“For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.”
The sound had started out small, a distant noise of the city. Soon, however, it grew to a full-on wail, filling the neighborhood, splashing the house at the end of the block with accompanying flashes of red light. Four heads turned to look. It was a decent reason to ignore their cigarettes.
For a long while, Terrance Drive was a street unaccustomed to interruption. The coming and going of cars around 9 and 5 was accepted; the drone of a Friends episode mingling with the smell of reheated pizza was commonplace. Trees were planted neatly between every house, their branches an appreciated curtain between each window. Even the recently-implemented construction—the bang of metal melded together, the whirr of impatient drills—was slowly becoming background noise for the residents, as though they believed if they chose to ignore it, it would eventually disappear.
The sirens, however, drowned everything out. The boys had been huddled around a pack of Canadian Classics, Toby fiddling with a rusted Walkman he’d discovered in the grass, the smoke a pleasant cloak from the November chill and the side-eye they were receiving from a few bypassers. But when the ambulance first blared down the street, they went wide-eyed—even Slader. They were seventeen. Sirens were still shocking.
“Oh man, oh man, oh man,” said Johnny, as if dazed. For a moment, it had appeared the ambulance was headed straight for his house. He let out a breath as the sirens greeted the driveway next door, and then felt three pairs of accusatory eyes on him. “I mean, hah. That’s a coincidence.”
“A coincidence indeed,” Slader replied, already immersed back into his cigarette. He narrowed his eyes, surveyed the scene. “Wonder which one of them bit the dust.”
“I pray it’s her,” muttered Karl, and then remembered he was supposed to be an atheist. “I hope it’s her.”
Johnny bobbed his head in quick agreement. “She’d deserve it.”
“Don’t tell me you’re still scared of her!” jeered Slader.
“As if. She’s just an old bag, that’s all.”
“She probably killed him,” Toby piped up. “She finally snapped. Probably bit his dick off with her dentures.” He gnashed his teeth together in a highly realistic imitation. “Au revoir…le penis.”
They burst into cackles.
“Oh, shit,” said Karl, pointing. “Look.”
A mass enveloped in blankets was emerging on a stretcher. The sirens had ceased their screaming.
“Well,” Slader grinned, “looks like you might just be right, Tobes. Ol’ Mrs. French-tits, ze murderer.” He raised a silver-studded eyebrow, the spike glinting in the sun. “Let’s go over and take a look.”
Johnny lagged behind the three by a few steps, careful to discard his cigarette butt before they came within nicotine-sniffing distance of his house. His parents were still at work, most likely, but he didn’t take chances. He was fairly certain they’d have to make room in the ambulance for his mother if she overheard their conversations.
“Excuse me, sir,” Slader called out jovially to one of the ambulance attendants. His characteristic politeness. Johnny never quite understood it, but certainly wasn’t going to question him on it. Situational irony, perhaps? Whatever the reason, the attendant wasn’t having any of it. He surveyed Slader up-and-down, taking it in, the bleach-stained army fatigues, the flannel, the Doc Martens, the green mohawk. His eyes lingered over Johnny’s dog-collar, Karl’s anarchy patches, the steel peek-a-boo of Toby’s tongue ring. They knew what he was thinking. Fucking skids. The world knew it. They stood proud in it.
“How can I help you?” he asked wearily, as he glanced down at his radio. “Yep, Code 4, Rhonda. Jim’s just finishing up inside with the wife,” he added, and was answered with a satisfying burst of static.
“So it was the old guy,” Toby said softly.
“Are you a…relative or acquaintance of the tenants here?” the attendant replied, now busy straightening his uniform.
“Johnny here is their neighbour.” Slader slapped Johnny hard on the back, a hollow thud. “He’s gonna be pretty shaken up about this whole thing, Mister. He was, uh, real close with the Cains. They were practically family.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the attendant said in a practiced manner, although his eyes fixated on the dog-collar, frowning. “You can take comfort in knowing the gentleman went in peace, though. He simply took an afternoon nap and didn’t get up again.”
“No sign of…smothering?” Slader said lightly.
Now the attendant met his gaze. “Why would you say that?”
Karl and Johnny sniggered on cue.
Slader nodded approvingly. “Well, Mister, the old lady’s got herself a bit of a reputation.” He leaned in closer. “If I were you, I’d think about going back in there, poking around a bit. Tell you what—I’ll help you.”
The attendant stepped back, rolled his eyes. “Right. Married fifty-six years and then she kills him. Call the cops if you really believe it.” His co-worker was shutting the front door, walking over to join them. The radio hummed its static tune again. “10-6. Departing now. We’re just on—where are we? Terrance Drive. Near where they’re building that new Skytrain.” He slid into the passenger seat, but bound by the strange force of politeness, turned to bid the boys a farewell. “You guys must be excited about that Millennium Line, eh? Gives you a chance to get out of here, into the city.” He then shut the door firmly.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Slader called after them. He was answered with the hiss of wheels on gravel.
Johnny looked back to the house, shivered slightly. He wondered if it might snow, and used the image of soft, white flakes to block out the picture which kept forming in his mind. Mr. Cain’s mottled, bald head drooping over a sofa, lips blue, eyes glazed over. No. Who cared, really?
It was a testament to the Cains’ reputation that none of their neighbors had appeared, chewing thumbnails in worry, when the sirens were heard outside their door. No, the Cains valued privacy, and their home showed it: the only house on the block with paint peeling in strips, porch rotted, weeds scattered like grassy guardians, ready to seize tight to the ankles of all intruders. No cable, no computer, not even a dryer— a sagging clothes-line graced the back yard. Utterly untouched by technology.
It was this particular quality which had piqued the boys’ interest a month or two ago.
“A coincidence indeed,” Slader murmured again beside Johnny, and he didn’t need to ask for clarification. He knew what Slader was referring to. They all knew.
They were going to burn it down on December 31st, 1999.