Illustration by Andres Garzon
It is a cold February day as the city labours through the aftermath of a blizzard. Predictions are accurate: sub-zero temperatures, winds out of the west, fifteen to twenty centimetres of accumulation.
Donna rubs the sleep from her eyes, moves barefoot across the chilling hardwood floor. Her toes knead the wool of the Cretan rug while her fingers lose themselves in her long, tangled hair. She breathes against the windowpane: a mirror to enter through to the outside world. A taxi under its quickly fading Yellow Diamond slaloms up Côte-Sainte-Catherine, and then the prolonged stridulation of soft rubber on icy, packed snow. A low sun struggles against the oblique whiteness. She shivers, but she knows that coffee will somehow warm up the day, and that Terry will likely bring her around.
When Terry joins her, and they have their coffee, and he wants to know what’s troubling her, she tells him an uneasy feeling can sometimes come upon her. Same as knowing that without actually throwing the clay on the potter’s wheel, intentions will break down no matter how caring she is. When he asks what’s really causing the frown, she reaches for her Emily Dickinson, turning to a poem that conveys it all.
“There’s a certain slant of light / On winter afternoons, / That oppress, like the weight / Of Cathedral tunes.” Donna pauses here, and then carries through to the end of the poem.
“Worried again about my family’s pious prejudices?
“Not really, Terry. I trust your judgement in all of that.”
“Cathedral tunes and Heavenly hurt. That stuff?”
“It’s not a reaction to religious bigotry, Terry. Or God’s design, if there be any. Just the human condition. What you said after the Christmas get-together about finding meaning despite the oppression—very heavy, all that.”
“Maybe so, but I think this poem means having knowledge of despair and death can bring you back into the light. Something like that anyway.”
“Could be it’s just that this kind of bleak winter day is the beginning of a painful transformation due me after so many months at the Veterans. I deal with death, and dying and despair on a daily basis. Attempts to alleviate the pain and suffering of old men telling sad stories seems futile at times, and frustrating, but I keep on doing it. And then this feeling comes over me, and when it comes, even the landscape listens. Take a look outside.”
“Your landscape sings other songs, Donna. I know now you’re beyond Cathedral tunes and Heavenly hurt.”
“Yes, you’re probably right. Up on the mountain. Parc-La Fontaine. Sometimes I just want to embrace the sun. Get a new perspective.”
Later, when Terry has left, Donna waits by the window, and watches the eaves for the sounds of sun melting snow. The orange light of the tow truck strobes the dim afternoon intersection as a Victoria Avenue bus in muted brown and silver slides to a stop against the hidden curb. Two people get off, soon to become hurrying shades against the whirlwind snow—one this way and one that way. She pulls the curtain and goes to put on her uniform.
Fearing the worst of the storm’s aftermath, Terry has left Donna’s earlier than necessary for the long drive out of the city even though he knows the main roads will be ploughed.
Streaks of pink in the late afternoon sky. Cold white sunshine furrowed in drifts.
Within an hour, the GM plant eventually comes into view, icy blue and metallic, like a castle set against a disappearing landscape. Hard, white, almost tangible billows of vapour rise from its spires and turrets.
Inside, the great beast of mass production lies motionless in an endless, labyrinthine coil, hissing, impatient, waiting for the signal to snake around its monotonously efficient course. Decked out in his paint shop garb, Terry prepares his gear. On the other side of the hanging four-door shell, his opposite number, Yves Laurier, stands and waits.
When the buzzer sounds, the line advances, and Terry, pneumatic gun in his hand like a wand, begins his job of sealing welded joints. This he will do for eight hours. The work both affirms and denies. For Terry, the mechanical hours free the mind to follow wherever the imagination leads. It leads everywhere, assumes all forms, shapes, and rhythms — bits and pieces of songs, free-associations that conclude in rhyme or in the creation of new dreams, and memories short and long—but mostly it leads back to Donna. She breaks his shift up into myriad images: some, singular in impression — the contour of her lips; others, extended reveries—the thought that there was something essentially luxurious and defiant about making love in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of winter’s grip. Difficult conversations are replayed with different words, but outcomes seldom differ.
She: Why don’t you just stay here?
He: You know I have to get to work.
She: I mean stay here day-to-day, night-to-night, week-to-week.
He: My parents’ place is convenient, more direct to the plant, especially in winter.
This is followed by a litany of apologies that unravels like a coil of art nouveau. Then the voice in the on-going narrative fabricates a less conflicted, more pleasing scenario with the arrival of a two-door hardtop requiring a line of caulking in its trunk—a retiring red glow reaches across your lips when I move to you fallen with the music—and recedes, like taillights, towards the next of tomorrows. Whereupon Terry pictures himself sees chasing Donna’s long, shapely legs around the Beaver Lake skating pond on top of Mont-Royal. This evolves into an enduring fantasy where they roll together though snow-bound fields in endless ecstasy.
“Ça marche, mon ami?”
“Oui, ça marche bien!”
REED STIRLING lives in Cowichan Bay, BC. His work has appeared in Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Nashwaak Review, Valley Voice, Out Of The Warm Land II and III, StepAway Magazine, PaperPlates, Senior Living, Green Silk Journal, Fickle Muses, Fieldstone Review, Ascent Aspirations, Hackwriters Magazine, The Danforth Review, Filling Station, and Dis(s)ent In Words.
Copyright © 2019 by Reed Stirling. All rights reserved.