1974

I remember when I came in from the field there was a car in the driveway I didn’t recognize. It was a big car, more of a boat really, a beautiful black 1974 Buick sedan.

That this strange car was parked in the driveway was odd enough; Mom hadn’t said anything about anyone visiting, and Dad was still at work, and would be until late in the evening. What was even stranger was that the car looked brand new. It looked as though it just had come out of a carwash, and someone had waxed and polished it to a fine shine. No, it looked even newer than that. It wasn’t just immaculate, it was pristine. Even though it must have gone down the couple kilometers of dusty gravel road to reach our farmhouse, there wasn’t a spot of dirt on it. The chrome on the wheels shone in light of the setting sun. It looked as if it had just rolled off on an assembly line.

I went in the side door to the house and winced when the screen banged behind me. Mom hated it when I let it do that.

“Mom?” I called out. I heard voices coming from the living room, quiet polite conversation, half-murmured. The kind you have when someone is over for tea, or a relative is visiting.

I came into the room and yes, there was Mom was sitting in the big chair drinking a cup of a tea. The service was laid out on the glass of the coffee table.

Across from my mother on the couch was a strange man I did not recognize. Though he was sitting down, I could tell he was the tallest man I’d ever seen; his long lanky arms rested at his sides, and though his feet were on the floor his long legs were bent upward and angled at the knee. He looked like a giant spindly insect trying to blend in and be a good houseguest.

He was dressed all in black, in a suit. The suit looked new, new like the strange car that sat out in the driveway, like it had just been pulled off the rack. His clothes fit him strangely though. I could see his pants were too short and exposed some of his socks at the ankle. And his jacket was clearly made for a smaller man and fit him too tightly.

He wore the shiniest black oxfords I’d ever seen in my life.

“Honey,” my Mom said, “This is Mr. Smith. He works for the American government.”
“Hello little boy,” he said. His voice was high pitched and nasal, the last voice I would ever place with a giant man like the one before me. “I’m John.”
“Mr. Smith and I were just talking about your father,” my mother continued, with forced politeness. “Why don’t you go into the other room and read?” They both looked at me expectantly, my mother with annoyance.
“Okay,” I said, and did.

I could hear Mr. Smith asking my mother all kinds of strange, personal questions in his high pitched voice. Where did you grow up? How long have you and your husband been married? Do you have any family living in the area? How long have you been living in this house? I remember wondering what someone from the American government would want with my Dad, and how strange it was that they’d come all the way up to rural Ontario just to find him.

Finally I couldn’t take it any more and went back out into the living room.

“Mom, when are we having dinner?”
“…about your husband’s work with CSIS?” I had interrupted just as the strange man was mid-sentence.
“Dear, don’t be rude,” my mother said sternly.
“Dad works at the hatchery,” I said, and then without thinking, blurted out: “Oh, you must mean Mr. Trammel!”

Mr. Trammel was our ‘next-door’ neighbour in that he lived about a kilometer further down the road from us. Sometimes he came over for dinner and talked with my mother and father. Even though he lived here in the country, he drove into Ottawa every morning to work at CSIS. Whenever I asked him if he was spy he said no, that he just had a desk job like a lot of other people there, but that he did still help put the bad guys away.

“DEAR.” My mother repeated, in her I mean it this time or you’re in big trouble voice. “Please go to your room and close the door. You’re being rude.”
“Sorry Mom.”

I went to up to my bedroom. I could still hear my mother and the strange man, John Smith, talking as their voices carried up through the floorboards. It was one of those strange times where you can hear the tone of people’s voices but the words all garbled and indistinguishable. I heard the back and forth of my Mother’s soft, polite replies and the high-pitched, hurried inquiries of the strange dark visitor.

Time passed, and later I heard the man leaving and the front door slam. Through my window I watched the beautiful black 1974 Buick slowly back out of our driveway, and head down the darkening gravel road in the twilight. A cloud of dust rose up into the warm evening air behind it.

Later I heard Mom call someone on the phone and talk a lot while I read my comic books. Dad came home early that night for dinner, so I figured it must have been him. During the meal they didn’t say anything about the strange visitor, or his big black Buick.

I don’t remember a lot of things about my childhood. Sometimes it’s hard for me to even remember exactly what the old farmhouse looked like. But I do remember the lights I saw in the sky out in the field that night, and that black 1974 Buick sedan; the same one I’d see parked down the road outside Mr. Trammel’s place, the night before he disappeared.

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