It wasn’t two weeks or even a week later that JT Markunas and Kayleigh Jurgelaitis sat down to dinner together in Charlottetown. Kayleigh healed fast when dinner on the town was on the table. It was three days later when they sat down to eat at the Canton Café on Queen St. It was early evening. The sky was clear, but the stars weren’t out, yet.
“Homegrown is the best,” Kayleigh said, “but it’s fun to globetrot now and then.”
“I’ve had nothing but next-door eggs and bread for breakfast and white fish mussels potatoes and rhubarb pie for dinner the past two weeks,” JT said. “I’m ready and willing for something off-shore.”
The restaurant opened 19 years earlier. George Lee and Ken Wong both came from China to Prince Edward Island in the 1950s. Whenever they heard the words “Chairman Mao” and “Land Reform” they spit out the back door. They had their reasons. When they got tired of working at other people’s restaurants, they put their heads together and scrimped and saved and bought the Lotus Café. They renovated it renamed it and opened it with themselves in the kitchen and at the cash register. Ken Wong retired in 1980, a new cook getting acquainted with the tongs whisks utility knives, spatulas and skimmers, sushi kits and bamboo steamers, dumpling makers, and the dozens of woks. George Lee stayed behind the cash register, a fixture at the front. He kept his eyes on the prize.
“They have got great egg rolls,” JT said.
The Canton Café had a Canadian menu, too, a short list of hamburgers, hot sandwiches, and French fries. Nobody ever ordered the Canadian menu, except for tourists who stumbled in by mistake. When they were done they usually knew they had made s mistake.
“Why would you have French fries when you could have this?” Kayleigh asked, biting into an egg roll.
“Policemen say everything happens for a reason. What I say about ordering fries here is that sometimes something happens for a no good reason,” JT said.
“I want to thank you again for stopping and helping me in the park.”
“Uphold the right,” JT said.
“That’s the official RCMP motto. The unofficial motto is ‘They always get their man.’ We might get that guy on the bike but I’m not holding my breath until I see his motorcycle again. Anyway, I thought you were a tourist, and part of our mission is making sure tourists want to come back.”
“Were those the only reasons?”
“Are you from here?”
“No, I’m from Sudbury, which is a mining town in Ontario.”
Kayleigh didn’t say anything for a minute until she said, “Are you messing with me? Did you check up on me?”
“No, of course not, why would I do that?”
“Because I’m from Sudbury, too.”
JT sat back pursed his lips and whistled. “I don’t believe in coincidences, but that is a hell of a coincidence.” His Canton Café chopsticks lay on the table untouched. He wasn’t going to touch them and risk going hungry. They ordered dumplings and roasted duck and shared their plates. They talked about chance and taking chances.
A wiry scruffy young man walked it and waited at the counter. George walked to the kitchen and brought back a take-out order in a brown bag. The man paid in cash and walked out nibbling on an egg roll.
They were sipping their green tea and unraveling fortune cookies when Kayleigh burst out springing up from her seat facing the front window, “Hey there’s the motorcycle!” The red Kawasaki wheeled away from the curb. By the time Kayleigh and JT, followed by George, abandoning his cash register, were out the door, the bike was out of sight. They looked up and down the street. George shrugged his shoulders. They heard its whine somewhere in the distance. It was impossible to tell where it was or where it was going.
“Goddamn it, that is the second time that has happened,” JT cursed.
“Can you put an APB out for him?” Kayleigh asked.
“An all-points bulletin like in the movies.”
“It doesn’t exactly work that way, but it will be on a worksheet tomorrow.”
After they determined the motorcycle was long gone not to be found, George went back to his cash register, JT paid the bill, and suggested they stop at a bar on the waterfront.
“Talk about coincidences,” Kayleigh said walking up to the bar and looking at the sign that said JR’s Bar. “JT and JR. Are you two the abbreviation brothers?”
“Now that is a turn of the cards,” JT said. “I never gave it a thought. This place has been here before I ever even saw the light of day. They’ve got some good draft beers and a dance floor in the back. The tunes are always terrific, whether they’re local or otherwise. JR has had his share of music makers come through here, Anne Murray, John Allen Cameron, and Stompin’ Tom Connors. Stompin’ Tom even wrote a song about the place.”
When they walked in Johnny Reid behind the bar gave JT a wave, waving him to the bar. “Long time no see, been a month, eh?” He was a short man wearing big glasses and a ratty short-sleeved rugby style shirt. He had a bar towel stuck in his pants pocket. JT ordered two pints of Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale.
“He doesn’t look that good, like he’s sick,” Kayleigh said while JR was pouring their beers.
“JR’s got cancer.”
“Oh, that’s terrible.”
“Don’t say anything to him about it. He’s afraid he might have to close.”
“Of course, I won’t, poor man.”
“He’ll pull through. Johnny’s no spaghetti-o. He’s in it for the duration, whatever that might be.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes until Kayleigh said, “Tell me about yourself and how a Sudbury boy ended up here.”
“It’s a long story.”
“I’ve got all night,” Kayleigh smiled.