City dreams

Here, in this concrete city with its stone angels, sisters to the asphalt, the gravel, the harsh metallic strangle of train tracks, she wanders. Up Broadview late at night, when the streetcar is temperamental, (not unusual) and refuses to continue its route down Gerrard. The city across the ravine is lit up like a poorly carved Jack’o’lantern, knocked out teeth and sad eyes, other insomniacs holed up in their apartments, the pallid cast of their faces in the eerie glow of late night talk show television. People more scared of the dark in their own homes, the shadows in the corner or the grizzled men in stairwells and doorstep overhangs.

The ravine itself is black, the river a blotter so inky black it is difficult to distinguish it from the asphalt. It reflects no stars, for there are none visible through the smog and light pollution, but instead the hazy strings of red taillights heading north on the freeway (Going where, at this hour? she wonders, despite her own wanderings). She isn’t possessed of the fear most women raised in the city have, of looking of their shoulders at shadows within shadows, the fear of being borrowed, used and disposed of like the condoms and trash everywhere in this city, and she sits down on a bench (smoke weed everyday! Brenda gives great BJs! God is nowhere, God is now here. Fuck Pakki sand rats) to look over the dark ravine.

What constellations can she see, here? She sees the Big Dipper, offset by an odd trio of satellites, beaming TV shows down to the city, GPS locations, pornography, the material of conspiracy theories. Orion, the hunter. Not out of place in this city, where everybody must be a hunter to succeed.

She daydreams of a day half remembered as a child, dressed in plaids and denim and little boots, practical boots, not dainty patent leather ones with kitty heels that she had briefly lusted after. Her Daddy had a truck just for driving through the bush, one it won’t matter if the uneven ground bumps and jolts, one reliable enough to start in sub-zero temperature when they’re back at the hunt camp, miles from anyone and anywhere except each other and the creek. But this day is a beautiful autumn day, and the thick woods around them are burgundy and mauve and goldenrod and sunburst and chocolate, and the sun is brittle but bright and warm.

The men of her family are there, Daddy and granddad and great granddad and uncle, mostly taciturn and quiet men, good with their hands, gruff, reserved of their praise. She can’t be more than five years old but she’s already aware of these personality traits in an abstract, fuzzy way that she doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe. She does however have fingers big enough to hold a gun in her hands, a steady enough hand to squeeze a trigger. This is why they are stopped, the bright oil-slick iridescence of a partridge’s plumes were spotted in the foliage and they pull over. Daddy lets her get out of the truck by herself and lets her climb into the truck bed via the fender. Quietly, he gives her the gun, and crouches behind her. All are supernaturally still. Cicadas can still be heard as there hasn’t yet been frost to kill them, but there is no sound of traffic, no human sounds except, if she was to listen closely enough, the thrum of blood through veins, four generations of blood.

And momentarily she hears, they all, collectively hear the curious drum-like pounding of the partridge’s wings pounding against its sides in takeoff. Daddy doesn’t help her aim, but his arms are around her shoulders to help steady the long barrel of the gun, and he gives her a brief nod, stubble against her cheek, when it is time to fire. The partridge falls quietly from the sky, graceful even in death, not plummeting, not spiralling, simply falling. Its blood is metallic smelling and pungent, warm, but she is not disturbed. They will pluck it later and eat it, in the crude kitchen at the camp. Formica counter top withgoldish, silver sparkles, overflowing ashtray and year old, club-sized coffee can, a clock with dainty mother geese type illustrations on it in pale blue bonnets that used to hang in their old house.

In the city, she smiles faintly up at Orion. She places no great faith in the power of astrology. But the constellations of her childhood, these she respects and reveres. Still with her face kissed by a smile, she lingers a moment before meandering on again. After all, the subway only runs so late, and the city is larger than she cares to walk this evening.

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