by Ryan Kamstra
She is looking at a picture, a version of a younger her, circa last century. In the photo, she is outside her home with her father, and is wearing a wool sweater. She liked her haircut then. Out of the corners of her eyes the diner's sole waitress scuttles back and forth from one table to the next.
A wrist of blue smoke moves from a misshapen ashtray where her cigarette lies resting, the tip unashed and lengthening. The remains of her meal, cold fries and a pool of ketchup, sits before her, cold and inert.
The nights come earlier now. She sips her tea. Her boyfriend is in Scotland, her best friend is out of the city. It is after work. Christmas shoppers passing the window look even more like consumers this year, basic economic units and not festive revellers. She usually prefers to check thoughts like these. It is what she calls "negativity."
At an age earlier than most she accepted that once you start questioning the outward signs of things, the corporations, the national interests, the government, the economic system, whatever else might lie behind the veil of this world, there is no bottom. Eventually that world you held up is devastated.
She does not want to go back to her apartment because it is empty there, and the noise from the city penetrates the walls. Unless the television is on, or she is sleeping, the noise and emptiness, which is really more like silence, oppresses her.
The trees outside the window, placed at intervals along the avenues, seem without spirit. The traffic glides past their bare outward form as they would hydro poles, power lines, warehouses, buildings.
The waitress is standing near.
The bright lipstick on her lips seems warm when she speaks, which makes Mandy feel a little better.
- Anything else sweetie?
- No thanks.
The waitress pauses, hovers.
- Your boyfriend?
- No, Mandy says, smiling, my father.
This said, Mandy tucks the photo back in her wallet. Yet the image of her father stays, a stern forehead, his business-casual smile, a cotton shirt against a blue sky, without any feature of landscape.
The waitress nods, returns to her routine, which includes a table talking heatedly about city homelessness. Mandy indulges a crackle of nicotine at her lips. A man in a yellow jacket passes outside. Warbled heads, in an unreadable chaos of visual hustle.
- - -
A boy on the bus says,
- You look sad.
She takes headphones out of one ear, obliges,
- What? she asks, giving a little forced smile.
He is cute. Turned around at his seat, she owes him at least a response.
- I said, you look sad.
- Is that your pick up line or something?
- If it were I'd probably have a nine in ten chance of being right.
She doesn't answer that. That somehow cuts her.
- - -
In the kitchen she checks her voice mail. The first message is her boyfriend. His voice sounds remote, mechanical, upbeat.
- Hey there Mands . . . just thought I'd check in, say hi. Things continue apace, I think I might've scored a job at this office temp place. Nothing much else. Going drinking tonight with the other guys here. Anyhow. Love you, talk soon.
The inevitable interruption of the pre-recorded voice guide. The next message comes up, but it is from yesterday.
She stares into space.
She day dreams.
- - -
She doesn't think family, she thinks house, minivan, garage. She doesn't think boyfriend she thinks marriage, mortgage, refrigerator. The bodies seem to glide around these objects, they seem somehow absent. She doesn't think body, she thinks haircut, piercing, tattoo. Nouns crowd her, cancel her.
Under the covers, if she holds her body closed tight, the world seems more nurturing. Headlights from below traffic scorch her bedroom curtains.
Nights without him are sleepless, like something she is impatient for, unbearable, like morning.
- - -
She walks into labyrinthine cubicles, afraid of nothing. Large walls of windows look out on an excessively white morning. In the glowing yellow interior, the dust-light takes on a quality like a tree, branching upwards and outwards. She holds her breath, excited that no one's here. She likes the empty cubicles, they could run on forever. That all over invisible cities, she is not alone.
Her office thus empty, she goes out again, closes the door, which automatically locks. There is a set of doors leading into the woman's washroom, and upon opening the second, you are immediately confronted by a mirror. Your face within the hard shell of an object, embedded in its world as is, a recollection upon a surface.
About the author:
Ryan Kamstra is writer/songwriter based in Toronto. His book lATE cAPITALIST sUBLIME was released 2002 by Insomniac Press. His album aLL fALL dOWN was released 2001 independently, and is very tricky to find. info: http://allfalldown.freewebsites.com.