Mr. Blake arrived first. The oldest board member, he practically lived at the Lit and His. He took off his coat, revealing his uniform of gray flannel suit, laundered white shirt, blue silk tie. He was always perfectly turned out. A gentleman, who managed to make Elizabeth feel young and beautiful. Shed had a crush on him when shed been an awkward teen and he in his dashing twenties.
Hed been attractive then and sixty years later he was still attractive, though his hair was thin and white and his once fine body had rounded and softened. But his eyes were smart and lively, and his heart was large and strong.
Elizabeth, Mr. Blake smiled and took her hand, holding it for a moment. Never too long, never too familiar. Just enough, so that she knew shed been held.
He took his seat. A seat, Elizabeth thought, that should be replaced. But then, honestly, so should Mr. Blake. So should they all.
What would happen when they died out and all that was left of the board of the Literary and Historical Society were worn, empty chairs?
Right, we need to make this fast. We have a practice in an hour.
Tom Hancock arrived, followed by Ken Haslam. The two were never far apart these days, being unlikely team members in the ridiculous upcoming race.
Tom was Elizabeths triumph. Her hope. And not simply because he was the minister of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church next door.
He was young and new to the community, having moved to Quebec City three years earlier. At thirty-three he was about half the age of the next youngest board member. Not yet cynical, not yet burned out. He still believed his church would find new parishioners, the English community would suddenly produce babies with the desire to stay in Quebec City. He believed the Québec government when it promised job equality for Anglophones. And health care in their own language. And education. And nursing homes so that when all hope was lost, they might die with their mother tongue on caregivers lips.
Hed managed to inspire the board to believe maybe all wasnt lost. And even, maybe, this wasnt really a war. Wasnt some dreadful extension of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, one which the English lost this time. Elizabeth glanced up at the oddly petite statue of General James Wolfe. The martyred hero of the battle 250 years ago hovered over the library of the Literary and Historical Society, like a wooden accusation. To witness their petty battles and to remind them, in perpetuity, of the great battle hed fought, for them. Where hed died, but not before triumphing on that blood-soaked farmers field. Ending the war, and securing Québec for the English. On paper.
And now from his corner of the lovely old library General Wolfe looked down on them. In every way, Elizabeth suspected.
So, Ken, Tom said, taking his place beside the older man. You in shape? Ready for the race?
Elizabeth didnt hear Ken Haslams response. But then she didnt expect to. Kens thin lips moved, words were formed, but never actually heard.
They all paused, thinking perhaps this was the day he would produce a word above a whisper. But they were wrong. Still, Tom Hancock continued to talk to Ken, as though they were actually having a conversation.
Elizabeth loved Tom for that as well. For not giving in to the notion that because Ken was quiet he was stupid. Elizabeth knew him to be anything but. In his mid-sixties he was the most successful of all of them, building a business of his own. And now, having achieved that Ken Haslam had done something else remarkable.
Hed signed up for the treacherous ice canoe race. Signed on to Tom Hancocks team. He would be the oldest member of the team, the oldest member of any team. Perhaps the oldest racer ever.
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