Falling stars, police and dead people

Melani has been pestering me all week to take her to see the Perseid meteor shower. This requires getting away from the city lights, and I’ve been too tired and stressed out after work for the drive.

Last night, I finally gave in because, gorrammit, I wasn’t going to be responsible for her missing the shooting stars. With Kendra in tow, we crossed the falling-apart Mercier Bridge en route to our regular viewing spot.

It’s not far from an old farmhouse my parents used to own in Howick. There is a wicked S-curve on Scotch Concession with an old tractor trail off one of the sharp bends. When Melani’s little sister was in elementary school, we’d pull in there, cut the lights and wait for our eyes to adjust. Within moments the air was so full of fireflies you could almost read a book by their light. Thousands of them blinking away as we sat there breathless for minutes, for an hour. I don’t know whether chatter bothers fireflies, but we’d speak softly and laugh quietly. Sparkles of heaven a hands-breadth away.

But the tractor trail is overgrown now. There is no shoulder on the narrow barely-two-lane road and tall, dark trees obscure most of the sky. Driving along that road, it’s tradition for someone to say spookily: “I seen this movie!”

If you ask a farmer, he’ll gladly let you park on his land and look at the sky from his fields. But if you don’t ask, if you just show up in the middle of the night, he’s going to get cranky. My goal for the evening became “don’t anger the farmer.”

So we looped around back to St. Martine, a beautiful town along the river. I’d like to retire here, in a house with a wraparound deck protected by mosquito netting and a dock I can lie on to watch the stars and think heavy thoughts. Or no thoughts at all – really, that’s more like me.

“Ooooh, there’s a cemetery,” Melani said, pointing. “Can you pull in?”

I could, indeed, pull onto the gravel road and park near the gate to the graveyard. A sign noted it is closed after sundown and the gates were locked. We followed the fence to where it met a cornfield. The gates had been locked, but the fence just ended, so of course Kendra walked around it.

“The cops’ll be along to check on the car,” I told her and she reluctantly came back to us.

We lay in the dewy grass directly beneath the Milky Way and saw a few weak shooting stars (it’s very near the end of the showers) and talked about boys and stars and other very important things. When I heard the crunch of gravel behind us, I said, “Well, there’s the cops.”

Kendra panicked a little, but as I got up, I said, “They’re not going to shoot us. Just walk up to them very slowly.”

There was no choice but to go slowly. They had their roof lights on full blast; it was brighter than a noon-time sun. I walked close to the gravel road and stopped, waiting for them to come to me.

“I can ask what you’re doing here?” the Sûreté du Québec officer asked me.

“We came to see the meteor shower,” I said with a smile.

“You’ll have to tell me what this is, a mett-E-or shower.”

Melani’s French is better than mine. “Les étoiles fillant,” she told him.

“Oh, that’s tonight?”

“It’s all week.”

He looked back at me. “And it’s your car?”

“Yes.”

“You’re from where?”

“Montreal.”

“Oh, so you should speak French.”

“I grew up in Toronto,” I said. It’s no excuse, but when people hear it, they cut me some slack.

“Okay,” he said. “Enjoy the show.”

I’d been ready to drive away. “You mean we can stay?”

He laughed at me. “Sure. Have fun.”

Well, that went well. The cops went off to find real criminals and we wandered back to our corner by the cornfield. Melani and Kendra decided that since the cops had already been there, it was safe to go into the graveyard. They didn’t go too close to the headstones – it was midnight, after all – but Melani flopped down on the other side of the fence.

“You’re going to lie down here?” Kendra asked, following suit.

“You might as well,” I said from my safe place on the other side of the fence. “Everyone else in there is lying down.”

I’ve never seen two people move so fast in my entire life.

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