The Extraordinary Quality
of Happenstances of Small Importance
by Channie Greenberg
Sassafras looked through the peephole of her front door; on the other side of that slab of fortified steel stood Byron. His left hand was dangling loosely, but his right hand was busied with his smart phone.
Byron’s ex-wife frowned as she listened to the buzzes and clicks that his communication device produced. She wished that she did not have to share custody of Candace with him. Every time that Candace returned home from a “Daddy Weekend,” she was difficult to mollify and impossible to get back on schedule. The only bright light in that arrangement was that Byron was permitted custody for only a single weekend each month.
True, as an airline pilot, he often used his two allotted nights to take their child on international junkets. Yet, on balance, there were always planefuls of cabin crew to make sure that Candace received adequate attention. Over and above, if Byron were to be believed, crew volunteered to watch Candace whenever Byron wanted to swim or go to a bar. Candace would acquire hotel-level manners and would be skilled at judging strangers before she even grew up.
Even so, Sassafras had frowned upon hearing about those arrangements after the first of many “Daddy Weekends.” She was not trying to raise a sophisticated child. On the contrary, she hoped to rear a daughter who, unlike her mommy, would balk at liaisons with tall, tan strangers in literal aviator glasses, who were possessed of unlimited sky miles. Quickly, the travel perks that came with marrying Byron had paled relative to the suffering Sassafras had endured after coming to know that his affair with a copilot dated mere months from the time he had plighted his troth to his wife.
Just the same, Sassafras’ mom had pointed out to Sassafras that Byron was “only mostly” as morally bankrupt as had been Sassafras’ father. Having learned as a child the folly of playing tug-of-war with her mom over her dad, Sassafras neither agreed with or discounted that assessment. Instead, she busied herself with essentials. She hadn’t wanted to be divorced, a single mom, or an adult in need of a new apartment. As well, she had wanted her mom to give her emotional support.
While awaiting one of her many court dates, Sassafras had hired a veterinary assistant. He was tasked to take over certain of her jobs, both within and beyond the clinic, especially her role as the local school district’s science coordinator, and her paperwork duties at Pets Need Care. The clinic she co-owned had grown to employ three dozen people.
Then again, Sassafras had hesitated to ask Milo to step in for her in actual medical matters. No one could surpass Sassafras in administrating the Heimlich maneuver on Bichons Frises or in removing ticks from ornery toms (Albeit, Sassafras’ partner, Dr. Jones, was the superior of the pair when it came to handling reticulated pythons with stomach aches and fancy rats with bacterial eye infections.)
Even though Milo did little actual therapeutic care, Sassafras’ new helper made women “thirsty.” A farm boy, who had earlier worked part-time at the feeder cattle auctions of Empire Livestock’s Market, the newbie was equally good with calming chinchillas awaiting vaccines and with entertaining soccer moms stuck in the waiting room. After he joined the Pets Need Care staff, the number of human companions seeking elective treatments for their furry or feathery dear ones doubled.
Shaking her head as if to clear it, Sassafras opened her door to Byron. Her ex looked up from his phone and walked inside. He never waited for her to invite him in.
“Candace’s first birthday is coming up.”
“I want to take her to Greece for two weeks.”
“She’s a baby and you’re a player. Why subject her to long hours in your girlfriends’ care when she can stay home with me?”
“You could use a vacation, too. Just look at you. Anyway, when I went to your office to drop off some legal paperwork, meaning, the court forms for this request — witnesses are sooo important — I noticed your hunky hire. I bet the interview process was exhausting.”
“Keep your gutter mind outside of my life. He’s filling a need.”
“Dealing with paperwork, representing me on the school board, and making personnel decisions. His help leaves me more time to deal with the animals.”
“Plus, he lacks your trash brain.”
“Pity. Is Candace ready? My layover is short this week.”
“Yes. Here are Dr. Silton’s instructions. She’s had an ear infection for a few days and must receive both topical drops and antibiotics per os.”
“Huh? Some of us aren’t smarty pants.”
“Read the directions. You can handle full sentences, right?”
During succeeding weeks, Sassafras fought Byron’s appeal for a fortnight-long visitation on the occasion of Candace’s first birthday. She lost. Byron had produced medical records of Sassafras’ fight, the year before their wedding, with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and had made the argument, via an expensive, but pleasant-seeming, lawyer, that his ex-wife’s life expectancy was limited. It followed that their lone child should, posthaste, become more acquainted with him, her father. Despite the detailed records, provided by Sassafras’ equally pleasant-seeming representative, as to why Sassafras had been awarded primary custody, the judge sided with Byron.
When Candace returned from Greece, Sassafras struggled more than usual with getting her readjusted to bedtime and to breakfast hour. Candace’s ear infection had cleared up at the same time as she had come home with a rash of mysterious origin.
Candace screamed each time blood was taken from her. Dr. Stilton had ordered many tests and had determined, in the end, that the little girl had contracted Hepatitis A. The culprit was revealed to be the nanny Byron had hired to care for Candace while he was wilding. The woman had not only neglected to read bedtime stories to Candace; she had also neglected to wash her hands between eating and changing diapers and between using the bathroom and everything else.
There was no personal culpability to be had, as the nanny had been a temporary employee who had been placed with Byron through an agency. As for making the agency cover damages, Sassafras lacked the energy, and Byron lacked the interest.
Doc Stilton, nonetheless, prescribed two days of hospitalization and then six months of home stay. There could be no daycare for that span. Whereas Byron was reduced to twice yearly visits, Sassafras suffered more than him because it was she who had to reduce her workload to tend to their child.
Meanwhile, Nancy Jane Grayson, another renter in Sassafras’ building, was visiting the local hospital for a “simple” wide excision of an alleged stage-0 in situ melanoma. Not only did the cauterization at the site of her incision have to be repeated, but her lab results came back grim. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, i.e. with metastatic disease. The hungry, rapidly multiplying cells on her skin had spread to her liver, her small intestines and her brain.
Nancy Jane opted out of clinical trials, was ineligible for immunotherapies, and died eight months after her disease had been classified. The cancer cells inside of Mary Jane had used too many of the resources that her healthy cells had needed and had done so in quick succession. Sassafras grieved along with her neighbors.
A few months later, Candace was eligible to return to daycare. At that point, having seen how precipitously Mary Jane had perished, and remembering her own disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer, Sassafras was reluctant to return to full-time practice. Her sister, Bernie, supported Sassafras’ need to change courses.
Specifically, Bernie offered to watch Candace in loco parentis, so that Sassafras could jaunt across the length of Canada as she had long wanted to do. Sassafras declined to sign over custody. Still and all, she willingly left Candace in Bernie’s care. Candace would have a houseful of cousins with whom to play. To boot, Bernie’s husband, who was both inoffensive and warm, could model male decency.
As for the menagerie of animal owners that insisted on Sassafras’ attention, among Dr. Jones, Milo, and the rest of the PNC staff, there would be no neglected fish, bird, or gerbil in the community. Likewise, Pomeranians and Persians would be well provided for.
After a ninety-minute flight from New York to Ontario, and after passing through Customs, Sassafras acquired her rental car, stopped at a local convenience store to stock up on comestibles, and then began the first leg of her trip. That drive of over five hours would bring her to Toronto. Nevertheless, it took Sassafras closer to eight hours to get to that Anglo city as she had stopped, in Prince Edward County, for bird watching, and for a walk on the waterfront.
Sassafras had considered also renting a room at a Prince Edward inn, but had called to mind the upper limit she had given herself for time away from Candace. Thus, she had left the scenic northern shore of Lake Ontario and had driven through to Toronto to the B&B space she had secured beforehand.
That good-sized, clean studio made her miss home. At least the rental was populated, as promised in its ad, with cats. Sassafras fell asleep to the purrs of her landlord’s animals.
The second part of her adventure, from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie, hugged the coast of Lake Huron. It ought to have taken Sassafras a little more than seven hours for that part of her trip, except she was sidetracked by the river otters that she had espied while making a lunchtime picnic. Sassafras passed a good chunk of the afternoon in a dreamlike state, in which she watched them frolic, before realizing she had many kilometers to drive before arriving at her next bunk.
As it were, Sassafras had reserved a lovely, woodland cottage complete with a fully equipped kitchen. Instant pancakes and corn-based syrup never tasted as good as it did when she overnighted there.
The third segment of Sassafras’s trip covered eight plus uneventful hours from Sault St Marie to Thunder Bay. Along the way, she enjoyed the roadside scenery. As she traveled, she saw many groups of cyclists. One group consisted of a family transporting their sons and daughters via rear wheel-hitched wagons. After passing those big and small helmets, Sassafras felt an immediate need to find a satellite connection point, or, preferably, a place with working Wi-Fi.
Sassafras slept just north of Thunder Bay, in Kamanistiquia. Through Facebook, she had been able to book a room at a Lake Superior gatehouse and to cancel her reservation at a chain hotel; she had made good use of her rented satellite connection. All the same, that night, she found it awkward to be propositioned while waiting in line for the hallway bathroom. After twice checking the lock on her bedroom door, she promised herself, going forward, to better scrutinize her lodgings.
Copyright © 2018 by Channie Greenberg