Prairie Fire by Jamie Dopp

Opening Night

Nominated for a Canadian Magazine Award and a Saskatchewan Magazine Award in 2003.

For more information about Prairie Fire see their website at www.prairiefire.ca.

Opening Night.

In Prairie Fire. Vol. 23, No.3. October 2002. 102-06.

A coming of age story set in Ontario in the 1970s. Three friends ride the back roads from Waterloo to Elora in a 1969 Plymouth named Beulah. They become airborne over a poorly constructed bridge with frightening consequences.

Excerpt From Opening Night

     On Tuesday nights we drive to Elora. I'm tempted to say we drive the back roads to Elora, but to an eighteen-year-old boy living in Waterloo in the mid-'70s, all roads to Elora are back roads.

     Tom has a '69 Plymouth, a wide-snouted car two shades of blue darker than sky. He calls it "Beulah" and refers to it as "she." A straight-six engine with enough empty space around it to store suitcases. Yellow running lights mounted on opposite corners of the hood, like crocodile eyes. A car seven years old and with an obvious history to it, rust around the wheel wells, an interior smell of vinyl and dead cigarettes, and wonderfully wonky shocks, they give when you sit down or go over a bump in the road and seem to take forever to right themselves, like a jack-in-the-box spring flailing from side to side before finally growing still.

     In Elora on Tuesday nights there are cheap movies, a buck-and-a-half a pop, there is the mystery of the gorge, where some kid or another is always jumping to death off a cliff, there is mist, the white noise of white water over black rocks, and there is that back road drive.

     Getting there involves a certain ritual. Tom always picks up Dieter first, partly because Dieter lives closer but also as a reflection of status, and Dieter rides up front, rides shotgun, while I get picked up second and ride in the back, a reflection of my johnny-come-lately status. The first time they come round I step down from our porch and then, for some reason, stop. I just stand there, two or three seconds, in the middle of our front walk and look out to the road, and Tom leans on his elbow out Beulah's window and says, "You playing hard to get or what?"

     I sit on the blue vinyl next to a yellow hard hat.
     "Guy in the back wears the hat," Tom says.
     "What for?"
     And Tom and Dieter guffaw as Tom guns the engine.