I’m not sure how many people will agree with me, but for me this is one of the best stories of the year, if not the best. On the other hand, it’s a “cancer” story, and we’re all sick of those, right? This one involves Bill, a truck driver (he delivers “treacle” to farms for their feed) in Scotland. His cancer has returned and he’s worried about how his wife Sall will take it and more worried about their daughter Caroline who works in Montreal and whom he hasn’t seen in a while. Sall and Caroline, it seems, have never gotten along well and as a result Sall has prevented Bill from accepting Caroline’s invitation to come visit. Bill cares about Sall but the love is gone and she isn’t really there for him, more worried about herself than about him, it seems. He just needs someone to talk to and he regrets turning down the offer of tea from one of the farmers he delivers to. Then he picks up a hitchhiker, a young man dressed as a woman who has obviously been beaten. Bill even tells him that the coming Christmas will be his last – he has needed to tell someone – but the boy’s problems are somehow bigger. The story borders on the over-sentimental, which is a risk with cancer stories, but it’s a satisfying read.
October 29, 2007: “The Cold Outside” by John Burnside