Exercise N 2.11 – a bridge from two perspectives
The Jays must have won because the DVP is filled with honking cars. Blue and white flags ripple in the breeze as the parking lot that is the parkway slowly filters north, under the bridge at Gerrard. This isn’t the aggressive, get-out-of-my-way-type honking one normally hears at rush hour all along this stretch of valley, but instead, a signal of fraternal affection, of joy in a communal event. The honks are stuttered, start-stop. Some people pump their fists through their windows. Occasionally, someone woops.
Even the sun is in on the action, glinting that Jays blue-and-white off the Don river’s clear water. Swans and ducks bob on the gentle current, unperturbed by the festive noise going up all around them from the metal beasts on their paved trail north. Splashes of sound and colour hint at fish below the depths, many more than I can see from up here on the bridge. The water is running clean and looks so refreshing I consider for a moment jumping in, clothes and all, but I don’t want to disturb the animals, who look so placid and at peace.
The rail of the bridge is smooth and cool to the touch, a perfectly machined aluminium bar running the length of the valley. The bridge itself is of wooden planks, worn to a corky softness by thousands of feet. This material, cut from trees a half a century ago, seem to me indomitable, as though a thousand years of rain couldn’t wash this bridge away. If the Don were to rise a dozen metres it still couldn’t overtake this sturdy rail, these soft planks. They don’t even creak when I jump upon them. The honks call out from the crawling line of cars. Someone shouts “Go Jays!” and I call back to the faceless blue-and-white flow of cars. The sound floats down and settles among the swans and ducks and baseball fans, becomes part of the scenery.
The world is nothing but fog. I know I’m on the bridge at Gerrard, somewhere over the Don river, suspended by a few flimsy planks and a piece of aluminium. I know this but there’s no way to sense it. The clouds have come crashing to the ground, have spilled out over the landscape and obscured all that I knew, or thought I knew. Everything I thought I saw in my little world is effaced by a soft grey sheet that replaces sharp details with an obfuscating glow. The pitted wooden planks under my feet, worn down by thousands before me, creak as I shift my weight. Left, right, each movement seems to strain the bridge further, as though my presence were a growing burden, growing until it’s unsupportable.
No cars are moving on the parkway below. At least, I can hear none, see none. No aggressive horns come up out of the gloom. If there are drivers down there, trapped one to a box, inching forward through the fog on an endless highway that at the best of times is a steady drip-drip, there’s no way to know. Everyone out here is keeping to themselves, keeping everything hidden within.
The world is so quiet that I hear the flutter of a bird’s wings from the water’s surface below. It might be a duck, or a swan. My ears aren’t sharp enough to tell, and there’s no real difference made if they could. The birds are down there waiting out the fog just as I am. Tomorrow, maybe, the fog will lift, and the birds will forget about it, but I’ll still be waiting. Here, on this bridge, when the prickly vegetation on the banks of the river peeks out from the grey. At home, when the door stays closed when I lock it, because no one comes through it anymore, no one but me. I’ll come back to the bridge tomorrow, see if there’s anything worthwhile to see.
N exercise 2.9
The bunting is still in the muggy, stagnant air. Each coloured triangle is coated with a thin layer of grit, so fine as to be practically invisible. The drooping lines of festive decorations run around the perimeter of the lot, and not one of the triangles moves. They just hang, motionless.
It’s too hot even for the birds. There must be some up there, in the trees, but I haven’t seen a one all afternoon. Sometimes their singing is so loud, so jarring in its cacophonous overlapping, that I have to bring customers into the dealership itself to be heard. Today, though, there’s no sound at all. No screeching birds, no passing cars. The sidewalk is empty, baking. The brutal sun is hidden behind a sheet of smoggy grey cloud, saving us from the worst of the heat, but it makes the world grey, too. A flat, lifeless grey, hanging over everything.
At three o’clock I’m sitting in my tiny office, reclining in my chair, my arms dangling at my sides. My computer has put itself to sleep, and the chime at the door of the dealership hasn’t tinkled in days. I peer through the slats in the window, rubbing at the grit with my shirt sleeve, to see if Mr. Masabusi is out for his daily walk, even in this heat. There’s no sign of the old man or his walker with the sliced tennis balls.
Drooping back into my chair, it seems the place has somehow grown darker. It’s not for some minutes that I realize the bulb in my desk lamp has burnt out. I wonder when it happened. I’d not noticed it flickering, even once, and yet the few assorted papers scattered across my desk are in such a murky gloom as to be unreadable. I brush them aside into a rough pile at the edge of the desk. A moment later, I sweep them onto the floor, and there they stay. I recline in my chair, close my eyes.
The bunting flaps in the warm, friendly breeze, sparkling and giving colourful life to the perimeter of the lot. Blues and reds and whites wink at the customers browsing the cars, giving the whole place a festive vibe.
Birds and squirrels fill the vibrant green trees surrounding the lot. The birds are a riot today, each little creature chirping its heart out, calling to one another. Even the squirrels seem extra chittery today, as though sharing some exciting news happening amongst the denizens of the trees. Birds and squirrels race from tree to tree, streaks of colour and sound. Their chatter nearly drowns out the voices of the customers, and my own, but we all smile and strain to speak over the chirps, laughing about the noisy creatures.
The sun shines gentle rays on the lot throughout the day, and at three, as always, Mr. Masabusi, gripping his walker, the slit tennis balls scooting across the pavement, shuffles by. He waves at me, calls out, asks how the wife is. I tell him that she’s nearly due and he grins, maneuvers his walker over to where I’m showing a hybrid four-door to a young couple, and Mr. Masabusi interrupts us briefly to shake my hand. The couple smiles at this, and we all wave goodbye as Mr. Masabusi continues on his way.
I make several sales under the golden sun, even stay late to close a deal with the young couple, who are eager to get their new hybrid home. I baby it with a fresh coat of polish just before they drive away, and the vehicle gleams in the evening sunset. As their new red tail lights disappear over a hill, I wave, a genuine smile on my face that I couldn’t get rid of if I tried. I quickly organize the outstanding paperwork on my desk and skip out into the pleasant evening, drive home with the top down. My wife greets me with a grin.
Logan Bright 2016 – Novakovich 5e10
I was in my private stable enjoying my daily brush down when a grey car I’d never seen before pulled up the gravel road to the barn. My human put the brush aside and stepped out into the sun to greet the driver. My human seemed perplexed, like he didn’t expect to any visitors that day.
Two other humans got out of the car, both of them plain-faced, dressed in drab suits. The driver showed my human a fold of paper from her pocket and for an instant my human, who should have been inside finishing my brush down, looked terrified. He tried to hide it but one of the female’s eyebrows shot up on her hairless forehead and she moved past him into my stable. Her friend followed behind her, watching my human with a skeptical and threatening expression on his face.
The female came up to me and let herself right into my pen, easy as that, and stroked my long neck with calloused fingers. She and my human exchanged some words that I didn’t understand, though in the burble I caught a few friendly expressions such as “beautiful horse” and “thoroughbred” (which I was, thank you very much). My human told her my name and she repeated it to me in a cooing voice suited more for a foal than a mare.
The human with the heavy brow folded his arms across his chest, said a few words, and my human’s face went white as the splotches in my coat. My human was shaking his head and hands, evidently pleading with these two drab strangers.
The female moved behind me; a dangerous place for any human, known or not. She slapped my flank lightly and my leg flew of its own will. I can never control it when strangers are about. I heard the sweet crunch of cracked carrots, and then she was screeching, clutching her broken and bleeding hand. The folded paper dropped from her pocket as the other humans rushed to help her. The letters printed on the paper went like this: “I-R-S”, but I didn’t understand what they meant.
I was giving Nell her daily rubdown, cleaning her soft coat with a mole-hair brush, when a boxy grey sedan pulled up to the barn. A man and woman stepped out and I set the brush aside to go and greet them.
The driver flashed a badge and said they were with the Internal Revenue Service, and my face must have fallen. She exchanged a glance with her burly partner and asked me if she could take a look around.
I stammered yes, which I realize now I shouldn’t have done. She moved past me into Nell’s private stable – she’s a sweet horse, but prickly with strangers – and greeted the old mare with a fussy, mama-to-baby tone. Her partner stood back and watched my reaction.
“She’s a beautiful horse, Mr. Gardner,” the agent said, patting Nell’s neck. “I’ve spent some time around horses myself, when I was a girl. She a thoroughbred?”
“Her name’s Nell,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t catch such a transparent dodge.
“Nell. You’re a beauty, aren’t you? Such pretty eyes.” The horse stared ahead as though unconscious of her admiring visitor. “Can we see her papers, please, Mr. Gardner?” The agent didn’t look up, just kept patting the horse. She moved around to inspect Nell’s flank.
“I’m sorry?” I shot a nervous glance over my shoulder at her partner. He hadn’t moved.
“Her papers. Fine horse like this, you must have them? We’d like to take a quick look, that’s all. You’re okay with that, huh, Nell? Yes you are.” To emphasize her point, the agent gave Nell’s flank a light slap. Well, that horse is awful cagey around strangers, like I said, and her back leg came up in a flash and caught the agent square in the hand. Broke it, too, in a couple places.
In the end, they caught me on my taxes, but I got off having to pay the medical bills. Still, I had to sell poor Nell to cover what I owed. Now the private stable out back stands empty.
Logan Bright 2016 – Novakovich 5e9
You possessed me that night with flamenco guitar in the firelight. You knew just which moss to throw into the flames so the pit would burst with glossy green tongues. I was in love with your lithe fingers on the fretboard.
When I took your plane ticket I wasn’t thinking of theft – my mind was writhing with you – and the ticket was in the bowl where my keys always go, and why would you leave it there anyhow? I knew you were going, of course. Fleeing me and my east coast winters. My fingers were on the ticket; the ticket was in my pocket.
You left me a lot of voice mails and I listened to some of them, spanning the spectrum from plaintive to loathing. After a while I lost track of my phone and I guess you probably stopped calling.
You have beautiful taste. This place is incredible; a thick florid scent comes in with the dew and the skies are cerulean. Even so, I’m leaving it now. When I jumped on your plane I had only my passport and wallet. Now I have neither.
I dream of you, your flowing songs. Throwing moss to make green flames, lively fingers dancing on their board.
I’m trying to reach the county seat, to talk to someone at the embassy. I think it’s to the south. You were always good with maps. You steered us home when we got lost in Gurra Park. You had your guitar then, too.
I’m doing my best to learn the language. I try to hear your melodies; their full and pregnant vowels, their silken rhotics’ roll. I cannot replicate them. Your voice is fading.
Do you think of me still? I hope to see you again.
Logan Bright 2016 – Novakovich 5e8
I shared a room with a sibling, but we humans were the only creatures on board not grouped by God into specific, uniform pairs; couples that would some day repopulate our churning blue world.
After the fortieth day of sunstroke and nausea, the waters steamed and rose as vapour into the sky, back from whence the deluge came. The rocky ground was damp only for a short time: soon the sand was sizzling as we had known it before God’s great retribution.
My father deconstructed the ark once the animals were let free. The fine planks of polished wood were transformed in his capable hands into a stout home, cool enough inside to protect us from the searing sun, as well as from the sand gnats, which had multiplied and filled the arid desert.
My siblings and I tended a small vegetable garden. We had only a few seeds each from father so we watched our charges carefully, delicately coaxing what green we could from below the brassy sand.
I was to play my own role, of course, as were we all. We were each paired with a sibling by my father, under watchful eye of God. We each bore many children, who aided us in the growing gardens as they came of age. We crafted many tools, rude and simple giving way to subtle and sophisticated as our techniques sharpened. Cheerful puffs of smoke went up to God from our clay chimney on every chilly evening.
My father lived a number of years after the floods had gone, many more than were accountable, but he was after all a mortal man, and in time, he died. His children and grandchildren, and their children yet beside them, we each felt a great heave in the earth, the firmament itself shaken by death rattles – we were stricken, all, in the moment of our father’s death.
A calm, quiet rain fell in the desert that day. The crops were painted a glossy green by the sun, hidden behind a soft curtain of cloud. The day hung without shadows for many hours.
When the rain stopped and night came on at last, we arrayed our father upon a simple pyre, built of the planks of our home, of our ark. It bore him so that all could see his earthly repose. As the eldest, it was my privilege and my burden to ignite the pyre.
With the moon came the first of our visitors. The old dogs and their offspring approached and stood with us. The flames licked the planks at the base of the pyre, cracked nourishing kindling. Now a pair of cats arrived, followed by others. They joined us in the pulsing ring of light around our father. The flames crept higher, consuming the planks on their quest to reach God.
Other creatures came. Owls and mice and snakes, old enmities put aside a final time, as they had been when we bobbed upon an endless sea as one.
Flames soon reached the hems of my father’s robes, but his face was at peace and untroubled. The courtyard filled with animals, but quiet reigned: only the snapping of the flames broke the night’s silence.
When my father rode the black smoke high into the heavens and the creeping sun splashed the desert pink, the animals turned and went out. They returned to their plains and forests, burrows and nests. The fire burnt down to embers, and by true daybreak, even those were gone.
I built a home of my own, of stone quarried from the desert by strong grandchildren. They are readying my pyre now, in the sunset’s golden light; building it of scrub and brambles, the bounty of these lands. Soon I will go to meet my father, go with that black smoke into his waiting arms, and the gardens below will flourish yet, until the day the rains return and do not stop.
Logan Bright 2016 – Novakovich 5e6
The backyard at grandpa’s house was full of treasures so I wasn’t surprised when I found his map. Mommy and daddy were moving stuff out the front door into a big square truck when I pulled the folded paper out of a box of papers and medals. I opened it along the creases, it was blue paper and blue lines but there was a big red X square in the backyard. The house had an address printed on it and it was grandpa’s address.
I ran out to the yard and sank to my knees in the damp grass, putting aside little piles of dirt with scooped hands. The map wasn’t specific on where exactly in the backyard the X was supposed to be so I started at what I thought was probably the centre. My nails got full of mud and my jeans were filthy before I thought to fetch a shovel from the shed.
The little wooden building was padlocked though, and daddy had the keys. His birthday was coming soon and I wanted to surprise him with the buried treasure so I went back to the house and crept up to the doorjamb. I darted inside the kitchen, which luckily hadn’t been packed away yet, and returned to the yard with the two biggest spoons I could find.
All afternoon I dug around the yard, a few inches here, behind an old washing machine; a few inches there, beside a checkered loveseat with oily stains. When the sun reached the treetops, mommy came to the back door with a glass of iced tea and found me covered in the rich soil, and the lawn full of holes like a family of groundhogs had just moved in.
I beamed up at her. “Don’t tell daddy,” I said. “I want the treasure to be a surprise.”
“You’re looking for grandpa’s buried treasure?” she asked, kneeling beside me.
I took a big sip of the sweet tea. “Yep. And I’m gonna give it to daddy for his birthday. From grandpa.”
From out front of the house my dad honked the horn of the square truck.
“That’s very kind of you, sweetie. Come on inside now. We’ll come back and find the buried treasure next time.”
I was around 10 when grandpa died. His yard was full of old furniture and half-finished projects, scrap metal and rusting toys. Treasures all, to my eyes. I’d spend hours playing in the cool, damp grass when my folks came to visit with grandpa.
The day my parents came to clear out his furniture, I found a map in an old iron box full of dusty medals and stiff photographs. It must have been a city zoning map or something, blue on blue, but I recognized the street and the address to be grandpa’s. The map had a big red X in his backyard.
I ran out back and began digging with my bare hands. My father’s birthday was approaching and I had a mind to give him the buried treasure for a present.
I was caked in mud before I thought to try for a shovel but when I got to the low wooden shed I found it padlocked and realized that only dad had the keys. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise and so I snuck into the kitchen, making sure no one would see me, and I swiped a couple of the biggest spoons I could find.
I dug furiously all afternoon, leaving dozens of holes a few inches deep scattered across the backyard.
The sun had reached the tops of the trees when my mother appeared at the kitchen door with an iced tea in hand, and called my name. “What are you doing out here?”
“Ssh,” I said. “I’m digging up grandpa’s treasure.”
She came and kneeled in the moist earth beside me, careful not to get her khakis dirty. “Buried treasure?”
“I found a map. I’m going to give the treasure to daddy for his birthday.”
Out front, my father honked the horn of the square rental van.
“That’s a very sweet idea, peach. But let’s come in for the day, hm? We can always come back another time to find the buried treasure.”