Equinox

Prairie Fire - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - J.M. BRIDGEMAN

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.

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