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by Steve Passey

The foreman would come to shop parties and bring a twenty-six ounce bottle of middlin’ rye whisky plus an empty twenty-six he’d fill with cold water. He’d pour half-and-half and drink until it was all gone. Then he’d drive on home, happier than most men.

He told me once: “I quit drinking every December 1st. I stay dry through December 30th. I’ve seen too many kids’ Christmases ruined by their parents drinking. Christmas is for kids. New Year’s Eve now, that’s a grownup’s holiday, so I start again on New Year’s Eve. This is how I know I can quit. This is how I know I’m not an alcoholic.”

Fair enough, I’d nod. Rye and cold water, half-and-half, except for those thirty days of his drinker’s Lent — thirty days every December.

We’d drink outside by a burning barrel fire and sit on the salvaged seats from wrecked passenger vans. Sparks from the fire would rise and fall like demonic spider hatchlings and leave pinpoint black marks on the ruined upholstery. His wife would sit beside him without speaking, her face like a bag of Saskatchewan road gravel. I do not mean to denigrate her, but she was worn. After all, there were only thirty days of Lent in her house, and soon enough New Year’s Eve comes and with it eleven months of adult holidays. I felt for her.

We both changed jobs. I lost track of my old foreman for years. Out Christmas shopping I ran into another man we’d worked with, and soon enough the conversation turned to old acquaintances and other times. He told me that he’d heard that my old foreman’s youngest boy had turned eighteen and joined the service. The day after they’d seen him off, proud parents with the flag on the tee-shirts they’d purchased and worn for that day, his wife had left him. She’d registered for school, it seems, and took two bags and instructions to sell the house and send her half, her post-Lenten toll or tare. Half and half, she’d said. Fair enough. She must have circled that date on the calendar, he said, but kept it close. He said he’d not seen the foreman or the wife or the boy even, but he heard this story and was telling it to me just so because he had no doubt that it was true.

Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collection Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock (Tortoise Books, 2017) and chapbook The Coachella Madrigals (Luminous Press, 2017). He is part of the Editorial Collective at The Black Dog Review.