||Writing Home: A PEN Canada Anthology
Excerpt from Hearth
Street smells wrap the senses, bearing down in the sultry evening air. There is an occasional light breeze, a silent race of wispy clouds against a purple sky. Stephen's evening cigar from two doors down overrides residual garlic and fish, and the nicotiana from the pot on my stoop, sweet and heavy, is an incense for the Mozart Requiem. I sit on the little, sloping second-floor balcony of the house, watching the street, listening to the Solti version, very fat, and rich like a dark chocolate cake, recorded at St. Stephen's, the cathedral in the heart of Vienna.
On a summer night people stroll, or sit on their porches, or pick petunia heads, or water the path. The languages are a symphony, floating up, mingling with Solti's dramatic rendering of the Requiem. Flat, plaintive Ontario about the crazy weather we bin havin this year eh. Teenagers muttering what-the-fuck-man to their friends and shouting back in Portuguese to their mothers. Chinese and Vietnamese voices are a current, a short-wave signal edged in static, voices lowered in flirtation, raised in argument, or is it the other way around?
I walk down to my local café.As I round the corner I hit a wall of Led Zeppelin; an overmuscled man in a ripped T-shirt hurls beer bottles into the back seat of his Camarro and pulls out , peeling rubber. On Dovercourt, the slight gradient encourages rollerblading, and everyone does it: young and old, beautiful Chinese girls and wobbly little black boys. And middle-aged white guys with their guts flopping over low-belted jeans who rollerblade like the hockey players they once were, serenely even uphill, with a case of empties under their arm on the way to the beer store.
Tonight as usual, the café is filled with skinny women in short, tight black, smoking, always smoking, with bad shoes on bad feet, and bright barrettes and uncertain skin and purple nails and plummy lips. They share a kind of summer openness, a languid sensuality, sloping up and down Dovercourt where every woman in a short skirt or shorts rides the cusp of whoredom to the low-slung cars and their slow-thinking drivers cruising by the café on their way to or from the infamous hooker corner of Queen and Dovercourt.