by Grace Keating
There was this little corner store in town, just across the street from where we lived. And one evening when they were open and everything else in town was pretty much closed, an old-fashioned station wagon pulled up, parked and emptied. A mom and a dad and four kids got out in pandemonium and they all went inside. That would be the Thompsons. When they were inside, a blue pick-up truck came round the corner and ran into the front end of the station wagon. Not causing much damage, but causing enough to mean the Thompsons could not move their vehicle and it would have to be towed. And fixed. It being a Saturday evening and it being a sleepy town, it also meant the next day might see a tow truck, or it might not.
With all the commotion, the street soon filled with people. There were the Thompsons, May and Joe the store owners, some of the Findleys from next door to us, Charles Robichaud and his three girls from the building across the street and next door to the store, and there was George, the driver from the pick-up truck, and us, the Harveys, half of the twelve of us anyway. There being no great event, as quickly as the street filled, it emptied. And that is emptied, except of course for my parents and the four of us kids who were not out at the dance, not away or not staying overnight at the Swift house, as Addy was.
Names were bandied about and before long it was decided the Thompsons would stay the night, or a few nights if need be, at our house. The assortment of Thompson kids and us Harvey kids would stay in the two tents that were already set up in the backyard. My parents, being my parents, insisted the Thompson mom and dad take their double bed and they would sleep in the single beds vacated by some of us kids staying out in the tents.
As you so often do when you look back, you see things that were invisible at the time, mainly because there are so many other things to see and there is much commotion in the air. That first night with the Thompsons, I remember watching the youngest holding his fork and stabbing his food. This, I thought at the time, was odd. Odd because none of my friends held forks that way, no one in any circle I had ever been round held their fork that way. And I guess looking back and us Harveys talking about the Thompsons, we had all noticed it, but none of us spoke of it ‘til much later on.
A moment can happen like a dot on a piece of paper. Precise and tiny, a quick little ‘moment in time’ dot, then it’s over and time moves on. And a moment can also happen as though it’s a drip. And when the drip drops and it goes splat and it’s spread out, you can see that it was a much bigger moment than the drip in mid-air looked to be. And still again, a moment can be time stretched out sort of like blowing up a balloon, like the air inside when it’s filled to capacity, big and round and full. It was that sort of a moment, a really big balloon moment, when at the table the Thompson mom sort of cleared her throat and the youngest quickly changed how he was holding his fork and the slack muscles in his back tightened and he sat up straighter. Suddenly, everything looks as it should be, and you look over to the others to see if anyone else spotted the fork incident but you can’t quite tell, it’s almost like the balloon popped and nothing was out of the ordinary. No one comments, because no one can. That would have been the first clue. But on this night, no one was seeing the signs, not just yet.
The dad Thompson was saying just call me Doc, everyone else does. And right there, we all immediately put it in our heads that James Thompson was a doctor and that Betty was the doctor’s wife.
Doc Thompson explained that he and Betty were in the neighbourhood to see where Betty’s grandparents were from and although they now lived in Connecticut they thought of moving. He had just finished his studying or very nearly and considering there was a rather large plot of land with a house on it, well they might just possibly make the move.
The evening settled into a comfortable sort of an evening, but not without the Peters being called over, as they were almost every Saturday night. Not without the Miltons also being called and the Swindons. And not without the liquor coming out of its safe daytime hiding spot, being neatly measured and poured and being swilled about with ice and lemons and various mixers. The newest acquisitions, Doc and Betty, the guests from Connecticut, were on display. They chimed in well, and remarkably, they know quite a bit of the local lure. Maybe a little too much for a couple just passing through a sleepy town. But no one at the Harveys that evening saw any of this at the time.
The Thompson kids and the Harvey kids have flashlights and a battery operated radio which plays the latest of the top tunes and for the most part, they are not unknown to either group. There is a captured harmony outside in the backyard tents. Three more Harvey kids arrive home after the dance. They’ve brought with them the Peters kids, it being a safe bet that the Peters parents would be at the Harvey house as they usually were on a Saturday night. And they also brought with them Lorraine Swindon, there being a hint that Jay Harvey might just be sweet on her. The party happening indoors and the backyard tent party were not out of place events at the Harveys. The new Harvey kids and the new Peters kids along with Lorraine Swindon say their polite hellos, meet the Connecticut Doc Thompson and Betty, and are off to continue the night with a little swiped alcohol from the hiding spot and a rather large stash of snacks. They poke their heads into the larger of the two tents, which house all the other Harvey kids and Thompson kids and the music and the flashlights, and say their hellos there too. They make their way over to the far side of the yard, where the trees with summer foliage give them a sheltered and private area and where the teens were used to having their own Saturday midnight gatherings.
That night under the trees and stars, the new group sat round the picnic table or perched themselves on the decorative boulder rocks, while a few settled into the mismatched collection of lounge seats. Great conversations ensued about the coming fall and how Jay would be moving to the city, Jay being the second eldest of the Harvey kids. Lorraine Swindon might be going too, but she hadn’t quite decided, and Marybeth Peters would be going to the local university in town. They talked about theatre and politics. They touched on religion and the latest gossip on Charlene, the current favourite person to gossip about. But all this is only to say that the one thing the teens did not talk about were the newest guests, the Thompsons. They hardly went noticed. In fact, that’s just how ordinary and normal they seemed to everyone.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The complete story is available in the Askance collection “Saltwater And Other Stories“.
Grace Keating was born in a Canadian east-coast university town at the tail end of a large family of storytellers. When not working freelance in the world of theatre and film, she spends her time writing.
Askance included The Attraction Of Magnets and The Importance Of Healthy Eating in the Positional Vertigo short story collection, since when Grace has won the SLO Night Writers award and had several stories short-listed for other prizes and been published in anthologies, the latest of which is Moose House Stories Volume I.
old car photo credit – Hayden Walker via Unsplash
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