Down the Street, But Not Too Far

The moving van exploded into a thousand little pieces of things that a family once owned. There were the easy things; those two things were table legs and what was a wicker laundry hamper lid. But there were confusing things too, just a bunch of stuff; there was stuff everywhere, all over the street. It was a really big mess. 

Mary Kinder was the first one on the to get near the van. She was six. As dust settled, and smoke dissipated, Mary, who had only been a hundred feet from the blast, but luckily, sitting in the protective shade of a small power transformer shed, had been very still for a moment after the big bang sound. Her eyes had shot wide open and her mouth too. She was very still for a few seconds and then, after a little shake of her head, had peered around the metal shed only to see a moving van on its side. There was a small flame growing in the engine department area and clouds of smoldering clothing, facecloths and scraps of table napkins fluttered listlessly and without further purpose back to the ground. 

At first she wasn’t afraid, but she was really, really surprised. She understood that the sudden and tremendously loud blast, the household things, the slowly turning front wheel were all connected. She could see that. She could see the once perfectly white picket fence of Mr. Thompson's house was scarred, blackened and listing awkwardly and she could see that something important or at least very, very unusual had just taken place. But what she couldn't see was why? Why had this happened? Why was there a moving van lying on its side in the middle of her street with a small fire growing under the hood? 

She was first to arrive because the only other people that were closer to the explosion appeared to be dead. Mary wasn’t sure about that. She wasn’t sure about dead. But they looked dead. They weren’t moving and they were all twisted up and they weren’t holding hands and the little boy who had been laughing with his mother when the mother had smiled at Mary as she walked by wasn’t making any noise at all now. Mary thought that it was strange that a Mom could be walking hand in hand with a little boy on a sunny day and that a boy could be laughing and that the Mom could smile at Mary as she passed and then, in a second, be all wrecked and not moving one bit and laying on the street with her dress all ripped and not nice looking anymore. 

By the time she got to the van, the little fire in the engine part of the van had grown and now it seemed to be all over the front part of the truck, but it was quiet, and it didn’t seem dangerous. In fact nothing about what she saw in front of her, on her street, right near her home, seemed as dangerous as the big bang sound that had startled her so much that she had done a little sit-jump even though she was leaning against the hut in the sun with Ed her bear.  

Off in the distance she could hear the sound of a fire truck or a policeman or the ambulance as they got closer. She started to hear the sound of voices too. Her mother’s voice, loud, but not mad loud, and running footsteps. Sounds like old man Carson’s little bell on the handlebar of his electric scooter ringing furiously - the same as when Mr. Carson wanted the boys out of his yard in the evening, and there were other voices and people shouting.  Still, the van, and the fire and the smoke and the mess and all the family’s stuff were quiet, like the middle of the night, as everything lay all crazy and broken in her street and all the voices were far off – even her mom’s voice when she'd been turned sharply by her mother and told to look at her and after that too, when her mother pulled her into a hug that Mary thought might break her.

Her mother smelled just like her mom always smelled, nice and a little bit pretty, but there was another smell too. Not just the smoky smell, or even the faint gasoline smell, but another smell.  A different smell, a not very nice smell. Was it the people's stuff? Did the people that were moving have stuff that smelled bad and now their stuff was all over her street with a van and a mom and a boy and a broken fence?

She felt herself drawn away by her mother, pulled by the arm away from the van and the fire and the smell. Pulled off to the side of the road towards Mr. Carson, who had stopped ringing the bell on his scooter, and was now shouting to some of the other neighbours who were outside on a warm sunny afternoon, just after a moving van had exploded and fallen on its side in the middle of her street.

Mary’s mother tried to shield her from looking at everything by forcing Mary behind her big, soft summer dress, but Mary bent a little at her waist and could see around her mother. She could still see the fire and the van on its side and all the stuff lying around all messy and not put away. She could still see the smoke and the slowly turning tire and the boy and his mom. She could hear her mother sobbing and calling out questions, she could hear the sirens, close now, only a minute away. There were more footsteps too but they were running footsteps now and there were men’s voices and men calling out and men shouting to other men to go get things. Women were crying and shouting and calling for children to look away or go back inside or stay close. 

Then the firemen came and the policemen were right behind them. She had never heard one of those police car rooftop-loudspeakers before, and she was surprised to hear that it sounded just like they did on TV, but way, way louder. Not as loud as the big loud bang that surprised her when she was sitting behind the power transformer hut with Ed the Bear, but that was a different kind of loud. That kind of loud was an all of a sudden, all at once loud and the police car loudspeaker was more like a really loud radio but not a radio playing music, more like just saying loud words that were telling people what to do, and the grown-ups were doing exactly what the loudspeaker said they should do.

Seeing all of this; the smoke and the dust and the little fire and the slowly turning wheel and the fence and the mom and the boy... Mary became, for the first time since the big bang sound, a bit afraid. Afraid like her mother had been a little while ago when Mr. Thompson and Mr. Madison and Mr. Chow and her dad went away. Was this the war? Was the war here now?