Authors: Alissa York
Tags: #General Fiction
Edal stands in the shower, her eyes shut tight. The needling water draws her out of her mind and into her tingling skin—until the needles begin to turn cold. She has yet to soap up or lather her hair; she’s just been standing here, emptying the hot water tank. It doesn’t matter. She can shower again later, or not.
She steps out of the enclosure and sees herself in the divided glass. Her nose is swollen, but only slightly. No sign of bruising. She presses it lightly and feels only tenderness, nothing sharp. Her sweatshirt lies soaking in the sink, cold water for blood, as every girl learns. She can’t remember being told—it’s not the sort of thing her mother would’ve managed—so she must have read it somewhere.
Harmon’s Household Hints
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
. The sweatshirt looks bloated. It looks like something tragic, a baby elephant’s ear.
She confiscated an elephant-skin drum once. It’s still lying in the evidence room at HQ, alongside an umbrella
stand made from a hollowed-out foot—giant toenails and all—and scores of yellowing curios carved from tusks. Banned parts and products are bad enough, but they’re nothing to the living finds: the trio of hyacinth macaws with taped grey beaks and frantic eyes; the Jamaican yellow boa stuffed into a matching backpack; the California condor some sick bastard had folded up like a sports coat, breaking its magnificent wings.
She’ll never forget the double-deep briefcase Security yanked off the belt because it was emitting a sinister hiss. She brought the snake-handling kit to that call but ended up putting it aside. The briefcase belonged to a balding, middle-aged man in leather pants. He held his tongue while she questioned him, but she caught his look of misgiving when she popped the case’s lock.
Standing back, she extended her baton to its full length and pried up the lid. For a moment there was nothing. Then out came a hairy, segmented leg. Edal dropped the lid, severing the limb. Covered in fine, coffee-coloured fur, it contracted in a final beckoning gesture before it lay still.
“Now see what you did,” Leather-pants said.
She turned to him. “What is it?”
“You’re the expert. You tell me.”
Goliath bird-eating tarantulas: she checked the species identification books once she’d transported the briefcase back to HQ. Only three out of a dozen were still showing signs of life. Of the dead, several had nourished their fellow travellers, their insides turned soupy before being sucked dry.
Edal shakes her head, absently towelling herself dry. She should eat something, keep up her strength. Still hugging the
damp towel about her, she pads out to the kitchen, opens several cupboards, stares down into the steely sink. A single mouse turd—a dark, seed-shaped offering—curves like a comma beside the taps. She lets it lie.
The clock on the stove shocks her. It can’t possibly be only 8:38. It seems as though a week has passed since she woke to meet the mouse’s gaze, and yet the day in all its emptiness remains.
It’s full morning by the time Lily returns to the valley floor. No sign of the nightlife beyond the usual fresh graffiti tags and empties, the odd abandoned shoe. Somebody’s been stapling up yellow flyers—probably some pervert or religious freak. She doesn’t bother to take a close look. Day-timers pass Billy and her on the footpath—runners and cyclists, people who keep their dogs on leads. She looks through them until she’s safely by.
Her pockets are alive. Seven survivors this morning, the whole vest bursting with birds. She waits until they’re north of the viaduct before wading out into the weeds; might as well get clear of the most obvious obstacle.
The first bag comes from the right cargo pocket. The ovenbird is lively, definitely ready to try. Lily parts the paper and reaches in, closing her fingers around its breast. The peck it gives her scarcely registers, her hands drunk with the silken overlap of its feathers, the fluttering protest of its heart.
As always, there comes the moment of doubt as she cradles the bird in her closed hands. “Ready?” she whispers through her fingers. “One, two,
It’s like scooping up water when you’re a kid at the lake, watching it break open the light. Billy barks as she flings the bird skyward. She doesn’t blame him—it really is something to see.
Ever since Stephen showed the workers at the Valley Animal Shelter he could handle the troubled dogs, that’s all he ever gets. Which is fine, because they need to get out as much as their neighbours do—maybe more, when you consider how rarely they’re chosen to be taken home.
Today’s dog is Tiger, a Staffordshire terrier mix with a striped coat and a tendency to snap and piddle when approached. He lunged repeatedly at Stephen’s feet the first time they went out together, which was how Stephen knew the man in Tiger’s former life had been the kind that kicked. Once they’d made it down to the valley path, he fixed Tiger’s leash to a sapling and bent to remove his boots. While the quivering dog watched, he dropped a liver treat down each one. Then stood back in his stocking feet to wait.
Tiger was easily distracted. He erupted into paroxysms of barking at the sound of a chipping squirrel, then again at the flash of a passing bike. Eventually, though, he honed in on the scented message of the treats. He had to shove his stubby snout deep to retrieve them—no tasting the gift without tasting the man who gave it. The next treat came from Stephen’s hand, the cup of which Tiger snuffled into long after the dark morsel was gone.
They’re good buddies now—which doesn’t mean Stephen can let down his guard. As they leave the shelter lot for the
sidewalk, he keeps Tiger to a tight heel, placing himself between potential violence and passersby. The occasional bone-head overlooks the obvious and attempts to make friends. Stephen has found it’s best not to mince words.
does the trick every time.
The bridge is all sun and car horns, the Queen streetcar squealing on its rails. Metal stairs carry them down to sweet relief—the shady, beaten earth of the valley floor. They walk north. Stephen lets some slack into Tiger’s lead on the lonely stretches, reels him in tight at the first sign of life.
Today they enjoy relative solitude—only two cyclists and a small pack of lunchtime runners between the Queen and Dundas Street spans—leaving Stephen free to take stock of the burgeoning world.
The air is sweet, car fumes a distant second to the scent storm of an advancing spring. The valley’s looking good, trees filling in nicely, undergrowth rising up to hide a winter’s worth of trash. All around him, weeds are doubling their number, stretching their thin green skins. A swath of white, knee-high flowers catches his eye, and then something else new—a bright yellow flyer bearing the black stroke of what appears to be a single phrase. Upon closer inspection it turns out to be a URL:
Whoever’s posted it has little regard for trees: he’s stapled the page directly to living bark, and Stephen can see others fluttering on trunks along the path up ahead. He folds the first one he tears down, slipping it into his back pocket before moving on. The rest he collects in a loose
sheaf under his arm—two dozen or more before they peter out just south of the viaduct, and he and Tiger can turn around.
Edal wakes in late afternoon. Twenty minutes pass before she sits up. Another five before she can force herself to rise.
To begin with, she showers properly, washing and even conditioning her hair. She dresses and makes a mug of tea, sits down to tackle the two-day-old Saturday
. Not one headline grabs her, but she forces herself to keep on. Between features, she plays with the idea of checking her email for the first time in a week. Voice mail, too. At the very least, she should turn the ringer back up on the phone. Which would be worse, finding messages or finding none?
Around five, she begins to feel vaguely nauseous, an unpleasant reminder of the body’s unrelenting need for fuel. There’s food in the fridge, much of it too far gone to consider—squashy bags in the crisper, yellowing bacon, a litre of lumpy milk. She should have a good cleanout. The garbage cans go out tonight, so it’s the ideal time to start fresh.
Edal slips on her shoes. She descends to street level, crosses the park and takes the quiet streets to Loblaws. The IGA is closer, but the walk is half the point.
She makes herself a proper meal when she gets home, chicken breast sweating in the oven while she assembles a complex salad for its bed. She could eat in front of the TV, but it seems wise to maintain at least some of her rules. It’s not easy, though, just sitting at the kitchen table, lifting the fork
over and over to her lips. Before long she can scarcely stand the sound of her own chewing. The chicken gives out a soft, fleshy clicking; the chunks of red pepper squeak. Romaine collapses against her palate, a series of watery, crumpling spines.
She leaves more than half her dinner uneaten. Considers wrapping it up, but can’t imagine ever wanting to look at it again. Bending to scrape the plate, she spots the crust she left out for the mouse. Idiot. She drops that in the garbage too.
Lily never liked tuna casserole until she tried Guy’s. She’d gladly have it tomorrow too—only tomorrow’s her turn to cook.
Tonight she washes while Stephen dries.
“You guys want to stick around when you’re done?” Guy says as he shoves the leftovers in the fridge. “Maybe hang out a little?”
“I have to feed the kits.” Stephen slides a saucepan into the drawer beneath the stove.
“Yeah, and I need a smoke.”
“Okay, so after that.”
While Billy noses along the vine-draped fence, Lily settles on a hummock not far from her graveyard of birds. The smoke is rich in her mouth, incredibly good. Only one left in the pack, and not enough money for more, but she might go ahead and smoke the last one too. She feels at ease in the long back garden—hell, anywhere inside the wrecking yard’s high mesh fence. Strange, considering she’s only been coming here for a month and a half.
She and Billy had been calling the Don Valley home for nearly two weeks on the morning she met Guy. It was early, but she’d already broken camp and stashed her stuff. She was threading through brush, heading south toward the viaduct, when Billy tore away from her side. The Newfoundlander part of him knew better, but once in a blue moon his unknown fraction caught a glimpse of movement in the grass and took off.