COW BAY ROAD MUD AND FIRE
Some people shouldn’t retire. If they do, they must then do other things, or they will go mad.
If not mad, then terribly bored and terribly irritable.
The Scot is such a man.
Not only retired but, worst of all, he is forbidden to play the trumpet.
Doctor’s orders – no wind instruments.
He’s sitting in his favourite chair, the tv is on but he’s not watching.
“If I can’t play the trumpet, I might as well be dead,” he says. He sighs – deeply - in the direction of his wife.
The Acadian stops sweeping the floor and looks at him.
“Oh, for God’s sake – go for a walk or something,” she says.
“And you can still play piano – play a few tunes and you’ll feel better.”
His face is sad.
“Not the same.”
She swats the side of his leg with the corn broom. He lifts his legs. She sweeps under them.
Her patience has worn thin for this retired Scot.
A lively man all his life - hard-working, hard-drinking – “all for fun and foolishness.” But this slouching, listless fellow gets on her nerves.
There is no retirement for the Acadian. Her work never ends.
There’s still bread to bake and meals to be made and a house to be cleaned. There are not as many kids to look after but the grandchildren come often enough to keep her hopping.
“The b’ys are not around much these days, are they now?”
He’s referring to my five brothers.
“Well, they all have families and jobs and they’re busy,” she says.
“Why don’t you go visit some of your friends – you always enjoy meeting up with that bunch.”
THE PHONE RINGS
The phone rings. He looks at the Acadian but she continues to sweep.
“Well, are you going to answer it? It’s not gonna answer itself, you know.”
She stops sweeping, puts one hand on her hip.
“Get it yourself – you’re just sitting there,” she says.
“It’ll give you something to do.”
He lifts himself from the chair, stomps through the sweepings on the floor and grabs the handset from its cradle in the hallway.
“Who are you and what do you want,” he bellows.
“Oh, Johnny! Ciamar a tha thu?”
He’s listening – intently – to the voice on the other end of the phone. His face reddens and his eyes glisten with excitement.
“Well, now, where exactly?”
“I know where that is – I’ll be right there,” he says.
He turns to me.
“Mae, get my car keys from upstairs – we’ll go get the b’ys,” he says.
As I bounce up the stairs, the furrows deepen in the Acadian’s brow.
“What’s going on?”
“Johnny and Arthur got themselves stuck in the mud up on Cow Bay Road and I’ve got to get them out,” he says. He works to restrain his excitement.
“They should know, you can’t be going up that road with that little car – I’ve taught them better than that,” he says.
I pass him the keys.
He goes into the kitchen. There is a great cacophony of pans and pots. He’s rooting around and grabbing things to stuff into a bag.
I peek around the corner and see him lift the tea towel off a large pan of rising bread dough. He’s got a knife in his hand.
I look back at the Acadian and wonder if I should tell her.
She’s looking at me.
“That man is going to be the death of me.”
She shakes her head.
“Don’t let him start pushing that car or anything – his heart won’t take that,” she says.
Coming into the hallway, he hefts the bag over his shoulder and looks at me, his light blue eyes glittery with excitement.
LIKE A BOY
He takes the front steps two at a time before the Acadian’s done giving me my orders.
Jumping into the driver’s seat, he honks the horn. His smile stretches from ear to ear.
He pokes his head out the open car window.
“C’mon – let’s go,” he hollers.
The Acadian sighs.
“Well, at least he has something to do now.”
It’s a glorious late spring day, the day after a full day of rain. The air pouring into the old Chev smells of ozone and Lilacs.
“This is going to be fun, Mae,” says the Scot.
Like a boy off on an adventure.
The b’ys are waiting by Arthur’s car, which is stuck up to the axle in a mud hole.
The Scot gets out of the car before it’s barely stopped.
“Look at that, Mae – she’s stuck alright,” he says.
He strides toward “the b’ys” with great purpose, stops in front of the vehicle to have a closer look. He lights a cigarette he’s not supposed to have.
“She’s stuck,” he says, exhaling a plume of smoke.
“Yeah, she is,” says Johnny, coming around to stand by the Scot. He plucks a blade of wild grass and chews on the end.
“Right up to the rocker panels.”
Arthur lights a cigarette and squints against the smoke with eyes as blue as the Scot’s.
“Gonna take some work to get’er out of there,” he says.
“Yeah – it’ll take some time – she’s stuck bad,” the Scot agrees.
The bees buzz in the tall grass and the heat of the day begins to wilt my good nature.
“Well, you’re not gonna talk it out of there – and why do you guys keep calling it a her,” I ask.
The three of them look at me.
“Why don’t you gather up some dry wood and we’ll make a fire,” says the Scott.
The three of them turn back to face the stuck car again. It’s a high-level conference from which I’m obviously excluded.
Grumbling, I walk towards the woods, looking for dead branches and witch’s brooms, like my brothers taught me.
“What the hell are they going to do, burn it out of there,” I ask myself.
Getting no answer, I continue my search.
“Bunch of jerks.”
GET THE FIRE GOING
By the time I make it back to the dirt road, the Scot has tied a thick rope to the bumper of Arthur’s little car and the bumper of his old Chev.
The three of them have been digging the mud out from behind the little car.
They’re covered in the stuff. The Scot has a wide smear across his forehead.
“Alright, I’m going in - stand back,” he yells and jumps into his car.
He stomps on the accelerator.
There’s a powerful grind as his tires spin on dry dirt. He throws his vehicle into reverse and then back into second again. A cloud of dust puffs up from his tires – the vehicle strains to pull the little car out of the mire.
Once again, he rocks his car between gears. There is a loud splootch and the little car comes free.
They’re covered in mud, the fools, and laughing at the sight of each other.
Arthur comes over to where I’ve stacked the wood.
“Well, let’s get this fire started,” he says.
He’s got chunks of mud already drying on the side of his jeans and his hands are covered and his face is creased with caked mud and he’s smiling, ear to ear.
Johnny and the Scot untie the bumpers.
“We’ll get a good little fire going here soon,” says Arthur.
“Maybe I’ll go get some hardwood pieces – I’ve got my ax in the back of the car.”
Well, far be it from me to second guess the men in my life but we are less than 20 minutes away from home.
“Why don’t we just go home?”
My brother looks at me with quizzical eyes.
“That’s no fun,” he says.
Soon, there’s a raging fire. Me and the menfolk gather round.
Johnny arranges the wood so that, when the Scot pulls out the cast iron frying pan, he can place it right where most of the heat comes from. He places it beside the kettle, which is already just about boiling.
“There’s tea bags in the container there and I’ve stolen some of your mother’s bread dough, so we’ll have a feast,” says the Scot.
Fried dough, dripping in butter, hot tea and smiling, muddy faces around the inferno we’ve created.
“If only I’d thought to bring some bully beef,” says the Scot, staring into the fire.
Johnny and Arthur exchange glances.