The Rockport Miracles-Part 2: Episode 2 "Bonfire Of The Verminities" Fiction by Scott MacGregor
The Rockport Miracles
Part 2: Episode 2: “Bonfire of the Verminities”
I was still smarting from Wren Mathews’ slushy rebuke when I entered the noisy darkness of Lakefront Park for the annual bonfire. (circa 1970).
Every January, the town of Rockport staged a festive evening that featured hot chocolate, winter games of chance, free donuts and unbridled teen-age drinking. The big moment of the night was the setting ablaze of a 5-story pyramid made of discarded Christmas trees. At this juncture, it’s important to note that in those days the park shared its location with an old cemetery and the city dump! It was the dump’s chronic infestation of rats that provided the actual impetus for the burning tree festival.
In a time honored tradition, handed down and facilitated by multi-generations of proud Rockport garbage men, the tree pyramid was seasoned, bedecked and stuffed with rat finger food for the purpose of coaxing the formation of an entire rodent suburb within its tinseled branches. As Yuletide carols were sung by a choir, the trees with the rats inside them were roasted in a pyrrhic spectacle that would’ve wowed the Druids.
I attended the fire that year with my pal, Freddie. Freddie was my age but looked older because he had significant facial hair. At age sixteen, he was able to pass for 21 at a tiny neighborhood Polski bar where he scored a six pack of Stroh’s Beer for the both of us. As we searched the park for a safe place to guzzle it, I spotted Wren Mathews standing in line at the Kiwanis Hot Chocolate and Donut Hut.
I approached her and apologized again for the now famous “slush blob incident”. She was not in the mood for me and unleashed more spit-frosted words in Italian and/or French. I whipped up a snowball and handed it to her. “Here,” I said, “get even. Take this snowball. I’m begging you to hit me in the head with it.” With a look of exasperation on her face she replied, “What kind of a girl do you think I am? You need to grow up, bub!” Then she went on a mini tirade at me; “You ask my girlfriends about me, YOU DEFACED MY FROG IN BIOLOGY???…and, I’ll bet the bottom dollar it’s YOU that’s been writing all that strange poetry on the sidewalks! What is your big dilemma?”
Sensing correctly that I had nothing to lose, I blurted out “You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. I find you very interesting! I’m crazy about you!” She shot back, “You’re crazy, alright, you don’t know one thing about me.” I nervously felt a pimple on the top of my head and replied, “Hells bells, Wren, we’re teenagers for godsakes! Knowing anything for certain at this age is optional!” Wren shook her head with a look of disbelief and mouthed the words, “LEAVE ME ALONE.”
I conceded defeat and sludged away like a whipped hound dog. By the time I’d caught up to Freddie, I had decided to skip the bonfire altogether and leave the park. “This scene sucks,” I told Freddie, “I’m goin’ home.” As I neared the park exit a warm wind out of the north caught my attention. It was a wind that had no business being there on that seasonably cold January night. And then just like that, I felt the frozen sting of a well delivered snowball to the left side of my head. I spun around reactively, but I already knew who threw it. Just as Wren was about to throw another one, Mayor Frank Warren ignited the bonfire.
I was still picking the snow out of my ear and nostril as we stood together breathing in the primeval enchantments of a tree-rat inferno. Wren nudged me a little and said that she'd accepted my apology. I remember feeling great because it was the last time I ever felt great again. Then, as we watched the flames climb higher and higher there appeared a frightening sight in the northwestern sky. It was purple lightning!
Those warm winds that had drifted by a few moments earlier were the sentinels of a freak winter storm. Driven by hurricane force winds that had sped silently and undetected across frozen Lake Erie, they would clobber everyone inside the park in a matter of seconds. In a matter of minutes, the storm would change the course of Rockport history.
Part 2: Episode 3: “Storm the Beach”
Illustrations by Greg Budgett © 2018
© 2018 Scott MacGregor-EOI Media Press Inc.
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