But did she return?
Gail Scott, The Obituary
He paints a bicycle on her shoulder blade. Etches. The needle cadence, carves. Her red utility design, a bicycle like hers. He stretches canvas skin.
She is topless, lying on her stomach, and paying for the privilege of each pained expression.
An hour passes. Three.
Ottawa is too hot for anything. Rideau wishes, wash. She pays her money and walks, itself, a rarity.
It is muggy, warm, and underneath bandage sweat, an unbearable itch.
Six hour stretch, her evening job, coffeeshop. Shifts, she stands. Her shoulder throbs. Order, change and cup. Order, change and cup. Shifts that include junkies in the washrooms. Far too often washing blood from beige walls, after.
Ugly service industry. Shouldn’t be so fucking hard. Muzak, soft. When no-one notices, she turns the satellite to something far more palatable. Something with an edge. Groans out lattes, chillers, iced coffees. The window washers, you could set your watch.
The hours melt, a seeming mass.
She has been attempting to catch the attention of the girl in the apartment below hers. Blonde, curved, university age. She hovers at the window, alert by how the house breathes, exhalations as the front door opens, shudders, return. She hears movement. Footfalls, creaks, the downstairs kitchen cupboards. House-breaths moving her apartment door the slightest, ripple. Hallway and the staircase are the lungs.
She hopes to catch, an eye. A simple glimpse. A purse of lips.
A week earlier, she quickly ran fingers through their shared apartment dryer, skin against her neighbour’s clothes. She daydreamed. A little creepy, sure. But they were warm, and so soft.
She knows there are two kinds of people: cat people and dog people. Everything comes down to this.
There are no “bird people,” simply self-hating cat people, or dog people who don’t think they deserve to be loved.
Specimen, the cat, tears into her skin, flails his back legs. Spec. The clipper pares his front claws, never makes to his hind paws. He squirms, slices, escapes. She yelps in pain, surprise, release. His cries a mix of anger and such deep betrayal. Pleading, eyes. He catches carpet, slips beneath a chair.
She to the bathroom, washes cuts and scrapes, her blood. Returns to offer him a treat from the kitchen as apology.
Decides she will begin again, tomorrow. He does not understand.
Tucked away, apartment turret. Her cuckoo clock, discovered in an antique store. Discarded doorknob. She knows the importance of objects, tokens. A guitar pick rescued from the sticky black of club floor, previously used on-stage by Andy Stochansky. A blue scarf gifted from her favourite aunt, plucked from Paris shops, when she was ten. A jar of smooth stones collected from the beach in Cobourg, when she was fifteen. The tales her father told along the boardwalk, of the summer when he was fifteen, strolling the same beach.
Canada Day, 11am. The downtown core empty of human activity but for revelers, in big red. Abandoned office towers, dark shops. Flags descend, draped as cowls, capes. Rare cars Doppler. Centretown, towards the Hill, towards the Market. The occasional OC Transpo bus. She rolls her lengthy way down. Bicycle slow.
Snowbirds, overhead. A quintet swish, and smoke trails.
Parliament Hill, the hole that must be filled. Groups gravitate toward the centre, a core that strengthens throughout the day. Gravity, it pulls and pulls.
She, too, almost aimless. Catcalls from balcony revelers along Somerset, indirect cheers from a patio group at the Royal Oak at Gloucester. Empty spaces fill.
What is a country? Her references are not the same.
Pamela Anderson’s birthday, Vancouver’s Centennial baby.
You can’t blow up the earth. A line from the animated series, The Tick. That’s where I keep my stuff.
A woman, from the waist up, sporting only stickers.
She pulls along, aside. Ties her bike up to a metal railing on York Street, locks. Horse, up to the hitching post.
Torn, the way she paces. Anxious, parse. Chains her heart up to a metal post. Leaves it, here, where she might just be. No matter.
Bicycle, a candy-apple red, with Granny Smith green trim. A birthday present from her mother, three years. Three years since the cancer took her. Stole.
She steps, into the steady dark. The old men daily in the Dominion Tavern, unaccustomed to the weekday deluge of patrons. They know something is wrong, but they couldn’t say what. The old and young alike.
Recollecting, this once “Dominion Day,” celebrating, what. Dominion. Over what, she does not know.
Bartender pulls a pint and passes, over. She, sits down to read her book. She, quiet.
Her friends will be there, soon. Sooner or later.
The Dominion Tavern, big screen plays a documentary on golf and mentorship. Overhead blasts audio, The Pixies, Surfer Rosa. She is entirely too comfortable. She reads her book, and waits.
Punk kid from the pool table, over. Aims to interrupt her reading. Bartender silent, floats by with the back of the hand, deflects. They know her here.
Her friends arrive. She slips her book away. Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey. They pool, collect in the corner of back patio.
Pulls a pint and passes, pulls another pint. She swims in Kitchissippi, Beaus, a local wash. She genuflects for local flavor.
Older than she looks, the late-night rain begins to fall. Warm, on their faces.
Midnight, fireworks. Mouth presses mouth, outside. She, and she. They’d ignored the official fireworks, now catch the whistle-squeal of ruin, releasing packets of individuals in brush, a pack of trees, beside apartment trestles from the Byward Market east into Sandy Hill, low income dwellings. The whistle-squeal and pop, most often followed by the strawberry swirl of sirens. Police cars, run.
She pictures happiness. The colour green.
A bicycle, like hers. An empty post, broken chain. Her mother is dead.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, Rob Mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016), and the forthcoming How the alphabet was made (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) and Household items (Salmon Poetry, 2018). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, a former contributor to the Ploughshares blog, editor of my (small press) writing day, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com