settling over the valley. The evening sky, as if the air has
changed colour, is dark blue, like I'm far underwater. This
is what people see when they're sinking in a ship, trapped
in airtight compartments, watching through the portholes as
the light fades. It's the same dark blue before the light
trickles away, and the porthole bursts.
left the house for seven days. I've marked them on the calendar.
Cheryl used to say I was a recluse. After a day, she'd tell
me I'd miss the sun, after two days, I was losing out. Once
I didn't leave the house for four days and she threatened
to call the hospital. I don't know what she'd say about a
once told me I was afraid of the outside. The air is smoky
at midday, and even when it's not raining there seems to be
a thin shroud high in the stratosphere, a faded sheet pulled
over the stars and moon until only the sun dimly peeks through,
exposing the weave.
is perfectly ordinary. Camouflage. But my neighbourhood is
twisted in curled streets and abrupt corners. Several years
ago a group petitioned for huge flower pots to break up the
intersections. If I pull back the drapes, I can see one of
them from my living room window. Two nights ago I looked through
the bathroom window, which is the only one facing south and
along my street towards downtown, and there wasn't a single
light visible, not even street lighting, although far away
I could see flickering reflections that looked like fires
trapped behind smoke. I'm not sure when the LED glare above
the sidewalks went out and the paved streets became gullies
of obscurity. I still have electricity, so if anyone's still
here they're like me, just being cautious.
in the radio today and they spoke of curfews and rationing,
but I have water in a pool in the basement. I was thinking
ahead when people were still worried about lawns. I paid more
in water bills for a while, but soon the bills stopped coming
and after that the water treatment plant must have been destroyed.
wise enough to buy food for the long haul. I still thought
stockpiling was for people in the desert or on TV. My concession
was buying bags of rice. Every evening meal the rooster on
the bag crows at me about how foolish I was that I hadn't
bought tomato plants like Leonard, down the street, or collected
stores of liquor, like Marie and Jerry Satter. I can hear
them even now, the party next door going late into the evening,
outlasting the daylight. The tinkle is more like a music box
than a stereo, low volume and shuttered windows. Even though
their house is dark, the revelry continues.
first left to join her family downtown, I told her the cities
were sprawling bar fights, murderous rampages mixed with hooligan
riots. I wasn't sure it was true, and even now I shove away
the thought when I remember her leaving. Normally, the rice
in the morning encourages optimism. At least there would be
something beyond the Satter party, lights winking out behind
blinds, people interacting. Most evenings I think about the
future and sleep on the couch. Its back rises like someone
beside me, and sometimes I dream that I'm not alone.
when Cheryl left I wouldn't see her again. Her light bag was
packed with more than overnight supplies. She took photos
and keepsakes, like the clay doll, or monkey, or whatever
it was that Emily made in grade two, just before she started
coughing and we stood over her body in the hospital. That
was an ending I never expected to see again.
in the night woke me up. The Satter party is long over and
the street is quiet. I still see no lights, although when
I tested the lamp, it worked. I've stuffed towels under the
doors and blankets over the windows and when I pulled them
out to open the door a crack, the air was hushed and expectant.
never one for watering the lawn and I'd long since given up
chastising myself for not turning it to food production. Leonard
used to seem smug, when he'd come to the door pushing back
his glasses and offering tomatoes so fresh they still had
dirt on their smooth skins. Later I realized he was generous,
but by then it was too late. Before long I saw him pushing
rolls of blankets in a wheelbarrow, a refugee in his own country,
going downhill towards the city. I lifted my hand to wave,
but the window is reflective even in the weak daylight and
if he turned his head he would have likely only seen a shadow
on a covered window.
tools in the shed I could use to work the dried grass into
soil, but I have nothing to plant and no way to water it without
using up my precious supply and informing the neighbours of
meowed at the back door today. I went quietly to see, but
the cat heard my steps and made a renewed effort. I looked
out the narrow window I'd covered with a dishcloth. It was
a thin Siamese with a howl for a meow. I waited and it went
away, slipping through the ragged hedge and, as I watched,
walking into the middle of the road. Emily would have run
after the cat, calling frantically to make sure a car didn't
run it over, but I haven't seen a car in weeks.
are gone. I haven't heard anything from their house for a
few days. If I were leaving, I used to tell Cheryl, I'd go
north, over the hills and nearby subdivisions into the forest.
I think that she knew I wanted to return to the time I took
her and Emily to the Humber River. There were children laughing
on the shore, old women splashing laundry on the rocks, and
far above, pigeons flying in flocks away from the downtown.
We'd stood in the water after our picnic and let the tiny
fish nibble our toes while squirrels chattered on the bank.
Are they still there, those fish? Those squirrels?
under the covers for a long time after I woke up. The house
used to be busy on a Saturday morning, cartoons in the living
room, clattering dishes in the kitchen. It was a glimpse of
what I'd missed by going to work every weekday. I thought
I could depend on the chaos of daily living, Emily's greeting
when she saw me from up the street, her shifting from one
foot to the other in her eagerness as if she had to pee, and
Cheryl humouring her by taking her out front. The neighbours
used to watch, I'd tell Cheryl, but she'd just laugh.
about that this morning and I couldn't get out of bed. My
bedroom feels like the water is seeping through the whole
house. If someone comes by I won't let them in. They might
smell it and think I was crying.
finally pulled back the layers of sheets and blankets I keep
over the windows, the sky was an afternoon grey. On the radio
they said that the northern woods are burning, but it's not
the smell of wood smoke. It smells like garbage, and chemicals.
I said that aloud to the radio, my voice echoing in the kitchen
and the pots ringing slightly on the wall.
was horrified by a few days, what would she think about ten
days of peering around drapes and through blinds? Ten days
of measuring water into a jug and carrying it up the basement
steps, a spill meaning I'd run out of water quicker, successful
delivery merely more washing up at the kitchen sink. Her face,
with her condemnation about solitude is starting to fade,
and instead I imagine that afternoon by the Humber, Emily
running along the bank, her eyes fixed on the kite I'd made.
We'd called out to her to be careful, but if we'd only known
we would have let her run.
to the basement and the kite was still there, sprawled on
the wall as if ready to take flight again. For the hundredth
time I contemplated tearing it down and stuffing it behind
the sagging pool table we'd inherited from my father, then
I went upstairs again and sat on the couch. Behind me the
cushions were a comfort and I was suddenly reminded of Cheryl's
legs in the café by High Park where we'd first met, her hands
brushing down the fabric, her skirt suddenly shorter under
someone would have come before now. Either marauders or authorities,
telling me to give up my rice and water or pushing me into
a giant hockey rink with beds on the floor. Evacuated for
my own good. I expected to protest, to fight, to argue against
them, and then finally go, but no one has come and instead
I wait while the house darkens in evening and I can hear the
fabric of my pants when I cross my legs. There's a rumbling
in the far distance but the night is inky dark and it doesn't
sound like either engines or explosions.