Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fiction #46: Lynda Curnoe

Into the Spaceship             

Carol and Ed McGrath had been invited to a party to which they didn’t want to go, but felt an obligation. Jules and Sonia Beecham, who had invited them to this pre-Christmas party, were friends from way back, a couple they had known years ago in Montreal during the EXPO years. Ed and Jules had worked together in the same chemical plant and both couples, being English speaking and newcomers to the province in those turbulent early separatist years, had become friends. Not great friends, but friends whose backgrounds brought them together. They would visit back and forth and arrange play dates for their children. When the one couple organized dinner the other would bring their children along to play for a little while and then sleep in the other children’s rooms.

Although they knew each other well materially, knew what kinds of furniture and interests each couple had, neither could say they liked the other couple all that much. It was one of those friendships that seemed to hang around forever without going anywhere.

Ed and Jules would talk about work and Carol and Sonia would talk about kids and managing households in Quebec, each of them missing their family connections. The Beecham’s relatives were all overseas in England and the McGrath’s in the farmland of Southwestern Ontario. Together the foursome felt like emigrants to a strange land.

The reason they had all ended up in Montreal was EXPO 67 which then was being talked about all over the world. But Expo itself, while being exciting, was a limited part of their experience there. The stronger, if disturbing force, was Quebec separatist activity which, although perhaps minor in terms of terrorism in other parts of the world, still made life in Montreal fearful. Once, in fact, while Carol was grocery shopping at Safeway, the store had to be evacuated because of a bomb threat. They read about bombs in mailboxes and of innocent people being killed. The last straw was the kidnapping and murder of Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte in October 1970. Shortly after that, both couples moved away from the province.

They kept up their acquaintance over the years through correspondence and Christmas cards and had actually ended up in the same city, London, Ontario. No longer neighbours, they learned that London is a relatively small city, at least in the central core, making it easy to get from one neighbourhood to another. The Beechams lived in North London and the McGrath’s in Old South, both built neighbourhoods where each couple quickly established a family nest formed of neighbours, school and work. By this time both wives were working and the children were in university or headed there.

Although their interests had diverged, the foursome kept up their, now infrequent, dinner rounds. The McGraths had gotten involved in cultural events in the city while the Beechams were more into sporting activities. Carol and Ed were members of Museum London, attending art show openings and lectures and were subscribers of the London Symphony Orchestra. Carol was in the choir of London Pro Musica a choral society and Ed had gotten involved in amateur theatre. The Beechams went skiing in winter and had invested in a summer cottage on Lake Huron near Grand Bend where they spent their holidays and most weekends during good weather.

The McGrath’s decided to walk to the party, along Wortley Road, over the Thames River bridge and through the back streets of downtown London to Waterloo Street where the Beecham’s lived. Dundas, the old main street of London, was not safe anymore. There were stabbings, shootings and gang activity around the old main intersections. Londoners were more attracted by suburban shopping malls and Dundas was now inhabited by more unsavory characters, especially at night. For years locals had been waiting and hoping for urban renewal downtown.

The Beecham’s two storey yellow brick house, although smaller than the McGraths, was worth more money, being in the more expensive North  area of the city. Its’ standard layout featured a living room off the front hall which also included a stairway to the second floor, and a dining room followed by a large kitchen. Upstairs were four bedrooms. Jules who often worked from home had a small office, formerly a sun room, on the ground floor off the dining room. Furniture was new but traditional in style, that is a blend of Victorian and French provincial with the odd modern lamp thrown in.

The McGrath’s South London home featured a centre hall with a wide elegant staircase in the middle. Rooms on both floors radiated from the centre. Their furnishings were old, sometimes even garage sale, and therefore somewhat shabby, the couple seeming not to worry too much about appearances, preferring a more bohemian style.

Neither did the two couples share the same kinds of friends anymore. The Beecham’s friends showed up at all the same parties, the fit skiing and boating crowd who the McGrath’s had met many times before, but with whom they had never established any kind of continuing friendship. The women wore tights with loose sweaters or short mini-dresses and the men sporty-looking outfits. The McGrath’s wore their culture on their backs nowadays, Carol wearing brightly coloured natural fabrics and Ed casual chino pants and a hand knit sweater.

But at this party there were a few other people they had never met before, including a very handsome, stylishly dressed couple with Italian accents, The Melchiorres were dressed to the nines in expensive glamorous clothing. Gina was a dyed redhead who wore black, very high heels with black stockings and a glittering dress trimmed with red. Paulo, her husband wore a European style, dark close-fitting suit with patent leather shoes. His dark hair was slicked back. They stood out because of the care put into their grooming.

Guests helped themselves to trays of cheeses and appetizers and, after the usual introductions and the serving of drinks, conversations began. Unfortunately, Sonia had arranged seating around the outer edges of the living room and a dreaded social circle had formed. There were not enough people to crowd around and circulate. Only a couple of men remained standing at the front near the window. Private conversations were heard by everyone and when someone with a loud enough voice began to talk all eyes turned in that direction

Gina Melchiorre who was sitting near the opening into the dining room, began talking about an incident that had happened to her and Paulo on a country road in the fall, a couple of months earlier. They were driving to visit friends who lived near Lake Simcoe in a wooded part of the country, isolated but not too far from Highway 400, when a bright white light appeared on the road in front of them forcing Paulo to put on the brakes quite suddenly as he was not sure if the road was blocked. As she told the story Paulo nodded his assent here and there.

At first they thought there had been an accident and that the light was the headlights of a car that had stopped or gone off the road.

“Paulo said, ‘We’d better look.’”

“‘Don’t,’ I said.”

“But someone might be hurt.”

“Let’s just call 911  before we get out.”

“But if no one is hurt that would be an unnecessary call. I’m getting out.”

“I said, ‘I’m staying here in the car.’”

Paulo disappeared into the light and after a few minutes of extreme anxiety wondering what had happened to him Gina decided to get out of the car as well.

The light was so blinding she could see only blurred edges of what she assumed was some kind of structure, but still she walked towards it as it grew even brighter in intensity. All around was darkness.

A kind of opening appeared in front of her. She could see the outline of 3 or 4 steps going up and a slight variation in the tone of the light beyond.

“‘Paulo, are you there?’ I shouted. ‘Is anyone here?’”

Nothing

“I was so frightened,” she said, as she wiped tears from her eyes and looked up and around the company before them. She had become very excited. Her voice had taken on a higher pitch as she continued with the story. Her skin was rosy and glistening with perspiration. Paulo was nodding as if to say ‘yes, yes, go on.’ The dreadful circle was silent as all eyes were fixed on Gina. It was like the Beecham’s guests were kids being told a ghost story around a fire at a summer camp. At least a ghost story would be acceptable, knowing it was just a ghost story. Not serious like this. All around the room everyone was thinking, ‘Who are these people? Why have they been invited here?’

“I felt compelled to go up those steps and into the opening,” Gina continued. “When I got inside I could see Paulo standing there. It was like he was in a trance, lit up and surrounded by light. He didn’t even turn to look at me. ‘Paulo,’ I whispered because it didn’t seem right to talk out loud. Then he saw me standing there.”

“Look at this. It’s so light in here but there is no structure, no walls, or ceiling and it’s so warm.”

“I walked around stretching out my arms and couldn’t feel anything solid and couldn’t see where the floor was although I seem to be walking on something. I felt very hot in my coat. It was late fall, you know, and cold outside. We stood in amazement for a few minutes until I said ‘Let’s go, please Paulo. I’m afraid.’”

“We retraced out steps and got back into the car, locked the doors, watched out the window and waited. After about 10 minutes whatever it was seemed to lift up and float away, but quickly. There was no sound. We continued to watch as the thing disappeared into the sky and its’ light faded away. When we looked at our watches we saw that we had been parked there for over two hours. How could this have happened?

Paulo and I were dumfounded, literally. We were absolutely shaken but for some reason more fascinated than afraid. We have never experienced such a thing in our lives. To this day we do not know what it was. Paulo has been looking up flying saucers and UFO’s on the web and even contacted some people to see if what we saw was seen by other people that night. But we’ve found no one to verify our experience. Nothing!”

Conversation at the party had come to a complete standstill. No one knew what to say. Jules asked if anyone would like another drink. But everyone stayed where they were, bewildered, still sitting in the circle of chairs as before.  After a little while, likely earlier than she would have liked, Sonia disappeared into the kitchen and began bringing out food that had been previously prepared or perhaps purchased, and was waiting in the fridge covered with plastic wrap. There was some cold sliced turkey, salads, bakery rolls, a couple of fruit pies and a cake. The guests gravitated towards the table, murmuring in conversation, with the occasional burst of laughter. No one talked about the story they had just heard. Later, Paulo and Gina sat off by themselves eating bits and pieces from plates on their laps. They were not exactly being ignored but people were giving them a wide berth.

After everyone had retrieved their coats and said goodbye, guests seemed to fan out in front of the Beecham’s home. A light snow had fallen and under the arc of the streetlamp their footprints formed a half circle pattern of spokes as couples made their way home on the sidewalks to the left or right or to their cars parked across the road.

*

Lynda Curnoe enjoys writing short stories and poetry and anything else that appeals to her. She lives in Toronto.

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