It was a cold and windy evening, two days before Christmas. Their breath produced a faint mist in front of their faces that clung to the air like a newborn to its mother’s breast. Despite the chill, there wasn’t a hint of snow on the ground, or even the faintest trace that it would soon be on its way. As was usual for that part of Southern Ontario, it looked like they were due for another green Christmas.
The two men stood around the front of the automobile, bought at Ed’s Eazy Auto for next to nothing. The car’s hood was propped open with an old baseball bat that they had found stuffed away in the back of the shed, long been forgotten since the children had grown up and moved out of the house. The two men were gazing into the front end of a ’49 Mercury Ford.
The vehicle, despite its prestigious make, was not a thing of beauty. Rust and time had eaten away a good part of the chassis, also corroding the bottom trim of its body; the wheels were held on by a thread. The car was green in colour – not necessarily a colour that was nice to look at, something like a forest or office green, but an altogether horrible shade of green: puke green. It was painted in possibly the most appalling colour one could imagine a car to be. It was a shade not fit for an automobile, but a shade one might imagine their grandmother’s kitchen to be decked out in.
This was an ugly car, there was no doubt about that, and smoke had been billowing out of the engine for the best part of an hour, the two men staring down into its eye with a look of bewilderment.
“Ahh, the internal combustion engine,” one man said in awe to the other. “A sheer work of marvel, isn’t it?”
The second man looked over to his friend, grinning like a prized idiot, “Y’know, its genius never ceases to amaze me. Yet even after all these years, I can’t help but find that it’s still a source of constant frustration.”
He spoke his words like a tried and tested mechanic, as though he had been working under cars for the last thirty years, but in actual fact, he didn’t know a damn thing about them. He was, after all (and had been for the last twenty years,) just an exterminator. He knew bugs, not cars. The two men laughed anyway – good, clean, pleasant laughs, nodding in agreement.
They had been friends for nearly fifteen years, becoming friendly when one of them moved just down the street not too long after the other. It was the wives who started chatting to each other at the local grocers. They bonded over politics, and the husbands soon followed. One invite for coffee turned into barbecues, family get-togethers, and games nights once a week. Within months the couples had become inseparable. Even the children, despite their age difference, got along famously.
The second man reached into the pocket of his denim overalls and pulled out a silver hip flask. The other looked out of the corner of his eye and scratched the side of his face. “Well, Bob, whaddaya got there?”
Bob grinned that shit eating grin once again and unscrewed the cap.
“This here, my friend, is a silver flask my old man gave to me when I turned eighteen.” Bob said, raising his head slightly, looking past his friend and across the yard.
Bob nodded to himself and took a healthy swig, grimacing slightly.
“He picked this up in France during the war. When he was on his last legs, dying in that rotten hospital over in Beamsville, he gave it to me. I got the call the next morning that he was dead.”
He took another drink and passed the hooch over to his friend. “Y’know somethin’,” he went on, “I’ve carried that thing around with me since I was just a kid. When Charlene took up with the kids and left me, I had a strong feeling I’d be carrying it around with me ‘til the day I bit the bullet myself.”
The second man, looking over at Bob, nodded solemnly and took the drink that was offered to him, recoiling in horror at the sharp taste of the spirit. He looked up at Bob with a kind of halfway grin, “Jesus, Bob, whaddaya got in there, turpentine?”
Bob couldn’t help but laugh at his friend’s inability to appreciate a good homemade liquor when he tried one.
“It’s my own batch,” Bob said, smiling. “Whatsamatter, never drink the homebrew before?”
The second man shook his head in disbelief; he didn’t like to admit it, but he hadn’t. “Sure.. beer, wine. But nothing like what you got in there. When did you cook up that wild man juice?”
“About four months ago. Got three or four jugs in the basement, I’ll grab one for you later.” The friend took another sip, grimacing yet again. “I admit it, it tastes a bit harsh,” Bob said with a mischievous look in his eye, “but it gets you tanked!”
They laughed for along while at that remark. The two men stood around the automobile, passing the flask back and forth slowly, sipping at it sparingly, not really working, but merely sharing the moment, that cold December night which both of them would go on to remember for the rest of their days.
By Grant Walker