BY PURABI DAS
Copyright is held by the author.
TIMMY RAN OUT of Mrs. Forrest’s porch to greet his mother with a bear hug and almost knocked her over. It was a hot August evening and the clock in his babysitter’s kitchen had just struck six.
“I have been waiting forever for you, mom,” he cried his shrill voice ringing through the quiet neighbourhood. Marjorie tried to keep her balance as she responded to her son’s enthusiastic welcome. The faint outline of Mrs. Forrest waving goodbye from behind the lace-covered window was barely noticeable. She lifted her hand in acknowledgment. She was a good soul, Mrs. Forrest, and Marjorie was lucky to have found her through the mother’s network at her son’s school and had come highly recommended by Timmy’s second grade teacher Mrs. Henderson.
With a spring in her step Marjorie walked down the neat garden path to the wooden gate and out to the street into the waiting car. Timmy was already settled in the front seat.
She started the engine and they were off.
“Sugar, ah honey honey….you are my favourite girl….” Their all-time favourite, sung by The Archies, was playing on the radio. An added bonus. With a delighted grin Marjorie joined in and Timmy followed suit. What could be more perfect? Friday evening, heading home with their beloved song playing on the radio and they had the whole weekend to look forward to.
The car turned in the driveway and with a squeal of breaks it came to a halt. They were home, that was a neat little one story detached Timmy’s father had bought just before he was diagnosed with lung cancer. But he had made sure the house was properly insured so that when he finally died Marjorie was thankful she did not have to fret about mortgage payments. But there were other bills and they were sure to be waiting in the mailbox. Time enough to go through them over the weekend. Putting up her hair with a rubber band Marjorie entered the kitchen with her son bringing up the rear dragging his backpack and his mother’s handbag.
While Marjorie got busy at the stove Timmy kept up a constant chatter about the kids at school. He had made friends with this girl Jenny who seemed to his mother like a bossy thing but Timmy could not stop talking about her. Marjorie kept a straight face as she listened. Her little boy was smitten quite bad. While they ate in front of the television set in the living room, a special treat reserved for Friday nights, he announced he was going to marry Jenny when he was sixteen. Marjorie almost choked then coughed to cover it and putting out a hand she tousled her son’s hair lovingly. He was such a dear little boy. Affectionate and caring and making friends with people of all ages came easily to him. Jenny was in grade four while Timmy himself was in grade two.
Monday morning started out busy followed by a sudden lull before lunch. Marjorie took advantage of this and ran out to get a sandwich and stayed out for a while enjoying the warmth of the August day.
The sun beat down on the asphalt but Marjorie savoured the warmth from where she sat on a grassy patch under the shade of a tree. The office was always freezing in the summer.
Ahh, it felt good to be alive.
She had been back for a while when she realized it was already four in the afternoon. Wasn’t she supposed to be in a meeting with John from the advertising agency? He’s late, she muttered under her breath, and I’ll be late picking up Timmy from the babysitter’s. I should have insisted on an earlier meeting, she berated herself, reaching for the phone and dialing the agency number. There was no reception. The phone was dead and then she noticed the office lights had gone out. Without the constant whir of computers and air conditioners the place had turned silent as a morgue. What was going on? Walter came out of his own office announcing they should all go home since there was no light to work with. Only the exit lights burned dimly and even they would go out after a while.
But I have a meeting, Marjorie thought. How could she leave now?
Walter returned from the warehouse. Yes, everything was in darkness and it was not considered safe to stay in any longer. They had to leave.
By now, the rest of the staff was gathered at reception talking excitedly and speculating about this strange turn of events. Someone had visited the facility opposite and found out they were in a similar situation.
“Guys, you may as well leave,” Walter’s booming voice could be heard in the darkness, “and, don’t worry about locking up. The alarm won’t work, anyway.”
They trouped out amidst good-natured banter, happy to be let out early.
“Marjorie, did you have our plane tickets couriered to the office?” Walter wanted to know as they both walked to the parking lot in the front of the building. Walter was Marjorie’s boss and headed the marketing department of their small but aggressive sports equipment business.
Marjorie nodded. “They are on my desk, Walter. I’ll get in early tomorrow morning on the way to the airport to pick them up.” She also had a few things to take care of and did not want her boss around. He interrupted her too much. She hadn’t wanted to go to the trade show in Miami. This meant packing her son off to sleep two nights at Mrs. Forrest. She wished she could have said no when she was told about manning their booth at the trade show but being new in the company she hadn’t wanted to rock the boat. Also, being a single parent did not leave one with too many choices.
For one moment Marjorie was almost afraid that Walter would insist on coming by the next day, instead he said, “Then I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow morning around eight,” and with a wave he was out of the parking lot.
She got in the car and out of long habit switched on the radio as soon as the engine sprang to life. Ontario and much of the northeastern U.S. were hit by the largest blackout in North America’s history. Electricity was cut to 50 million people, bringing darkness to customers from New York to Toronto to North Bay.
Must be a terrorist attack, she panicked, accelerating. I must pick up Timmy myself, who knows what might have happened to Mrs. Forrest…could be lying dead at this very moment and my darling boy waiting at school to be picked up.
The car sped through the street. Strangely enough, although none of the traffic lights worked, each motorist obeyed the traffic rules of stop and go with courtesy. When it was her turn to stop and look, she only slowed down momentarily and praying hard she would not get hit, picked up speed again and was soon a speck on the road. No one honked at her. It was as though people had signed a pact to be nice to each other during this emergency.
Timmy was standing at the gate of the school parking lot when he spied his mother’s car turning into the street. Waving his arms excitedly he ran out into the street and in front of the car. Marjorie jammed on the brakes. The car screeched to a halt. She flew out and scooped him up in her arms and then, only then when he had settled in the seat beside her did she give vent to her feelings. She, who had never yelled at her son, now shouted at the top of her voice, “Why did you do that? I could have run you over.”
The boy looked at his mother calmly and replied, “But you did not. You stopped in time. You are a good driver, mom.” Marjorie shook her head in disbelief. Her eight-year old kid had just paid her the highest compliment anyone could ever get now that she remembered her own terrible driving at breakneck speed to get to the school. That had been reckless she acknowledged and felt ashamed.
“We’ll drop in at Mrs. Forrest so she does not have to go out for nothing, okay?”
Timmy replied, “She was not going to pick me up anyway, mom. My teacher told me after lunch that she had phoned the office she’s too sick. So the office called you at work. Did you not get that call?”
“No, I did not.” How could she have missed that call? And there had been no messages on her voice mail when she had returned from lunch. The phones had stopped working only after four p.m. so even if someone had called from an independent phone line the receptionist would have taken a message.
Crap! She remembered now seeing a piece of paper stuck to the side of the desk and how she had dumped some files on top of it. Perhaps that was the message. Anyway, Timmy was with her now and that was all that really mattered. It was such an unexpected pleasure. She never got to pick him up from school and she envied those mothers that did which meant they stayed home. She assumed they had husbands bringing in a paycheque whereas she was a single parent.
“Timmy, let’s go out to eat, okay?”
“Yippee…I want hamburgers and fries and an ice cream.”
“Then we have to get to a restaurant fast before their ice cream starts to melt. You know we have no electricity in all of Toronto and Ontario and almost up to New York.”
Timmy’s eyes grew round with wonder. It seemed cool not to have electricity and the idea of having dinner in candlelight made him feel grownup.
They were now at the intersection of Concession three and Pinecrest road. This was turning out a very busy street with new houses coming up almost overnight. Marjorie was determined to drive safe this time. Her son was with her.
Looking to her right and then left she gauged it was her turn to make the right turn.
As she swung right a heavy-duty pickup truck, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, sped straight through the intersection hitting Marjorie’s car. She jolted forward and her right hand shot out protectively towards her son. The car spun out of control. As Marjorie watched in horror the lamp-post seemed to rush at them, then after what seemed like an eternity when it was only a matter of seconds, it crashed down.
The passenger side of the two-door Chevy caved in.
Burning rubber, the pick up truck fled the scene leaving only skid marks.
Firefighters had to cut her out of the wreck. Not once did she ask for her son whose crushed body, barely visible under the mangled door, lay still. But they did say later that she had been cursing someone by the name of Forrest.