It’s one hour before dawn and the wind is blowing in from the east. It ripples the great black belly of the Fraser River and rattles the windowpanes of abandoned warehouses. It picks up leaves and plastic bags from a desolate soccer field. It moves the ancient wooden swings in a school playground, making them sway and creak on their rusted chains with the sound of broken accordions. It dips into the bowl of split-level “executive townhomes” that encompasses the end of a cul-de-sac tucked away in a subdivision tucked away in the south-east corner of the city. Like a great invisible ladle, it stirs up a witch’s brew of memory and imagination. In their respective homes, in their respective beds, the dreamers mumble and toss. A retired advertising executive dreams that she is in a great sled being pulled across a frozen lake toward the lights of a distant village. A venture capitalist dreams that he is dressed in his underwear, wandering the hallways of his school, late for math class. The vice president of the Business Owner’s Association wakes up in panic, thinking that there is something vitally important that he must remember.
Sitting at a kitchen table, now thirty-five years old, is one of the children – let us call him Rudy – one time winner of the Junior High School Science Student of the Year award, who used to play in the playground with the rusted swings. Lifelong insomniac, he reads the sports pages of The Province, glances at the clock on the automatic coffee maker. He thinks about hockey and about the stiffness in his knees. He thinks about blood pressure and about the night that his father died. He thinks about all of the bad choices he has made, all of the ways that things could have been better. He thinks about personal disaster, about being one or two paycheques away from bankruptcy, about soup kitchens and shelters and the fact that middle managers are always the first to go.
He thinks about mortality. Just last week a man down the block had a stroke while pruning his rose bushes. Jesus, he thinks, all the time we’re playing soccer with our kids, demanding to know who left the cap off of the toothpaste. All the time we’re watching Survivor and doodling on our desk blotters and stuck in traffic, an embolism could be slipping through our veins, moving toward our brain like an assassin creeping down the hallways of a palace.
When the kids are a bit older, he will quit his job, maybe go back to school. He thinks he would make a good physics teacher. When things are a bit better financially, he and Sue will take that trip to Venice that they’ve talked about for so many years. When he has a free weekend, before his mother dies, he will visit her at the home. He will put his arms around her for the first time in thirty years. Jesus, he thinks, so many things waiting for other things to happen. So many days stacked like deferred dominoes, stretching off into the future.
Tiptoeing upstairs to pee, he pauses on the landing, stands in the darkened doorway of his bedroom and watches his wife dreaming in the moonlight that leaks through the curtains. Finishing in the bathroom, he slides into bed beside her. Fifteen years of marriage. Jesus. He knows the nape of her neck, the small of her back. He knows that she takes two lumps of sugar, brushes her teeth always in the same order from left to right, peels oranges in one long strip. Fifteen years of watching the same television shows, listening to the same music, drinking the same coffee, eating the same waffles, sharing the same bed. Fifteen years of recycled stories and recriminations. And yet now she seems so different. Lying beside her now, listening to her breath, watching her face softened by dreams, she seems both herself and unearthly. For long minutes, he is held mesmerized by the flicker her eyes beneath closed lids, the tidal rhythm of her breath. For long minutes, there is no past or future, no hopes or worries or regrets. There is only the present. He leans over and kisses her forehead. When he looks out of the window at the night slowly dissolving into morning, the neighbourhood seems both ordinary and transformed, as northern lights were dancing above his backyard, the roof of his garage.
Outside the wind dies, and the present is all there is.