Short Story

A Plum of a Night

We humans, quite by accident, sometimes experience a rare night when the stars align, it seems with intent, and transport us to a place where everyday people can spend an evening in paradise. I enjoyed just such a night years ago on Jessica Lake, at the Moulin cabin.

Our weekend cabin and our neighbours, the Moulins, were new to us, and we had spent a splashing, laughing, marvelous day in the sun. Our almost teenaged daughters had tubed and water-skied — a quad tow with the girls howling the chorus to Neil Young’s “Downtown” across the wake (and across the lake). We windsurfed on my old Bic Calypso, fished in Victor’s classic old aluminum boat, and Ken and I took turns trying — with near homicidal success — to flip the other guy on the tube, being towed by the Moulin’s kickbutt ski boat.

Not satisfied with a halcyon day on the sequined waters of Jessica, we carried on that evening with a meal of pickerel fillets, roast potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and enough beer and wine to float a tippy canoe. Our de facto leader that night was the matchless force of nature, the uberlebensgross Renee: a chef, a raconteur par excellence, an opinion leader (or else!) and a St. Boniface wise apple with the added advantage of being as smart and as sweet and as kind as the Whiteshell River is winding.

As darkness drew down, we reclined on the front lawn of the Moulin place, looking up at the shooting stars and satellite strewn night sky. It was a strangely mosquito free night and a dark, moonless backdrop made for a spectacular show. Eventually, the beer was gone, and yawns were contagious. We took our two daughters and a couple of the Moulin’s as well, for a sleep-over. Ken reminded us to look out for bears, “I think I mighta heard one earlier, ya know,” he commented, drawing the attention of the pre-teen crew.

“Yeah, right!” I replied, “Girls, don’t be surprised if we get a visit tonight from a bear with the initials Ken Moulin!”

We settled into our tiny 1950 cottage. The girls’ whispers shut down (but not before a few more choruses of “Downtown”) and soon, not a creature was stirring. Until, a snuffling, snorting, scratching noise came from the porch. “What’s that?” Jan said, alarmed.

“That’s Brer Ken, right on time,” I said, as I got up and listened next to the outside door. “It’s him all right. I think I can hear Suzanne giggling too.” I gripped the door knob tightly and threw the door open, flicked on the porch light and yelled, “Ah-ha!” as loud as I could.

Two bear cubs, their long pink tongues slurping up the last of a pail of plums my mom had (unknown to us) dropped off for us earlier that evening, were quite surprised. They began bawling, drawing a predictable response from their Momma, who, roused disagreeably from her post a few feet away on the lawn, brayed at her babies to “finish up kids, we’re going” and stood up on her hind legs to show me who was boss. In case I was wondering.

I was not.

I slammed the solid wood door at sawed-off shotgun velocity. For good measure, I leaned my back against the door while slapping my flat palms against it repeatedly to make enough racket to get Mom and her kids — the outdoor ones — on the move. I barked like a fiendish hound, thinking that this would be an effective deterrent for ursus americanus. All this racket lit the fuse of our diminutive (but feisty) terrier, Finnegan, who joined in with his ear-splitting, staccato alto-tenor.

As I peeked fearfully through the kitchen window, Jan stuck her head out from the bedroom and with characteristic deft scalpel work, commented, “So… not Ken then, I take it?”

The next morning, a bit groggy, I made my way up the hill to the nearby guest lodge to fetch a Free Press. I saw one of our other cottage neighbours there and gave him a wave. He gave me a stern look, then an almost imperceptible nod. Hmm, thought I, my morning-after brain not encoding this quite as well as it might. Curious.

He turned to me then and said, “You know, if yer gonna throw a party, you could at least invite us!”

“What party?” I protested.

“At one a.m. — fireworks going off, singing ‘Downtown’, dogs barking and what not…” he replied.

“Oh that,” I said, giving in to cruel fate — just happy that Dame Bear and her brood took their leave without harm greater than disgruntling our neighbours. “Well, some of us might have had a couple of plums too many,” and left it at that.

A Plum of a Night” is published on TOEWS.IR by special permission of the author, Mitchell Toews, who holds the copyright.