On the July afternoon that my little brother Luke took a ride in the back of the hearse, my Uncle Allen and his partner, Henry, had come over for lunch to celebrate the first week as new store owners. Allen and Henry had taken over a shop called “Auntie Q’s Antiques” that sells old furniture and stuff. It’s a pretty stupid name if you ask me. The store belonged to some old lady who left everything she owned to Henry just because he used to cut her lawn when he was a teenager. Henry says that it would be disrespectful to change the name.
My family lives in a small town called Caprel’s Corners that is too far away from the nearest city for any emergency vehicles to reach us in case of fire or illness or breaking of the law. We have our own emergency service centre, but no 9-1-1 number, though; if you have an emergency, you have to call the fire station or medical centre or police station directly. The town houses a one-truck fire station, a medical centre that contains about a dozen hospital rooms and doubles as a nursing home, and a police station with two squad cars. Both cars are never out at the same time unless something really major is going on, like last August when Rita Anne Walker’s online companion, as she called him, stopped by from New Mexico on his tour across North America and tried to convince her to join their biker gang, Beelzebub’s Brood. He and about twenty of his friends camped out in Rita Anne’s backyard for a few nights, lighting bonfires and making S’Mores. Both squad cars drove up and down the street the whole time. The worst thing that happened was that Mrs. Moyer’s cat wandered into the yard and got run over twelve different ways when a group of the Brood went out for more marshmallows to roast.
Mostly everyone in the town volunteers as an emergency worker of one sort or another. Uncle Allen drives around the hearse when he’s not selling antiques. Business has dropped off since Auntie Q did the same, so it helps that Allen and Henry sell a little homemade liquor from the back as well. No one mentions where the green bottles without labels come from, but everyone drinks them all the same.
My whole family does different stuff. My dad is a firefighter when he isn’t teaching high school Biology. He already has enough experience putting out Bunsen burner fires in the lab. My mom drives the ambulance when she isn’t driving the school bus. She says she gets more stressed out driving the bus since the passengers are a lot rowdier. My sister Wendy is a midwife’s assistant and runs cups of ice chips to screaming women when she isn’t waitressing at Caprel’s Corners Café. My little brother Luke and I don't do much since we both go to school, but Luke sometimes serves meals and washes dishes at the medical centre. On Saturdays, if I'm done my homework and chores, I answer phones at the police station.
It’s crazy during family meals, trying to figure out whose cell phone is going off. Everyone reaches for their device and squints at it until someone claims, “Mine!” and runs out the door to fight a fire in the girls’ school washroom or rescue a heartburn victim at Sandy’s Diner or deliver a nine-pounder. Sometimes I think we should change our home phone number to 9-1-1 to make things a whole lot simpler.
The afternoon was hotter than it had been all month; even the beer bugs stayed away from the potato salad, ham and cucumber sandwiches, homemade dill pickles, and cheesecake. Sweat dripped off both Uncle Allen's bald head and from his cold green bottles. Wendy kept sneaking gulps of the stuff. It's not like it was the first time she'd tried it. When Lucy Fuller, the sister of Wendy’s friend, Naomi, got married to Jack Busey, Allen and Henry worked overtime to brew enough hooch for the whole wedding reception. (And in case you were wondering, yes, Lucy took on Jack’s name, which makes her Lucy Busey. She thinks it makes a good stage name, since she’s decided to move to Hollywood ever since starring as Emily in our town’s production of Our Town. I think it makes her sound like someone’s favourite milking cow.) Once the hooch came out, there was tons of dancing and whole lot of laughing, especially when Rita Anne Walker got up on the head table and did a line dance right off the end. Wendy and Naomi didn't get caught until later that night, passed out under the very table Rita Anne did a dance on.