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From the Hardcover edition.
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For the first seconds after Andy’s body slumped onto the searing metal of the truck bed, it seemed as if we were all encircled by a spell that froze us in the terrible moment of his fall. Suspended in time, the political people standing behind the stage, hands wrapped around plastic glasses of warm beer, kept talking politics. Craig and Julie Evanson, the perfect political couple, safely out of public view, were drinking wine coolers from bottles. Andy’s family and friends, awkward at finding themselves so publicly in the place of honour, kept sitting, small smiles in place, on the folding chairs that lined the back of the stage. The people out front kept looking expectantly at the empty space behind the podium. Waiting. Waiting.
And then chaos. Everyone wanted to get to Andy.
Including me. The stage was about four and a half feet off the ground. Accessible. I stepped back a few steps, took a little run and threw myself onto the stage floor. It was when I was lying on that scorching metal, shins stinging, wind knocked out of me, chin bruised from the hit I had taken, that I saw Rick Spenser.
There was, and still is, something surreal about that moment: the famous face looming up out of nowhere. He was pulling himself up the portable metal staircase that was propped against the back of the truck bed. His body appeared in stages over the metal floor: head, shoulders and arms, torso, belly, legs, feet. He seemed huge. He was climbing those steps as if his life depended on it, and his face was shiny and red with exertion. The heat on the floor of the stage was unbearable. I could smell it. I remember thinking, very clearly, a big man like that could die in this heat, then I turned and scrambled toward Andy. The metal floor was so hot it burned the palms of my hands.
Over the loud-speaker a woman was saying, “Could a doctor please come up here?” over and over. Her voice was terrible, forlorn and empty of hope. As soon as I saw Andy, I knew there wasn’t any point in a doctor.
Andy was in front of me, and I knew he was dead. He looked crumpled — all the sinew and spirit was gone. For the only time since I’d known him, he looked — no other word — insignificant.
The winter after my husband died I had taken a course in emergency cardiac care — something to make me feel less exposed to danger, less at the mercy of the things that could kill you if you weren’t ready for them. As I turned Andy over on his back, I could hear the voice of our instructor, very young, very confident — nothing would ever hurt her. “I hope none of you ladies ever have to use this, but if you do, just remember ABC.” I was beginning to tremble. Airway. I took Andy’s chin between my thumb and forefinger and tilted his head back. His flesh felt clammy and flaccid, but the airway was clear. Breathing. I put my ear on his mouth, listened, and watched his chest for a sign of breathing. There was nothing. I was talking to myself. I could hear my voice, but it didn’t sound like me. “Four quick rescue breaths and then c. Check circulation.” I bent over Andy and pinched his nostrils shut. “Oh, I’m sorry, Andy. I’m sorry,” and I bent my mouth to cover his. ABC — but I never got to C.
There was a smell on his lips and around his mouth. It was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Something ordinary and domestic, but there was an acrid edge to it that made me stop. Without forming the thought, I knew I had smelled danger.
Then I looked toward the podium and saw Rick Spenser filling the glass from the black Thermos. I didn’t hesitate. His hands were shaking so badly he could barely hold the glass. Water was splashing down his arms and on his belly, but he must have filled his glass because he raised it to his lips.
Suddenly the world became narrow and focused. All that mattered now was to keep him from drinking that water. I opened my arms and threw myself at Rick Spenser’s knees. It was a surprisingly solid hit. He fell hard, face down. He must have stunned himself because for a few moments he was very still.
The next few minutes are a jumble. The ambulance came. Spenser regained consciousness. As the attendants loaded Andy on the stretcher, Spenser sat with his legs stretched in front of him like the fat boy in the Snakes and Ladders game. When I walked over to the podium to pick up Andy’s speech portfolio, my foot brushed against his.
In the distance I could hear sirens.
That last day of Andy Boychuk’s life had started out to be one of the best. In June he had been selected leader of our provincial party, and we had planned an end-of-summer picnic so that people could eat, play a little ball and shake hands with the new leader of the Official Opposition. Simple, wholesome pleasures. But in politics there is always subtext, even at an old-fashioned picnic, and that brilliant August day had enough subtext for a Bergman movie.