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"Just make sure my son never sees that stuffie on the grill or I'll kick you in the juggernauts," Maryam told Clive.
He laughed and told her she was "all right" and Maryam believed he meant it. She absorbed the first feelings of old normal she had felt in a while.
"Don't worry, I'm very protective of little kids," he said. He went off on his rounds. His warmth cocooned Maryam for an hour or two.
But by the time she drove south to Vancouver early the next day, Maryam was exhausted and stressed once more. The adrenalin pumping through her had no healthy outlet and pooled as prickles on the backs of her hands, on the tops of her feet, across her shoulders, her neck, her gut.
And they were late; dropping-off time for the children in Yaletown had already passed as they were winging through Squamish. The cellphone rang and was ignored.
Michael and Shula were fractious and loud, frustrated with themselves and their distracted mother. It couldn't have been a worse start to the new normal. Conditions were vile; Maryam got the car through a terrifying moment of near-hydroplaning at the Cheakamus Canyon and had slowed down, elsewhere construction work had left lanes closed for the weekend. By Murrin Park, south of Squamish, Maryam's speedometer matched her heart rate and she was back to 20 above the speed limit.
There were no other cars. Flying past the park and the bottleneck, Maryam realized she had not seen another vehicle for a while. She pressed on, in dim morning light under clouds that flowed into each other like congealed plastic shopping bags.
Approaching Britannia Beach after almost an hour on the road, both kids were screaming. Aaaah-Aaaaah-Aaaaaah! They were at sea level and Maryam put her foot down, zooming through the yellow traffic lights. She could see Howe Sound, white-capped and churning, in peripheral glances to her right. It could easily stand in for the crossing into hell, especially with the two little hellhounds baying behind her.
She pressed on, the rain doing the opposite of washing her clean. It was cold but Maryam felt feverish. She overthought the situation all the way down the highway. Simon's and Anne's kisses and worse, Michael and Shula's shrieks, no toilet bowl to bend over, interminable years.
Just as she was trying to cheer herself up by picturing herself as an anime freak-out in one of Michael's Pokémon cartoons, she saw flashing headlights coming up the straight, long hill at Furry Creek and re-engaged with the road. They were being warned.
A single vehicle was straining north up the hill; it moved rapidly with the lights blazing on and off in a rapid rat-tat-tat and Maryam braked to control her descent. Closer and closer. The truck, it was a truck, took the incline at speed. So quickly the juggernaut was upon them, it was the juggernaut, and before its full image had sunk in, it was in the review mirror and gone. Small world.