Sally and Alex went for a picnic with their sons Kent and Peter and baby Savanna. While playing, Kent fell into a hole and broke his legs.
[…] lt was necessary for Kent to spend the next six months out of school, strung up for the first few weeks in a rented hospital bed. Sally picked up and turned in his school
assignments, which he completed in no time. Then he was encouraged to go ahead with Extra Projects. One of these was "Travels and Explorations - Choose Your Country."
"I want to pick somewhere nobody else would pick," he said. The accident and the convalescence seemed to have changed him. He acted older than his age now, less antic1, more serene. And Sally told him something that she had not told to another soul.
She told him how she was attracted to remote islands. Not to the Hawaiian lslands or the Canaries or the Hebrides or the lsles of Greece, where everybody wanted to go, but to small or obscure islands that nobody talked about and that were seldom, if ever, visited. Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, Chatharn Island and Christmas Island and Desolation Island and the Faeroes. She and Kent began to collect every scrap of information they could find about
these places, not allowing themselves to make anything up. And never telling Alex what they were doing.
"He would think we were off our heads," Sally said.
Desolation lsland's main boast was of a vegetable, of great antiquity, a unique cabbage. They imagined worship ceremonies for it, costumes, and cabbage parades in its honor.
Sally told her son that, before he was born, she had seen footage on television of the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha disembarking at Heathrow Airport, having all been evacuated, owing to a great volcanic eruption on their island. How strange they had looked, docile and dignified, like creatures from another century. They must have adjusted to England, more or less, but when the volcano quieted down, a couple of years later, they almost all wanted to go
When Kent went back to school, things changed, of course, but he still seemed mature for his age, patient with Savanna, who had grown venturesome and stubborn, and with Peter, who always burst into the house as if on a gale of calamity. And he was especially courteous to his father, bringing him the paper that he had rescued from Savanna and carefully refolded,
pulling out his chair at dinnertime.
"Honor to the man who saved my life," he might say, or "Home is the hero."
He said this rather dramatically, though, not at all sarcastically, yet it got on Alex's nerves.
Kent got on his nerves, had done so even before the deep-hole drama.
"Cut that out," Alex said, and complained privately to Sally.
"He's saying you must have loved him, because you rescued him."
"Christ, l'd have rescued anybody."
"Don't say that in front of him. Please."
When Kent got to high school, things with his father improved. He chose to focus on science. He picked the hard sciences, not the soft earth sciences, and even this roused no opposition in Alex2
. The harder the better.
But after six months at college Kent disappeared. People who knew him a little - there did not
seem to be anyone who claimed to be a friend - said that he had talked of going to the West Coast. A letter came, just as his parents were deciding to go to the police. He was working at a Canadian Tire3 in a suburb just north of Toronto. Alex went to see him there, to order him back to college. But Kent refused, said that he was very happy with his job, and was making good money, or soon would be, when he got promoted. Then Sally went to see him, without
telling Alex, and found him jolly and ten pounds heavier. He said it was the beer. He had friends now.
"lt's a phase," she said to Alex when she confessed the visit. "He wants to get a taste of independence."
"He can get a bellyful of it, as far as l'm concerned."
Kent had not said where he was living, and when she made her next visit to Canadian Tire she was told that he had quit. She was embarrassed - she thought she caught a smirk on the face of the employee who told her -and she did not ask where Kent had gone. She assumed he would get in touch, anyway, as soon as he had settled again.
He did write, three years later. His letter was mailed in Needles, California, but he told them not to bother trying to trace him
there - he was only passing through. Like Blanche4 , he said, and Alex said, "Who the hell is Blanche?"
"Just a joke," Sally said. "lt doesn't matter."
Kent did not say where he had been or whether he was working or had formed any connections. He did not apologize for leaving his parents without any information for so long, or ask how they were, or how his brother and sister were. lnstead, he wrote pages about his own life. Not the practical side of his life but
what he believed he should be doing - what he was doing - with it. [ … ]
1 antic - silly
2 Alex - works in geomorphology, the scientific study of the origin and evolution of topographic features
3 Canadian Tire - Canadian retail company which sells a wide range of automotive, sports, leisure and home products
4 Blanche - a character in the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Aus: Alice Munro, "Deep Holes"
(New Yorker, Monday, 30th June, 2008).