FROM MAKE OR BREAK SPRING

The trip from the Battery to the South Side was not long. Almost too soon, Peter cut the engine and tied his boat to a wooden wharf. He scrambled up a short ladder, carrying his book bag and his cane, shouldered the bag, then limped past the warehouses to South Side Road. The cane, unneeded in the boat, was a necessity now. He was well accustomed to his uneven gait, but never left the water without regret. Out there, his handicap didn't slow him.

Peter passed the Long Bridge that crossed the Waterford River. He was now "above the bridge" in St. John's parlance. The maze of old houses, coal depots, warehouses and cooperages below the bridge gave way here to larger, fine-looking houses facing the rail yard. Ahead, his friend Evelyn sat on the front steps of a house. She was two years younger than Peter, tall and slender, with a small, sharp face and a mop of dark, curly hair. On her lap sat her brother, a fair- haired boy of two and a half. He was christened Chesley Ian, after the old boat builder and his grandfather. But the resemblance to his grandfather was so strong that Ian quickly became his name. In spite of the difference in their ages, Ev and Ian were deep in conversation. Even at a distance, Peter saw how Ev's tall body shaped itself around the child, as if to protect him from all harm.

When Ian noticed Peter, he jumped off Ev's lap. Ev grabbed him by the wrist before he could dart out into the road.

"Peter!" Ian greeted him with joy. Peter smiled down on him.

"Morning, Ian," Peter said. "Morning, Ev." He could tell from Ev's face that she had not yet heard the news. "You didn't listen to the radio this morning, did you."

She shook her head. "It's Mum's day off. We didn't want to wake her."
 
Leaning heavily on his cane, Peter lowered himself until he was eye to eye with Ian. "Well, Ian, I'll tell you a great bit of news. Hitler's dead."
 
Ian looked back at his sister, uncertain.
 
"He doesn't understand, Peter," Ev said. She squatted in front of her little brother. "Hitler was a bad man. He's gone now, Ian. He can't ever hurt anyone again." She took Ian in her arms and looked at Peter over her little brother's head. Her eyes filled with tears. "Then it's true? The war is really over?"

 Peter nodded. "Just a matter of time."

 "Maybe now my father will come home," Ev said. Her father had been missing overseas since just before Ian was born.

 A car pulled up beside the house, intruding.

 Peter was surprised. "Where's your grandfather?" he said.

 Ev spoke quickly before the car door opened. "He phoned last night to say he couldn't come. I asked Grandpa not to send him." She spat the last word out, then fell silent.

 The man who stepped from the car was small and compact. His tweed suit was well- made, but old and rumpled. His sandy hair was barely touched with grey, and his face was lined with kindly concern. He looked directly at Ev, cautious and uncertain. Then, as if setting himself a difficult task, said, "Good morning, Evelyn."

 Ev only nodded, but Ian squirmed from her arms and ran towards this man.

 "Doctor T'orn, Doctor T'orn," Ian cried. Relief showed in the man's smile as he scooped little Ian into his arms. Then he stood looking at Ev and Peter across the child's head, just as Ev had held Ian only moments before.

 As Peter watched, Ev's body assumed a fighter's stance, chin up, hands clenched at her sides as if they would come up as fists at any moment. She could not have known how she looked--as if she wanted to wrestle her brother out of this man's arms.
 


Make or Break Spring, Janet McNaughton, $11.95 paperback, ISBN 1-895387-93-0, 188 pp. 
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