Posts Tagged ‘winter’

It was her nose.  That’s the first thing I noticed.

The night was bitterly cold.  I had debated going out into the miserable weather at all.  However, a few weeks prior I had committed to supporting a friend who was doing a comedy taping for a TV show that night.  It was a long way away in the labyrinthine streets of Toronto:  if you were going to get there by public transit, there were a few connections that were necessary to observe: bus, subway and then streetcar.  I hadn’t realized the bitterness of the night until ascending the stairs from the subway to the street.   The snow-covered slippery steps provided the first clue.  The second clue was the wind that bit sharply and suddenly at my nose as I ascended.  Halfway up, I stopped, hesitated.   “Do I really want to do this?”   I could only think of the warmth of my apartment.  So attractive, so inviting.

Guilt and a sense of missing out provoked my feet to continue the ascent.  The wind at the top of the steps made me hesitate again.   I pushed forward.  A year or so ago I had learned the value of “the flinch”:  whenever you observe an obvious moment of flinching, that’s the time you should push through it.  If nothing else, it proves that you are the author of your fate, not discomfort or the unsureness of novelty.   I flinched and pressed forward.

At the corner I found the streetcar shelter, and noticed immediately that it was fully occupied.  The wind picked up and I had to turn my back to it to endure it.  I could feel the cold on my arms, and my teeth began to chatter.   The value of committed friendship began to diminish.  “I won’t be the only to one to miss this” I thought, my brain struggling to rationalize my gnawing decision to turn back home.

Suddenly a couple left the shelter.  Evidently they had decided the streetcar was taking too long.   I quickly jumped into the shelter to take their place, to escape the wind.  It seemed too late though:  a chill had set in and I couldn’t see my way to warmth, not at all.  I had all but decided to head back to the subway when I saw her.

My breath stopped.  It was only a glance.  I turned away from her quickly, the way you do when you see a skittish kitten, hoping it doesn’t notice that you’ve noticed it.  The flashing glance revealed so much:  she was tiny, she had a delicate nose, her hair was blonde, and her blue eyes were wide behind gold-rimmed glasses.  For a brief moment I wanted to truly get away and go home – not because of the cold, but because she represented a challenge that I was sure was beyond me.

There it was again:  the flinch.   I had programmed myself to face the flinch and so my feet remain rooted in that cold streetcar shelter.  I faced the east, the better to keep an eye on any approaching transit vehicle, and coincidentally, to allow me to glance very occasionally in her direction.   I noticed she was be-bopping to music, and it was only then that I noticed she was wearing earphones.   She was holding a pizza box too, and was looking in the same direction for the delayed streetcar.

Another couple tried to make their way into the shelter, so I attempted to oblige them by moving to the back of the shelter, squeezing in next to the girl.   At the last moment, they decided they didn’t want to come in after all, so I stepped forward again with a puzzled shrug.  I glanced back and noticed that the girl smiled at my unconscious reaction.  I returned her smile and turned back to look for the streetcar again.   Strangely, the wind and the cold ceased to exist.

The streetcar eventually arrived, and it was packed with riders.  We all struggled to get on and to find a place.  The girl and I stood next to each other, her with her pizza held up in order to avoid hitting anyone’s head.  She was so tiny, and she had to reach so high to keep the pizza aloft.  I debated asking her if she wanted help.   The city has its own unspoken rules:  strangers tended to send up walls against each other, insulating each of us from the crazies and the creepazoids.  It was self-evident and understood:  you just don’t talk with anyone.

It was stupid too, and I was short-sighted in my unconscious acceptance of this protocol.  My mouth remained shut and I didn’t offer to help her.

A dozen blocks down the road, the streetcar driver blew into his microphone.   “Ladies and gentlemen….blah blah….need to turn at Drew St. If you want to get to….blah blah…you should get off here.”

The girl removed her earphones.  “What did he say?  Did he say something about Osslington?”

He had.  I said so.  “Yeah, we have to get off here and walk if we want to get to Osslington.  That’s where I’m going.  Are you?”

She nodded.   “I hate this system” she said.  “It’s always something isn’t it?  They always want you to get off before your stop and wait for the next subway train or the next bus.”

“Or they expect you to walk several blocks with a cold pizza” I added.   She laughed.

We got off and walked together in a companionable silence.

There was no past.  No future.  Just the present.   We talked.

She was from Cape Breton, on the east coast of Canada.  That explained her ignorance of the Toronto Protocol.  She was friendly and open.  A refreshing and welcome change from the norm.  I learned that she was taking a silversmithing course and that she was artistic.  Like me.

We only walked a few blocks when I reached my destination.  I gave her my name and she gave hers.  I said “I’d ask you for your number but I hardly know you”.  Trying to be cute and funny and achieving neither.

She laughed uncertainly and walked off to wherever she was going (I never learned the destination of that pizza).   I turned the corner, aware of a lost opportunity.

“Oh well”  I thought.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I had succumbed to one final flinch.  The flinch that kept me from going back after her and saying “you know what?  I was being a doofus.  If you’re free I’d really like to get to know you better.  As cliché as it sounds – I’d love to have a coffee with you.  What do you think?”

The universe has provided second chances before.  In a city of millions of people, I’ve seen it happen before.  Maybe it will again.

I hope so.

He dug his hands deeper in his pockets.   It was getting to that ridiculous time of the year, and just like the last time this particular month nodded at him, he grumbled about it.  Inwardly, to himself, of course because there were so many others who looked forward to the holiday season.  And the snow.  And the cold.  And skiing.  And eggnog.

Frowning, he trudged on, neck bent in a vain attempt to reduce exposure to the north wind.   It didn’t matter though.  The capricious breeze danced and teased him, sneaking up against him, in brittle busses at his ear lobes and at the back of his neck.  Even one of his ankles got in on the action.   This was a slutty draft, willing to get busy with any and all comers, turning white skin to red.  A city bus would have been a good idea, he thought.  Or a taxi.  A taxi would have gotten him there by now.

And like that his fickle mind switched gears.  It couldn’t b helped.  A bluesy electric guitar solo had begun to warble in his mind and a grin escaped before he could catch it.  The warmth of the bar, the laughter of friends, and soothing wine all glowed in his memory and his footsteps picked up in anticipation.  The distance didn’t exactly fly by, but it seemed to glide a little easier at least.  Not for the first time he acknowledged that if he suddenly lost all of his senses and became immobile, he knew he’d be okay.  He would have his music, deep in his soul, to keep him entertained and alive.

Soon enough (though not soon enough) he saw the glowing sign of the bar.  A different draft greeted him as soon as opened the huge wooden door and stepped inside.  A woodsy rich warmth enveloped in before he could get his coat off.  Inwardly, he sighed.

Looking around, he realized none of his friends were there yet.  He was early.   There was a set of four thick velour-covered armchairs that were mostly empty, waiting to make him comfortable.  The only occupied chair contained a gentle-faced bearded man, who was reading a newspaper.   He noted that the guy’s stomach overflowed the arms of the chair, precariously pushing the boundaries of his heavily stained white shirt.

After sitting down, he heard a voice.  It was the Beard.

“Excuse me.”

He looked at him.

The Beard’s voice was gentle.  “Hope you don’t mind.  I’m waiting for my students to join me.”

He stood up.  “Oh sorry.  I should have asked.”

The Beard smiled.  “No problem.  I’m using a wheelchair, and they’re …..”  His voice was lost.  Either that or in his haste to find another spot for him and his friends, he had stopped paying much attention to whatever The Beard was saying.

“No problem. I’ll just sit over here.”

“Sorry about disturbing you.”

Disturbing.  That was an odd choice of word.   “No problem” he said again, nodding.

Just as he was sitting down to a table, his friends arrived, laughing and joking.  “Over here!” he said, and they made their way over.

The discussion was just as bright as he anticipated.  Except of course for their cheerful thoughts about the coming winter.  With the exception of one wayward remark “you know – I frigging HATE winter.  So shut up about it already” he mostly kept his opinion to himself.  They would only laugh anyway.   Saying more about it would be redundant.

The wine and beer flowed, and the laughter got a little raucous.   The owner of the place enjoyed a variety of music, which provided a pleasant backdrop to their conversations.  This, he knew, was what set this place against others.  Here, you could talk and expect to be heard.

As the night wore on, he looked over and noticed that The Beards’ students hadn’t joined him.

As he came back from one of his many bathroom visits, The Beard said something to him.

He turned back and looked at him.  “Sorry?”

“I wonder if you could do me a huge favour?” he asked.

“Sure.”

The Beard’s hand dove into his deep pants pocket, and after a lot of grunting and shifting, he eventually wrestled out a tangle of keys.

“Would you mind going out to my white SUV – just outside the door –  and getting me my asthma inhaler?  It’s in the glove compartment.  I’d do it myself but I’m in a wheelchair…”

He glanced around and couldn’t for the life of him see the wheelchair.  The Beard was large enough to need one though so he let it go.

The Beard continued.  “And I’ll pay you for your troubles.”

He shook his head.  “No problem.  And no need to pay me.”   He took the keys.   “The white SUV, right?”

The Beard smiled.  “Right.   Oh, and you’ll have to go in the driver’s door, because the passenger side is broken.”

He took the keys and went out to the parking lot.  He saw the SUV immediately.   As soon as he opened the door,  a soul-destroying fragrance assaulted him.  His ever-lingering entomophobia raised its ugly head.  The presence of this stink must warrant a party of bugs, he just knew it.   Of course, the glove compartment was nowhere within reaching distance, so he knew he’d have to climb into the driver’s seat.  The stinky, probably bug-filled driver’s seat.

Right away he noticed the piles of newspapers, and all of the unopened packages of meat.  There was a lot of them, all with their store stickers still attached.  He wondered how old they were.  Hopefully The Beard had just purchased them.  If not, this could be the source of the horrendous stench.  It could just as easily be body odour though.  Or bugs.  Millions of bugs.

After finally locating the inhaler, he couldn’t get out of the SUV fast enough.  His skin rebelled as if trying to crawl off of his frame.  He knew his first job after the bar was to jump in the shower.  Maybe his clothes needed to be burned.  He wasn’t sure yet.

As he handed the inhaler to him, The Beard said “oh, thank you.  I’ll pay you.  How much do you want?”

Why was this guy talking about paying him?  Where did that come from?   “No, it’s OK. No pay required.”  He gave The Beard a sick smile.

The Beard smiled back.  “Thanks.   Oh, and would you do me one more favour?”

He looked at him.

“Would you ask the waitress for a pen?  I’m going to do a crossword.”

That was easy.  “OK.  Sure.”

He got the pen and gave it to him.

The Beard said “thanks.  And would you mind asking the waitress to…”

He interrupted him.  “Sorry – I have to get going.”

“Oh” The Beard said.  “Well ok.  Thanks again.”

“No problem.”

His friends were curious.   Jim said “what was that about?”

“Oh nothing.  Guy just needed something from his SUV.”

He didn’t’ mention the stench, or the packages of meat and the newspapers.   He was still trying to process it all.   Something was seriously amiss with this guy.  Evidently he had money, and a big appetite.  And maybe a hoarding problem.  He didn’t know whether to pity him or continue to just be horrified, as he was just then.

“Listen guys.  I have to cut the night short.  It’s been fun.  Catch you later, OK?”

Peter nodded.  “See you later.  You driving?”

“No.  I’ll catch a bus.”

He left, puzzled and anxious to get home to that hot shower.