WALKING HOME FROM SAFEWAY, into the sun, the way I do, with chicken and oranges in a bag. A rustle in the bushes, the brown shrubbery, the red osier just beginning to ooze. Two mallards, the dowdy hen scurrying ahead through dead leaves. The drake, green head gleaming, is rushing her, in pursuit, practically treading on her heels, and nattering at her in a constant stream, confident that if he just perseveres, he’ll succeed in chatting her up. Here, a good long city block from the pond.
A man at the crosswalk, waiting too, is wearing yellow with a big red X, a safety vest. He has a garbage bag on wheels and is carrying a pickup stick. A spring cleaner-upper. “So much traffic, and everyone going so fast,” he opines, barely audible over the hum of rubber on road. We are paused while two lanes of turning vehicles pass in front of us. The lights change; the little man steps out at the beep. Is he green or white? I try not to look up the street, to the spot that was, yesterday, a clutter of disorder. Just up from the intersection. Right beside the bus stop. Red fire truck. Ambulances. Stretcher. Black and white police cars. Red and blue and yellow lights spiralling. At least the driver stopped. Remained at the scene, as they say. So much traffic. Is it because of spring break or just the sunny weather and the fact that I usually avoid walking at this time of day, almost rush hour in the afternoon?
This sidewalk is dangerous too. Motor vehicles moving in seven directions, waiting for a gap in time big enough for them to turn into or out of the mall parking lot. Music seeps like exhaust out of a truck, stopped, waiting for the signal. The time will come. Strumming and a twang. I know that tune. What is it? You’ll walk the floor. I walk, watchful of the cars trying to exit the mall. Left turn signal winking.
Eye contact. A driver waves me past. A nod and a smile. Call my name. I know it. I know it. Worming through my inward ear. An old-style country song. What do they call it? Traditional? The teardrop in the throat. The guy who died in the backseat of his limo. odd. Way back then. 1952? I had his Greatest Hits cassette once. Gave it to one of my friends. It was more his generation, anyway. Soundtrack of his youth most likely. Not mine. Mine was Whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream. Soon to be superseded by I can’t get no satisfaction. Should have stuck with Hank Williams. The whole night through.
Today, I am Mrs Dalloway. Should have bought those tulips. Those overpriced tulips. Should have worn a skirt. An elegant 1919 skirt. Not these drooping leggings. Leg it. Home. Plan. Prep. Cook. Portions. Guest. The ornamental trees beside the hospital ambulance bay are bursting, spring green bright shining through them. On this side of the street, all seems drier and duller, except for the crocuses here, dots of purple and sunlight poking up from under the brown mulch and grey river rocks. Funny how I never think of Virginia Woolf as walking into that river with her pockets full of stones. I think of her as Mrs Dalloway preparing to entertain, with wounded soldiers jumping from windows before her eyes. Landing impaled on pike-topped fences below. Choose your poison, as they say.
That looks like Aileen on the other side of Mary Street. I wave. She waves. I cross. She waits. I say, “Are you walking?” “Ear doctor,” she says. “Let’s go for coffee,” I say. She says “Younies; Starbucks is too noisy.” Health. Domestic woes. Power outages. Travel. Haiku. Art. Artists. Books. I am blessed.
Aileen is parked in the mall lot. Near the bus stop, which is near the accident scene. Yesterday’s. I leave her at the passageway between Younie’s and Jenny’s, taking the other fork, a tangent, back to the chirping light where I bumped into her. Just two blocks from home. My new box, high on the top floor. Like a sky burial. An offering to those hungry birds you told me about. Those ones that recycle carcasses. Birds of appetite. Right. So much more tasteful. I check the mailbox on my way to the elevator. A hand-addressed envelope, a personal card for the previous owner. Where is she now? Do I be polite, ask a neighbour where to forward this? Do I scrawl across it DEPARTED and throw it into the Return To Sender box? Or do I simply label it in my mind, DISCARD, and toss it into my own recycling?
Moroccan chicken with rice and oranges. Throw in a cinnamon stick to balance the cumin and nutmeg. Extra garlic. I slice up the plump olives you gave me, a green garnish to offset the carrots julienne. Orange and green. For this first full day of spring. After the
equinox. After St. Patrick’s Day. Next week is Easter. Good Friday, anyway. Send me one of Dylan’s postcards of the hanging, when you’re away again. Dali’s version will make you weep. Looking down on one who is forsaken. Who needs a crown of thorns or a ripped-open heart? “Gotta go,” you said. “Bad time of year; it’s not safe to be here. What you want and what you get simply do not match up.”
Everything is moving too fast and too slow. Falling rain makes the pavement shine. There is still a risk of snow.