By Samantha Meijer
Adrian sat in his borrowed snow-removal truck, which promoted the logo of Toronto but did little else. He hadn't taken the truck out for weeks, which was probably the reason why he was just fired from another job. He'd been expected to return it that afternoon, but had taken it upon himself to schedule its return for the following morning.
You know you won't get this past dad.
His sister's voice resonated in his head. Of course, his father would be mad, seeing as it wasn't the first time Adrian failed to accomplish something. However, he'd probably be more steamed with the fact that Adrian had just been kicked out of Ryerson, the university where his father worked as a Professor. What could be worse, though — being yelled at for the umpteenth time, or the silent disappointment he'd see encroaching upon his father's eyes?
He left the truck, slamming the door shut. He figured he might as well make it known he was home, rather then slink in like a wounded animal. His dogs barked at the noise — an uproar of yapping that wouldn't end until either he or his father forced the argument to a close. His feet crunched on the new blanket of snow neatly compacted on their drive while his hands seemed to burn from the sudden attention they were receiving from the cold. He interchangeably blew on them as he scrounged through his pockets for his key to open the front door – which he'd soon learn was unlocked. As the lock clicked into place behind him, his German Shepherd came bounding toward him, followed by the miniature poodle which came up and sat behind the Shepherd's front paws. Adrian patted both before relieving himself of his wet clothes.
“Come here, Adrian.” The sternness in his father's voice echoed through the empty house. “Leave Hunter and Booster out in the hall.”
He entered his father's office, closing the door behind him. His father didn't look up, but rather continued to scribble on his notepad as he spoke.
“Take a seat, I'll speak with you in a moment.”
Adrian sat in a lounge chair by the fire as he waited for his father to finish. The fire was merely coal, but a heat could still be felt as though the burning embers had only just been extinguished. The window behind him frosted over from the winter storm, let some light filter in. It left a portion of the office in darkness. Adrian rubbed his hands together to stay warm while his father continued to write under the heat of his lamp. Finally, he clicked his pen and placed it on the desk. Turning his chair, he faced his son.
“I'll thank you to not snap at me. I'm not in the mood for your arrogance.”
“And I'll thank you, to stop lecturing me. I'm not one of your students.”
“As of this morning, you're no longer anyone's student.”
Adrian moved closer to his father.
“What the hell, Adrian?”
“What? I flunked out. It's not like it's never happened before.”
“Not to a person who always got straight A's... up until four months ago.”
“Yeah, well, things change.”
“I know we're coming upon the anniversary of Lena-Marie's death, but—”
“But I shouldn't blame myself, right? Then you can't keep blaming me for her death.”
His father's face held the expression of pure shock. “Adrian Elias Steiner, I never—”
“You never blamed me for sneaking out of the house with Lena-Marie, for taking the car and driving it up a pole because some drunk asshole cut me off, or for letting her die all because I couldn't pull her from the burning car in time? You never blamed me?”
His father remained silent.
“That's what I thought.”
Adrian, disgusted, began to leave the room. His father waited until he was at the office door before pulling him back into the conversation.
“Sit down, Adrian,” His voice was less firm and sounded more open to seeing reason. Adrian walked back over in a huff. “I just want what's best for you.”
“What's best for me?” Adrian scoffed at his father's remark before continuing, “What's best for me would be to get out of this hellhole like Tobias did, live in Ottawa and live the life I want to live–not a life in your shadow. What's best would be to walk away from you and hope one day you'll see I'm more than another face in the crowd you lecture to. You'll see I'm more than that student who comes to you with questions, ones you seem to have the answers to. Maybe one day you'll recognize I'm not the burden you see me as, and eventually come to acknowledge me as your son.”
With that statement ringing in the air, he left his father's office.
“Adrian, please don't walk away from me,” his father said, his voice holding the tone of one begging for forgiveness. “What do you want from me?”
Adrian, I can't be that buffer anymore. Please leave before you say something you'll regret.
“I want you to blame me for Lena-Marie's death,” Adrian muttered. He turned and addressed his father again, “If you can't figure that out, then I have nothing more to say to you.” Not caring to grab his winter clothes or wallet, Adrian left his father's house — but not before choosing to ignore his sister's voice and speak his final words to his father. “You can add being fired to the list of disappointments you have for me, a list I know you keep in a drawer somewhere.”
The church ceiling, with its wooden arches branching over one another, broke the blue coating into sections. Each contained a number of stars, seeming to glow in the dim of the church's light. Small, half-mooned windows sat below the stars, depicting God's angels in the gloom of the winter storm. They blocked out all light from the moon, leaving the balcony section in darkness.
Adrian stared at the ceiling as he lay on one of the middle pews, the pew he and his sister had etched their initials into when they were five. His heartbeat was steady as his body took in the peace and warmth of the candles burning around him. He only sat up when an elderly woman passed his pew, staring contently at his state of being. He watched as she chose a candle and lit it for prayer. Adrian appeared intrigued by her steadiness and self-certainty as she knelt and prayed to the unseen. His curiosity was peaked by her half-hour procession of kneeling and praying every time she lit a candle. What he didn't see was the moving of her lips, repeating the same phrase — he looks like my Phillip. By the time she was finished, each candle had been lit.
“If it's not too personal, I'd like to ask why you've lit so many candles.”
He blocked her path as she came down the aisle, forcing her to break her solitary procession.
“I light candles for those I've lost, and for me, that's been a few too many, but also for those who are searching for peace tonight.”
“How often do you do this?”
He'd gone back inside the pew, beckoning for her to sit. She took his request and sat. When seen up close, she was older than she appeared. Her wrinkled skin hung loosely on her bones, showing a frailty in a life outlived.
“I come here every night around eight.”
“You're willing to drive in this weather?”
She laughed a soft melancholy laughter.
“No, I take the bus.”
“But why light every unlit candle?”
“In order to put life back into the lives of those who are here, and ignite the memory of those long passed. Tonight, for instance, I lit a candle for my son who's passed, and one for you.”
“For me? But you don't even know me.”
“I don't have to know you to realize you need a little light in your life.”
Adrian's face reddened.
“Thank you,” he said, taking her bony hand in his own.
She just patted his knee and left, leaving him alone once again.
I think it's time to go home.
His sister's voice moved him from the pew to the back of the church. He scrounged through the pockets of his jeans, again for his keys, before running out to the truck. He started the engine, turned up the heat, and propelled himself out of the church's lot.
The call came over the wire at ten. An accident had occurred on the westbound lane of Highway 2, twenty minutes prior to the arrival of rescue personnel. The first to the scene was an officer who had been waiting around for his shift to end. He was about to call in when his radio crackled with the latest update. With lights flaring, the officer rushed to the scene. He spotted the bus first — it was parked on the wrong side of the road, headlights blinding his vision. He only spotted the truck once he'd gotten out, for it was buried in the ensuing snowdrift. One of the rear lights was out while the other blinked as quickly as the officer's rapid heartbeat. He ran back to his car to grab his flashlight and rope. He tied one end of the rope around his waist, secured the other end around a nearby tree and then descended toward the truck.
The compacted snow around the door made it impossible for the officer to pry it open. He could only look through the window at the position of the driver, who was strapped in tightly and hanging limply toward the passenger seat.
“It's my Jeremy all over again,” he thought. “Down here!” he yelled as he heard the fire engine and paramedics pull up.
The firefighters were down first, bringing the Jaws of Life with them. The officer was told to step aside as they took over and began their extraction of the driver. He was pushed further back when the paramedics scaled down with their gear, only giving him a small opening to view the process through. Once the door had been pried open, the fire officials moved aside to enable the paramedics to check the driver over. They inspected his pulse and then, using their penlights, checked the head gash and the driver's pupil reaction. The officer left the paramedics to search the truck and then radioed in.
“Dispatcher, the accident victim — a young man no older than twenty — will be taken to the hospital momentarily. No identification was found on the scene, but his plates read 3-S-C-T-A-L.”
“10-4,” the dispatcher responded.
After the final statement had been taken, the last passenger from the bus gone, and the call made to his chief, the officer drove over to the hospital that the paramedics had mentioned. He parked near the emergency entrance and went straight to the desk.
“Excuse me, could you tell me about the man brought in from the accident on Highway 2?”
“You a relative?”
She didn't look up from her paperwork as she answered.
“No, just the first officer on the scene.”
“Oh, his family's in room 131.”
He thanked her and headed over. The sign on the door read 'Family Waiting Room,' and as he walked in, he spotted two men sitting in steel-backed chairs. The younger of the two was rubbing the older man's back while he sat with his head between his hands. The young man, sensing another presence, looked up at the officer. He whispered something to the older man before coming over to where the officer stood.
“Were you the officer on the scene?”
“Yes, Officer Hurst, Reginald Hurst.”
The young man took the officer's outstretched hand.
Photo Credit: Sam Meijer
Samantha is an avid reader and writer, who finds relaxation in the imaginary worlds she creates. Her non-fiction work has been published for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and she has won awards for her short fiction in the annual Remembrance Day Legion contest. When she's not writing, Samantha is sketching famous or familial people.