August is far too hot for a black suit, so I wore dark grey. The car ride took three hours, in which time I dared not remove the pristinely dry-cleaned and pressed coat that matched the pants but not my socks.
The socks were black but made by Nike, and therefore more appropriate for the basketball court than the gathering I was about to attend.
The only other member of my immediate family that could attend was my father, who had left with his brother — the younger of my two uncles, but still older than my old man by nearly ten years — so that they could pick up my grandfather, whose age we all lost count of after his second 85th birthday party.
The car ride was solemn, sombre and solitary as I made my way out of the bustling metropolis and out to the small, dying town that seemed so magical in my youth.
Berrywalk was perfection in the rural sense. I was an outsider, but I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I came to this place at least six times a year for the first 12 years of my life.
If my math is correct, and it usually is, this means that I had travelled to Berrywalk roughly a million times by my 13th birthday. The town was small, so small that I think it technically qualified as a shire.
This seems to be an appropriate description of Sandy Lake, now that I have reached my full height and have realized that the denizens of the town were all second generation Canadians and at least a full foot shorter than me.
Berrywalk was small, and it is getting smaller. People don’t live in this small town; they die there. This is why I have made the solitary trip out for the fourth time this year. This time my great aunt has died and I decided to call in yet another sick day instead of having to explain why it is so important that I drive for six hours to say goodbye to a woman that I hardly knew.
I make this trek every time my father tells me that so-and-so has died because I have, earlier in my fresh existence, realized that Berrywalk is dying and one day the last citizen will cease to breathe, and on that day, when no one in town will be able to pull themselves out of the ground to pay their respect to Sandy Lake’s sole survivor, at least one person will be there to say goodbye.
Berrywalk is a place for the dead. Anything alive enough to escape has fled this place years ago, so why do I feel as though it is my responsibility to see it through to the end? Maybe I am the last of a noble breed of watchmen, who protect the last vestiges of the old world, dying in a place where they don’t belong, or maybe I just have a morbid sense of curiosity.