “You save that money for something more important. It’s a half-hour walk, at the most.”
The boy slings his duffle bag from one shoulder to the other.
“Do you want me to carry that for you?” she asks.
“Now, you’re the one who’s daft,” he smiles, exposing a dimple to the left of his mouth. His father had the same one.
Her feet are wet and cold. The ankle-high canvas boots do nothing to stop the snow from seeping in.
“It’s just up the hill, Mom, I can see it from here.”
She looks up. A wall of stone looms just over the hill. The pang in her stomach returns.
Every step she takes now is laboured, weighed down with the expectation of what is to come. The boy, on the other hand, seems to be gliding up the hill.
“Slow down,” she asks, she begs.
The fort walls are awe-inspiring. Above the main gate is a large carved emblem of a caribou with “The Newfoundland Regiment” scribed around its perimeter.
As they approach the main entryway, two armed guards exit an adjacent wooden shack and politely block access. “Ma’am,” one states matter-of-factly, “can we help you?”
The words will not stammer out of her mouth.
“I’m here to join the regiment,” her son blurts out excitedly.
The men share a sideways glance.
“Is something the matter?” she asks.
The guard on the right replies, “Not at all. Come in. Follow the stone walkway up to the main registration building. Just look for the caribou. You can’t miss it.”
Inside the fort, the sound of weaponized machinery is evident. To their left, there is a rapid succession of gun fire that provokes a scream from the mother.
“It’s okay,” the boy laughs, and takes her hand.
The path circles the perimeter of a cobblestone parade square. Two large brick buildings edge up against the right side of the square. They look cold and empty.
“Look at that, Mom!”
She follows her son’s gaze straight ahead to a large statue of a caribou.
“It’s majestic,” she whispers. She can feel her legs weaken. Her breath becomes laboured.