Illustrated by Avril Pundzius
I tip the last of my coffee into my mouth before setting the red cup, as I have many times before, down on the table. Ariane is talking about something that may or may not be interesting, but I am staring at my reflection in the dark window. The clamour of the elderly Bingo crowd in the background rings in my eardrums, and the light across the street switches neon red.
“Travailles-tu demain?” said Marianne.
I focus my gaze on her brown eyes and answered yes. The resto-bar will be hosting a big show, so it’ll be an all-hands-on-deck for the waitresses.
I uncross my torn black jeans and grab my flannel blouse, ready to start heading home. The girls continue to chit-chat about everything and nothing, falling quiet every time I add whatnot. The hinges creak as we walk into a gust of wind, the only light a red halo setting fire to our hair from the Tim Hortons sign.
On the drive home, the headlights blinding me out of my thoughts, I have the excuse of focusing on my driving to listen to my Spotify music rather than my beloved friends. After I drop them off at their driveways, I drive up back to my home, the only home I’ve ever known. As I step onto the pavement, I take in a breath of the sweet night air, the starry sky in my pupils, and imagine what it would be like to live in a place where you could not see the stars even on the clearest of nights. I walk towards my cracked warm painting of a house with a sigh of satisfaction and longing.
The leaves of my mother’s areca palm lightly rustle as I open the door and step into the pool of vanilla light of the stove.
“Un caffè nero, per favore.” I ask.
“Sicuro.” replies the barista.
The black and white tiled floor turns golden, drenched in sun beams, illuminating the copper pots in the Florencian coffee shop. Despite the loud clamour of the small room, my mind is a calm and whispering dusty stage where my crazy Italian roommate usually tap-dances.
“Grazie!” I say before I hurry out into the hot street towards l’Università Degli Studi Firenze. There isn’t much that reminds me of home here, which is why I spend more on coffee than I should. As the heat warms my heart, the smell warms my memories.
I prance up onto the ledge of a fountain, my bluish twin defying gravity in the corner of my eye as I skip along, wondering if her life is like mine. “Tap” goes my heel as I finally touch down onto the stone square. My phone buzzes to tell me that Giulia was waiting for me in at the main entrance of the college, and I hurry across the street, putting my life into the hands of every reckless Italian driver in the street.
The town of Saint-Jérôme is quiet. Sure, there are horns honking and cars passing and the chitter-chatter of people. But birds don’t chirp. People never laugh loudly. You walk the street and hear nothing but engines and hushed conversations. The grey mood rubs off on me every time I drive in, coaxing my little Mazda, easing on the clutch. My friends turn it into a light blue though, and I match the sky you see on days you wish would come more often. Days when you feel like reaching for the heavens to let everyone know you feel free.
It’s only dawn when I walk up to the college, my double in the dark glass door making a face at my dark circles and the facial expression that explains why people always think I’m older than I actually am.
Who would have guessed that I would age in my little box of a life! I once told my mother that I never wanted to leave it, ignorant of the fact that at some point in one’s coming of age, your whole being gets bigger or the box gets smaller, and the cardboard presses on all your sides and all you ever dream about from that point on is of finding a way to break out and find a bigger one. And then you realize that no box could ever fit all the feelings and ideologies and desires and responsibilities that come with adulthood, and you become a collection that would need a whole carrier ship to go from where you are to where you want to be. The thing is, where will my ship end up if I don’t have the fuel to get anywhere that matters?
The country is quiet. The leaves rustle in the wind and the stream trickles and the rain pitter-patters on rooftops. It is quiet enough to hear the sound of your own breath. The fiery leaves of the surrounding forest are lightly painted with a hue of pink as the bloody sun shocks my nerves into wakefulness.
“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning; sailors, take warning,” my uncle would say.
It will rain today.
I’ve always loved the rain. I’ve never understood the people who use the expression “Spring showers bring May flowers”. Walking in the rain sends my mind wandering through time and space. I wonder about things, like how long ago was the droplet, now resting in the palm of my hand, thousands of meters up above me, waiting to leave its fluffy home to be reunited with the Earth? And where has it been before? And how far around the Earth has it traveled since its evaporation? How old it is? Or did it drop down into the hands of our mothers, as it has now? It makes plants and leaves dance the cha-cha, and turns my home into a giant wooden umbrella that people go under as they would a warm, soft blanked after a long day. I love stepping into puddles, blurring the reflection of my face into a swirl of red dirt, the same way my brother and I used to when things were better.
By now, he has walked far on his own, leaving me behind, trapped in that swirl, too murky for me to find my way out.
The staircase has a soft, golden glow to it as sunlight warms the yellow stain-glass windows lining the wall. Dust slowly floats around me in meaningless directions, as if trying to find its way into another world. I tuck my hands under me as the stone stairs are cold and hard, and I close my eyes to soak in the warm silence. To my professore, I am in the bathroom, but if I am truthful to my thoughts, I am behind my childhood bed, a toy that fell long ago and changed its name to Forgotten, my only company little mountains of dust that never make me sneeze.
I come to these stairs once in a while when my thoughts become too crowded, or when I miss il Canada. I’ve always loved staircases; they seem to pass unnoticed to most, never a destination, but a means to reach one, an ongoing spiral that reaches for the sky, and cares not how it is taken for granted. Here, my emotions feel like a drawer full of nick-knacks that no one uses but never cares to throw away. Today, that drawer has become Pandora’s box without permission, shamelessly opening the minute I answered my mother’s international call, listening to her gasp for breath. I begin to have a headache, my head now pressed to my white knees as though I were trying to build a brick wall on them with the bones of my skull, but I only notice the pain when I hear a loud bang behind me.
I turn around to see Giulia standing above me, a sun breaking through rainclouds, her yellow dress a gust of wind blending in with the light, and her cheeks glowing in a way that reminds me of coming home during the winter in Canada.
“Cosa stai facendo?” she asks cheerfully, hip in hand, before floating down to where I sat. Her sunbeams dim as her eyes cloud over. “Is something wrong?”
I close my eyes once again and my hurricane of a memory sucks me back to a moment like the clear blue sky, when I noticed how, with the right lighting, I could see that Milo’s soft brown pupil was flat, protected by his perfect bubble-shaped cornea. Or how he would poke his cold black nose onto mine to wake me up in the morning. Or how he always managed to come back into the house with a fluffy little gumdrop of snow on his muzzle in the winter. I open my eyes when I feel bullets of salt water hit my chest, and realize I’m crying.
I will never see my dog again.
A gentle eruption shakes my body for a split second when I sneeze, reminding me that no matter how much I wish I was, I am no forgotten toy behind my childhood bed, and though Pandora’s box may not be real, the pain of loss always will be.
I sniffle and plaster a smile onto my face; I might need a needle and thread so it may stay on for the next few weeks. My hair slips off my shoulder as I turn and lock my eyes with Giulia’s.
“Nothing. Let’s get back.”