“When you were little you had baby root beer?” Bud asked.
“Yes. They brought it to the car. On a tray. It hooked on the window. Every second Sunday me and Pop and Nan would come here and I would have baby root beer and fries. Just like you.” Leonard said.
“That’s a lot. Every second Sunday. We never come here.” Bud took a slurp of his root beer.
“This was the only fast food place in town.” Leonard said. “Now there are four or five places to go.”
Bud knew them all, and was good at spotting them from his car seat.
“I’m five.” Bud stated. “I’ll be six in Sep-em-burr.”
“We will try to make it out here once a year. I promise,” Leonard added.
A pair of women, Leonard’s age, sat at the table next to them. The one in the sweater twinkled her fingers at Bud. “Cutie pie,” she whispered.
The woman arranged the food off their trays. “There seems to me more wreaths this year,” she said, wiping her face with a napkin, even though she had not eaten anything.
Two more wreaths Leonard figured. The fisherman’s kids must be all grown up. Probably they moved into town. He had just came back from the site a few minutes ahead of the women. Maybe they were driving into town. He had to pass it, turn around and come back.
He was home. Just watched the national news and had a typical low voltage seizure because they were all over Canada Day on the news, but didn’t mention Memorial Day at all. It was like one of the key days of remembrance in Newfoundland was being ignored. They always had their Dominion Day and we always had our Memorial Day. Confederation never changed that. But now it was Canada Day. All Canada Day. Some fireworks. Concerts. Television ads for rakes.
And to top it off there was speculation that there was going to be an announcement tomorrow about the fishery. It had been suggested the feds were going to shut it down. After 500 years of fishing. It’s like turning off nature. How could you shut down a fishery? “Shut down banks! Insurance companies!” he had yelled at the television. Fishermen from all parts of the province were coming into town.
Noelle had left to help her friend Cheryl. Cheryl and Howard lived out in da Pearl. Howard was acting up again. Howard lost his legs below the knees – a minefield in Kuwait – and the ads for weed killer probably sent him well past Leonard’s sense of indignation. Military guys liked their liquor, but there’s only so much pain you can bottle up.
The phone rang. At 11:30 pm. Who calls at 11:30 pm? The baby was asleep.
“I’ll never forget it,” the non-sweater gal said. She was on the same side of the table as Leonard, and he never really got a good look at her. She was wearing a light blazer, changed somehow, but it still looked like an outfit from Miami.
The sweater gal picked up her soft drink. She was going to have to listen to it again this year.
“We were coming up behind the tractor trailer. Full of oil pipes it was. Burf said ‘Whoa’ as the truck just swerved on Kenmount Road without slowing down. I thought I saw the pickup on the side of it as we approached, but I can’t really be sure. We slowed down. There was a massive crack sound. Then the pickup was under the rear wheels of the big truck. The big truck started to turn over. All those pipes. The pickup was there – crumpled. Behind, there was a streetlamp. We saw it shake. That’s when the car hit the pole. I remember watching in slow motion as the globe from the streetlamp fell. Sparks everywhere. Then the car came screeching past the pickup in the other direction. In the air. It hit a transport truck that was trying to avoid the pickup.” She made a spinning motion with her hand, finger pointed down to the table. Bud was playing a small sword fight with two french fries.
“The car hit the truck in the grill.” She punched the air with her fist. “And the car – on fire – flew over the pickup and exploded.” Fingers outstretched. “The second big truck went off the road. It was full of stuff for the Regatta. Plush toys… soaked in glycol. Giant bags of popcorn seed spilled everywhere.”
Bud stopped playing with his french fries. Perhaps it was hearing the word ‘toys’. Perhaps it was popcorn. His Dad hated popcorn. He stared at the lady.
She kept on going, with a lower voice.
“Burf sort of hit me, trying to slow the car down. I had a miscarriage, apparently. Lucky it must have been twins. The lefties always survive.”
“You think that caused the miscarriage? I thought you were headed to the hospital anyway.”
“That’s what I told Burf. He caused the miscarriage.” She took a nibble of her burger. Bud fisted some more fries.
“Then all the police and ambulances showed up. Seemed like two minutes. We parked and looked. There was nothing we could do for anyone. Burf was just released from Dorchester. He wanted to stay low. They went right to the car – the firemen – with the jaws of life. And I never told you this before – the two firemen, they did a ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ between them to see who would operate the jaws of life. There was no point. No hurry. The fire just kept popping up. The car was so beaten up all the wheels had been knocked off. You couldn’t tell if it was right side up or upside down.”
“The firemen just do that. The senior fireman always wins. He plays scissors. The other guy plays paper. They just do it. Teamwork, command thing,” the sweater gal said. “I remember that from when I worked Emerge. Firemen are a bit odd.”
“C’mon Bud. Let’s go.” Leonard gently suggested.
“Maybe the firemen put up a wreath this year,” Miami gal said.
“Wreaths!” Bud piped up. “We saw wreaths. They are for my mom,” he said. “She died when I was little. In a car crash. In a car.” He slapped his little hands together. “Always wear your seatbelt,” he advised.
Leonard did not know whether to feel ashamed, proud or sad. There would always be a numbness. A part of his heart was gone, forever.
He looked into the space in between the others. “That’s the night the music died.”
For most people that was the day the rock had been papered over. Bureaucracy erased geography. For Leonard it was the day he became untethered, cut off from the world. God left his life. Now his life was Bud, and for the time being, he was Bud’s.