Illustration by Andres Garzon
“A car hit my little sister,” I said to the nun in my broken English, my siblings and I attended St. Malachy School on Clanranald Avenue.
Halloween night 1955: a Volkswagen Beetle hit nine-year-old Erika on Decarie Boulevard, corner Monkland Avenue. Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.
One year earlier, we had immigrated to Montreal. War refugees from Budapest, a mother and a father, four daughters and one son. Ages seven to fourteen.
After school, I was scoring orange peels in father’s pastry shop when I saw my seven-year-old brother József. He ran into the store to tell my parents about the accident. I ran outside with father. We found my sister lying unconscious between two parked cars.
Apu, my father, picked up his child. Sobbing, he carried Erika into his shop and laid her down on the bare floor. A Magyar Cukrászda.Scuffed wide plank oak floors, between two glass counters that were filled with chocolates and fresh Hungarian cakes and pastries.
My sister lay with her eyes closed. Father crouched beside her on his knees, calling her name, “Erika. Erika.”
My mother stood by the counter, very still. I prayed the Our Father. The Hail Mary. Repeatedly, I said them. Then Erika threw up. It was dark red. I thought she would die. I prayed louder. To our relief, the red colour was from beets. Sliced cékla my eldest sister Erna had cooked.
On Decarie we rented an apartment across the street from the store. My sister Erna had sent her younger siblings with the alarm clock. “Tell mother to wind it so we will not be late for school.”
The driver of the car, who hit my sister, cried as hard as my father did. “I have four children and no car insurance,”he blurted out between uncontrollable sobs.
Józsefre calls, “Father wanted to cut the guy’s head off when he saw Erika vomiting red. ‘If she dies your head comes off!’he told the driver. She flew through the air and landed on the hood of a car. I was holding her hand. This guy came through the red light. All I remember, she was hit. She was on the wrong side. Both of us should have been hit. It happened in the dark. We all ate beets for supper.”
An ambulance took my sister to the Children’s Hospital. She came home the same night. She suffered a concussion and was dizzy for several days. Erika was allowed to sleep with my parents in their double bed. Missed many weeks of school.
“I don’t celebrate Halloween. Your sister had the accident,” mother said, many years later.
ILONA MARTONFI is an editor, poet, curator, advocate and activist. Author of four poetry books, the most recent Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna, 2021). Writes in journals, anthologies, and five chapbooks. Her poem “Dachau on a Rainy Day” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. Artistic director of Visual Arts Centre Reading Series and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. QWF 2010 Community Award.
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Martonfi. All rights reserved.