Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Part Six: Katie has supper at her mother's house.

"Okay." Katie sighed. "What should I do for dinner?" Snow was falling gently outside the streetcar window; Katie leaned her forehead against the cool glass and looked out at the dark night.

"Why don't you go to your parents' house?" Melissa got up and started gathering her stuff. Her stop was coming up.

"My parents' house?"

"Well, we're right by there. I mean, they are practically my neighbours." This was true -- Melissa's new condo was about three blocks from Katie's parents' Cabbagetown house -- not the one she'd grown up in, but a smaller, swankier one that they'd got a couple of years ago when they'd retired.

"Transfer streetcars here with me, and then I'll walk you to their place." Dinner with her parents. Huh. Katie never had dinner with her parents, unlike Melissa, who saw her family every Sunday, (following, in fact, her pseudofamily breakfasts with Katie and four or five of their friends). Katie just knew that Melissa and her family spent those long Sunday afternoons playing board games or looking at photo albums or recording family history on their laptops for the Williams Family Digital Archive, or whatever it was that families-that-know-what-to-do-with-one-another did with one another.

"I don't know, Melissa. I might just head home." Katie wasn't sure she could handle her family today. But then she thought about Anne, and she wondered if her parents had heard from her lately. That, and the lure of a free meal, decided it for her. Katie would go to her parents' place.

Thirty minutes later she was standing in front of their house, wondering if she should knock, or just barge right in. Technically this wasn't her house. But these were her parents, and so, by default, didn't this make their house hers, too? Katie closed her eyes and pretended that she was at home and her parents waltzed into her house without knocking and thought about how she felt. She felt irritated. She felt like they were intruding on something that wasn't theirs. But then -- they were her parents. She was totally allowed to burst in on them without warning; it was kind of her right as their child. So Katie turned the knob and stepped into the cozy foyer of the old house.

She heard laughter, lots of it. A television was blaring, and the air was warm with the scent of a roasting chicken. "Good choice!" thought Katie. Her alternative had been a lonely night of pizza on the sofa, while snooping around on old boyfriends on Facebook. Roast chicken and peals of laughter were a much nicer alternative. Only....who was laughing? It certainly wasn't her parents. They weren't exactly laughers.

"Hello?" Katie stepped out of her flats and took a few hesitant steps forward. Come to think of it, roast chicken wasn't really their scene, either. They were more soup-and-salad types. Maybe she was in the wrong house? She hadn't really been there that much, to be fair..."Hello?" She called again in a louder voice. "Anyone?" The furniture looked familiar....Suddenly a tiny body, laughing a frantic, little-boy laugh, hurtled down the hall and flung itself out the front door. And there was her mother, barreling past her and out the front door as well, hollering "Jonah!" as she ran.

Katie didn't move. She just stood there, kind of deer-in-headlights like, until her mother reappeared with Katie's three-year-old nephew, in her arms. No longer laughing, Jonah was screaming, and her mother was trying to hold him, trying to soothe him, saying, "there there" in this monotone voice, over and over, and they pushed past Katie again, who was still standing in the hallway, and neither one of them noticed her. It's as though I'm a ghost, thought Katie, and she tried to remember if she'd been in a street car accident or been hit by a bus on her way over here, something that would have turned her into a soul trapped between earth and the spiritual realm.

But then the screaming stopped, and Katie's mother appeared in the hallway again, and smiled tiredly at her daughter. "Katie. You've come for dinner, I hope? I made this chicken...."

Katie pulled her jacket off and was, for a nanosecond, slightly disappointed that she wasn't actually in ghost-form, haunting people. She hung it up in the hall and followed her mother into the kitchen, where Jonah was sitting at the table, happily smooshing playdough into flat, colourful pancakes. "What's going on?"

"Oh, Jason brought him over for a few days. Said he 'couldn't deal'," Katie's mother made air quotes. "I don't know what he thinks, that he can bring him over whenever it gets tough. I mean, I do love him, but..."

"Mum, Jonah's your grandson."

Katie's mother sighed, and said, in a low voice, "I'm just so tired. Your father's away again, on some consultation somewhere, and I'm frazzled. Three-year-olds are lots of work and I'm almost 70, you know."

(Katie knew. She knew exactly how old her parents were -- and they were NOT almost 70. They were only 65, which Katie didn't really think of as old at all. The vice-president of Katie's company was 68 and he rode his bike to work. So she didn't think of them as particularly old, but they liked to talk about how they were at death's door. They were always reminding her that she was running out of time. "You can't keep behaving like a child forever," they'd say. "We're too old for that." They would tell her that if she ever wanted to get married, have children, and get her life together before they died, she had a lot of work to do, as they were almost 70 and could go at any minute. She had thought that buying the house would get them off her back, but they only said things like, "a whole room for handbags, vintage hats and jewelry? Why, this would make an excellent nursery," and "if you would spent less time fussing around with those paintings of flowers and more time on painting that peeling paint on the front door, your market value would increase tremendously.")

Katie sat down next to Jonah and picked up some of the playdough. "I guess Jason must be having a hard time if he's brought him here, Mum. Did he say how long Jonah would be with you?" Katie's mother was pulling dishes out of the cupboards. Katie started to put the playdough into the little matching pots, but Jonah just said, "No!" and pulled it out again.

"Oh, let him keep the playdough out. He's been so out of sorts since he got here. And I can't handle another fight." Katie's mother pulled the chicken out of the oven. "I really can't." She sighed. "What that boy needs is his mother."

Katie looked at Jonah. He looked so much like Anne had when she was little. That crazy curly hair and those fat cheeks. She left Jonah at the table, and went over to her mother. "Can I help?" Her mother smiled gratefully.

"Can you put out the carrots? They're on the stove. I hope they're not mushy." Katie took the plates over to the pot of carrots, sitting in water. She drained them in the sink and realized as she was doing so that the carrots were most definitely not mushy -- they were still uncooked. Her mother hadn't turned the pot on.

"Ummm...." Katie began. Her mother looked up from where she was washing a squirming, screaming Jonah's playdoughy hands with a washcloth.

"What is it?" She did sound frazzled.

"Nothing," Katie smiled at her. "It's fine." Katie placed a small amount of the uncooked carrots onto the plates, next to the piles of chicken. "I don't think we'll need butter for these," she said, and placed the plates, one by one, in front of her mother and her nephew. Katie said an inward prayer of thanks to the God of Sample Sale Shopping that Melissa had been considerate enough to think of her parents. Katie certainly hadn't been, and it looked like maybe she should start.

After supper, Jonah's bath, and about seven picture books, Katie and her mother sat in the living room with cups of tea. Katie was a bit nervous that without Jonah acting as buffer, she and her mother would have to start interacting for real. And as determined as she was to start being better to her parents, she still planned to make it a quick cup of tea. But she couldn't leave until she'd asked about Anne.

"So how are things with work?" Katie's mother asked.

"Oh, fine." Her parents wanted her to love her job. They never wanted to hear the truth.

(I spend a good part of each day writing lists of all the things I wish I were doing instead/I think the only two single men that I know at work are sleeping with one another down the hall from my desk /My boss makes me want to cry every time he tells me I have "potential" because that means I'm actually good at something I don't want to be good at and what does that mean if you are better at something you hate than the thing that you love? What does that do to your soul in the end? To know you are better at being Katherine than Katie? What happens to you then???)

"We're starting a new project, soon, something prestigious. I'm looking forward to the work," she said, and she sipped her tea, and she wished it weren't so goddamned hot.

"That's nice," Katie's mother reached for the TV remote. "Should we..."

"Err....Maybe not." Katie knew that if CSI: Miami came on she'd never leave. A)because that show was addictive and B)she needed to ask about Anne. "I can't really stay much longer. Work tomorrow," Katie added, lest her mother feel hurt. Her mother was so sensitive, you never knew what might set her off. Her mood could change so quickly.

"Oh, okay. It's been lovely to have you here. I know Jonah is a lot to handle, and you do have to get your rest." She stood up. "Would you like to take some chicken home?"

"Oh, Jesus, mum. Please don't play the martyr." Katie balled up her fists, banged them on her knees. "I am not leaving yet. I just can't stay for a whole other hour. I have to travel across town tomorrow. As it is I won't be home before 10 tonight. Please. I just want to enjoy this cup of tea. Okay?"

Her mother sat back down. "Alright." She reached for her mug. "No need to get so angry, Katie."

Katie swallowed hard, tamped the feelings down. She had to remain civil if they were going to talk about her sister. Speaking of which....Katie held the tea mug in her hands, wrapped her fingers around it so tight.

"Mum. So when Jason dropped off Jonah, did he mention Anne? I mean, has he heard from her at all?"

"What? Oh, no. Poor Jason hasn't heard from her in a couple of weeks, I think." She stared into her mug. "He doesn't even bring her up."

"And you and Dad?" Katie tried to keep her voice quiet, calm. "Have you heard anything?" It was like treading on eggshells. All the delicacy in the world wouldn't have helped, though. Katie's mother stared at her.

"Oh, yeah, Katie. Your sister called this morning. She's great, just great. I just forgot to tell you." Her voice dripped in sarcasm. "It must have slipped my mind."

Katie put her mug down. "Come on, Mum. That is not fair. I was only asking...."

"You know if either your father or I heard from Anne you'd be the first person we'd call. How dare you insinuate that we would keep that from you!"

Katie stood up. "For Christ's sake! I just want to talk about Anne!" She was shouting. It felt good. She decided to shout more in her daily life.

"There is nothing to say!" Her mother was shouting, too. "She's gone. She's left us, she's left her husband and her child--" at that, her voice fell back down to a whisper. "She's left her family, Katie, because she's an alcoholic who can't face us. She is gone. And now we have to let her go."

"But I can't." Katie knew she was about to cry. Katie supposed they should have just watched CSI: Miami. "I can't think about Anne out there, alone, and not try..." "

She's a grown woman, Katie. A grownup who has made her own decisions. We can't help her.
She has to help herself."

(Later, after she got home, and was lying in bed at 3am, unable to sleep, Katie would think about how bizarre it was that her parents felt that sober, home-owning Katie was still a fuck-up who needed to hurry up and become a Real Adult, while Anne, an alcoholic street person, was the "grownup who has made her own decisions", because before the breakdown, she'd been a lawyer on Bay Street, with a husband, a child, and a loft on King Street West. But she wasn't thinking about that now. Now she was thinking about how much she missed her sister, and how angry she was that her parents had given up.)

"But she can't help herself. She needs us. She needs me." Katie took a few steps towards her mother. "Can't you see that?"

"What I see is that you are delusional about yet another aspect of your life, dear. Please just let this one go."

"I can't."

"Fine." They stared at one another for a long while. Finally, her mother smiled this bright, wide smile. "Shall I wrap up the leftover chicken for you to take home?"


Should the next day be a work day, or a Saturday?



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Part Five: in which Katie is approached by a homeless lady and then helps Melissa pick dresses -- you all got your adventure!

"No problem," Katie said, and then heard Eoin disconnect the phone. She stood there for a while and felt deflated. She missed art. There was a time she used to make it all the time. She used to have projects, too. She'd almost had her own art show. She stared at the phone and willed it to ring.

But it didn't ring. Katie thought about calling Eoin back on the number programmed into the phone, but knew it didn't work that way. He didn't want a playmate, a collaborator. He wanted a participant in his project, that was all. He probably already had artist friends, an artist girlfriend. He already had people to talk about his projects with. He didn't need Katie.

She sighed and slid the phone into her bag, deciding it was time she went inside to help Melissa pick a dress.

"Excuse me, miss?" Katie turned at the sound of a woman's voice, calling to her. She turned towards the noise and saw an older woman, in her fifties, maybe, walking slowly towards her. She looked disheveled, and was wearing one to many layers of clothing. Her hair was shoved under a tuque and she moved as though in pain. Katie's initial instinct was to turn and hurry away, get inside and surround herself with the designer sale's bright lights, fine fabrics, and the exuberant voices of shoppers delighted with their bargain finds.

But Katie didn't go inside. Instead she began walking towards this woman, meeting her halfway. "What is it?"

"Do you have any change you could spare?" asked the woman. It was the standard line, asked by countless women in similarly disheveled clothing with similarly messy hair and lined, tired faces all across the city. Katie knew the standard response was, "No, sorry," and a turned back, a hurried retreat. There was a time when Katie would have done just that. But not now. Not anymore. She knew that this wasn't just some woman, this was somebody's daughter, somebody's friend. Somebody's sister.

Katie pulled her wallet out and handed over all the cash she had. "Sorry it's not very much," Katie said, apologizing for the $30 she had in bills. "I wish it were more." Seeing the woman close up, Katie could tell she wasn't fifty, she wasn't even in her forties. She was young, almost as young as Katie herself, only the way she moved, her clothing, and the defeat around her eyes made her look so much older. She smiled at the money, and looked at Katie with amusement in her eyes.

"You some sort of Catholic, or something?"

"What?" Katie didn't get it.

"I mean, are you atoning for some sort of sin? This is a lot of money to give to a stranger," she said, and held the money in her hands. "Do you want some of it back? Because to be honest...." she looked Katie up and down, "You don't look like you're all that rich yourself." She laughed a little, and Katie laughed too.

"No, take it. I ... I want you to have it." Katie put her wallet back in her bag and her hand brushed against Eoin's phone. He'd told her to leave it someplace interesting. "Here," Katie pulled out the phone and handed it to the woman. "Take this, too. It's ... it's for an art project. The artist will be in touch."

"This sounds cryptic," the woman said, and slid the phone into a pocket in one of her voluminous coats. "I like cryptic."

"Yeah, it's pretty cool," said Katie, and wondered if she could ask this woman her name. Ask if she'd been in the street long, ask if she'd ever come across Anne. Katie hadn't heard from her sister in weeks. "Just wait until the phone rings. The artist is really interesting to talk to."

"Katie?" The door to the warehouse swung open and Melissa hung her head out the door. "What's taking you so long? Come inside. I've got some dresses I need you to look at." Melissa noticed the stranger. "Oh." The warmth, the excitement went out of her voice. "I didn't realize you were busy," she said, and tugged on Katie's arm. "Are you coming inside or what?" Her voice was low, quiet, as though the homeless woman wouldn't be able to hear her.

"Yeah, I'm coming," Katie said, and smiled back at the stranger. "I've got to go," she apologized. "It was nice to meet you," she said, somewhat lamely.

"We didn't exactly meet," said the homeless woman, laughing a bit, "but I know what you mean." She held up the cash. "Thanks for this. See you around," she said, over her shoulder, as she walked away.

Katie went inside with Melissa. "How much money did you give that person?"

"I don't know. What I had." Katie didn't look at her friend. She knew Melissa wouldn't get it.

"But you're practically broke yourself, Katie. What were you thinking?"

Katie looked up at her friend, her eyes wet. "I wasn't thinking. I was feeling. I was feeling sad. And worried." She took a deep, shuddery breath. "No one has heard from Anne in weeks. Almost two months, actually. And we haven't seen her since Christmas."

"Oh, Katie. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." Melissa pulled her friend in for a hug.

"It's okay. It's just hard. You know?"

"I can imagine," Melissa said, her voice full of sympathy, but Katie knew she couldn't. She knew Melissa didn't have a clue.

"Look, let me look at those dresses, okay? I'd love to see you in some haute couture." Katie pushed her way out of the hug and grinned at her friend. "Let's pick the dress you're going to use to blow David's mind."

Twenty minutes later Katie was standing by the change room ("change room" -- it wasn't really. It was more like a sheet that the sample sale people had thrown haphazardly over a rail, and a bunch of girls and the odd guy were getting changed in a big group, all together, and Katie stood on the other side, waiting for her friend, listening to the cries of delight and camaraderie coming from the group, instant friendships and rivalries forged in the tense, electric hours of the sale) waiting for Melissa to emerge. She was trying for lighthearted but she was feeling so tired. First the taxi ride, then the excitement with the phone call and Eoin, and then the encounter with the homeless lady, and now this. She hoped the first dress that Melissa came out in would be perfect, because then they could -- "Oh my God, Melissa. You look unreal."

Katie's tiredness, her downhearted exhaustion totally evaporated. Standing in front of her was her friend in the world's most sophisticated, elegant gown. "You don't think this is too much?" Melissa ran her hands up and down the soft white silk. The dress, an A-line cut, fell just above her knees, with what looked like large pink and green petals covering the skirt in uneven overlaps, leaving the impression of a very cool, very jagged hem. The bodice fit her perfectly, the white holding snug but really sexy across her small-yet-perfectly shaped breasts, and thin green velvet spaghetti straps crossed over her toned shoulders. Her long, elegant arms were bare. The cool, clean colours stood out against her dark skin, and the rather unconventional cut and style of the dress contrasted with Melissa's rather reserved and aloof personality. 

"You look like a Monet painting on drugs. No, wait. You look like I'm looking at a Monet while I'm on drugs." Katie gushed.


"Yeah! With, like, a green scarf and some cool shoes, you'll be the best-dressed girl there. The most original. The most amazing."

"Not if you're my date," grinned Melissa, and for a few minutes both women forgot that this was the dress that was supposed to make Melissa's ex regret leaving her. For a minute, this was just two girls buying a kickass outfit.

An hour later the two of them were back on the streetcar, the white dress nestled into a shopping bag alongside three sweaters, a couple of designer tops, a pair of jeans and another dress. The jeans, tops and one of the sweaters were Melissa's, but the other sweater and dress were Katie's. They'd manged to find her something for the wedding that wasn't too big in the chest, long in the waist, or a bad colour for her carroty hair. It wasn't the most amazing dress, but it was certainly passable, and hadn't cost her too much, and for that Katie was happy.

"Should we do Rosie's for some post-shopping pizza?" Katie asked.

"I can't." Melissa frowned. "I've got to do some work at home."

"Like, work-work?"

"Yeah. I have a presentation tomorrow I have to prep for."

"You're the worst hookey-player I've ever met," Katie rolled her eyes at her workaholic friend.

"There's a reason I've gotten raises every year since I started," Melissa said, smugly. "Sorry. Rain check on the pizza."

"Okay." Katie sighed. "What should I do for dinner?" Snow was falling gently outside the streetcar window; Katie leaned her forehead against the cool glass and looked out at the dark night.


Katie decides to go home, order pizza, and stalk people on Facebook


Katie decides to go for supper at her mother's house.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Part Four: She Answers The Phone

"Maybe I'll just let it go to voicemail, and then hand it over to the driver," Katie said. She wasn't sure who might be on the other end of this phone.

"Don't you want to know who it is?" Melissa's voice was incredulous.

Katie wasn't sure. The driver looked like a nice guy; she was sure he'd get the phone back to it's owner.

"Oh, give it to me," Melissa reached out a hand towards Katie, who pulled it out of her friend's reach and answered it.


"Hello?" The voice on the other end was faint. Katie pushed her hand over her other ear so that she could hear better.

"Hello?" the voice, (male, with an accent of some sort -- Irish? Scottish? Something vaguely-but-not-really British, anyway....), repeated. "I think you have my phone."

"Hi!" The cab was slowing down. Katie watched while Melissa reached into her wallet and paid the driver. "I found it in a cab!"

Katie pushed her way out of the cab, plunging her cotton flats into a cold, slushy puddle. It was all she could do not to swear into the phone.

"And where are you now?" asked the voice. Katie looked up and around herself. She and Melissa were standing in a back alley or something, surrounded by old warehouses and not a lot else. There weren't any street signs that Katie could see.

"Uh..." she looked at Melissa and mouthed, "Where are we?" Melissa pulled the flier out of her pocket and handed it to Katie, all the while pointing at the building behind them, with a handmade sign on it that read, Sampleicious! "That's it! I'm going in!" Melissa said in a loud whisper, turned and rushed towards the sample sale.

Katie stared at the flier, found the address, and told the voice where she was, all the while picking her way across the melty, slushy puddles towards the Sampleicious sign. Melissa of course had leaped across this slush like a gazelle, or something equally limber and graceful, but Katie, with her sodden shoes and the phone clutched to her hand, manoeuvred as best as she could.

"Oh," said the voice. "That's way across town. Last thing I knew that phone was at North York station." He sounded oddly delighted by this news, and Katie wondered what he meant by "last thing I knew." What kind of weirdo was this?

Katie pulled open the door and peered into the warehouse -- rows upon rows of clothing on racks, and miles of women pulling garments out of boxes and off hangers. The noise was defeaning. Katie shut the door again and stood outside the building so that she could hear.

"Yeah, your phone had quite the adventure today," said Katie.

"Oh, yes, it did," said the man. "What's your name?"

"Katie," said Katie, cautiously. "What's yours?"

"Owen," he said. "But it's spelt E-O-I-N. It's Irish. Eoin."

"That explains the accent," said Katie.

"Yep," said Eoin. "Listen, Katie, can you do something for me?"

"What?" Katie asked warily. She wondered if this guy was getting pervy. She'd once done participated in a phone survey about deoderants and didn't realize until she was half-way through the questions that the person on the other end was getting off on her talking about her armpits.

"Can you take your picture please, and then text it to me at this number? It's 416-" Katie hung up fast. It was pervy. She shoved the phone in her pocket and pulled open the warehouse door so she could join Melissa. The phone rang again.

"Listen, you -- " she answered the phone with the angry words already out of her mouth.

"Katie, no, it's not like that," said Eoin. "I should have explained. It's an art project." He said it all in a rush.

"A what?" Katie liked art projects. She decided to listen for a minute.

"I have been sending my phone around the city for a few days. Every few hours I call it, and get the person who answers it to tell me where they are, and then I chart it on a website, with that person's photo, and then I get that person to just put the phone somewhere for the next person to find. If you're not comfortble, you can just put the phone down now and I'll cut you out of the project. No worries, no pressure."

"Hey, that's cool." It really was cool. Katie didn't think he was pervy anymore. Even though he was asking for her to email her picture to him, she supposed he wasn't asking for her to pose naked, or anything.

"I know! That phone has gone everywhere," Eoin said. "So you'll do it?"

"Of course!" Pulling the phone away from her ear, she held it out in front of herself and smiled broadly, snapping what she hoped was a cheerful, sweet photo. "Okay, now what do I do?"

"I need you to send me the photo over text to this number -- it's stored in the phone under Art Project -- and also, can you text me the address of where you are again so I can map you?"

Katie did as he asked, and her photo whoosed through the magic of modern technology and mere seconds later, she heard Eoin say, "Hey, Katie! That's an awesome smile."

"Thanks," she said, and wished she could see Eoin. What if he was terrifically cute? What if he were super handsome? What if he was scarred from a long, hard, Artist's Life and he was looking for love to save him? "So what happens now?"

"Now I take this photo and map it. Thanks for your help! You go put that phone someplace someone will find it and we'll see how long this goes for."

"When do I get to see it? Could I ... come to your studio?"

"Oh, Katie, that's not how I work," Eoin said. "You'll just have to wait for the launch like everyone else."

"Oh. Okay." It wasn't okay. Katie wanted in on this thing from the start. "When will that be?"

"When people stop answering the phone, I guess..." Eoin's voice trailed off. "Look, it's been great talking with you, but I have to go, okay?"


"Thanks again for your help."

"No problem," she said, and then heard Eoin disconnect the phone. She stood there for a while and felt deflated. She missed art. There was a time she used to make it all the time. She used to have projects, too. She'd even almost had a real show, once. She stared at the phone and willed it to ring.


Melissa comes outside to get Katie's advice on some possible dresses for the party


Katie is approached by a homeless lady looking for change

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Three: In which the streetcar breaks down

"The wedding! You'll need a date, right?" Katie pushed her arm through Melissa's and squeezed her friend tight. "I can't let you face David alone."

"Thanks, Katie." Melissa's voice was soft, her eyes kind.

"No worries," said Katie, squashing her existential what-ever-it-was down to the tips of her toes. This was not the time.

Fifteen minutes later Melissa and Katie were standing on Bloor, waiting for a street car to take them west. "How far do we have to ride?" There was a little map on the back of the flier. "It looks like we have to go out past Ossington. That'll be, like, a 30-minute ride."

"Yes." Melissa snatched the flier back. "Hence the reason for skipping out on work. You know -- so we have time to shop."

"Right." Katie sighed and peered down the street. It was May, getting warmer, but there was still a spring chill in the air, and Katie wasn't wearing any tights. She stomped her feet, her cheap cotton flats doing nothing to prevent her from feeling each ridge of the uneven concrete sidewalk. Though she'd been back in Toronto for nearly a year, Katie still wasn't used to dressing for the weather. Five years in Vancouver had duped her into forgetting she was Canadian.

"Oh, there's one now." Melissa and Katie walked out into the street and waited for the street car to slow down. The car was pretty crowded, and Katie and Melissa had to stand. They positioned themselves near the back.

"We'll get to sit once the crowd thins out," observed Katie, knowing that few of these businessey-looking people and tourists would be heading as far west as they were going.

"I don't mind standing. It burns more calories," said Melissa, and Katie wanted to laugh, but she knew Melissa was serious. Unlike Katie, who was underweight if anything, Melissa was a calorie-counter. She was tall, with the strong, muscled physique of someone who ate well, took regular yoga classes, and ran every morning before work. Katie, on the other hand, ate mostly cereal and toast, and rarely exercised. It wasn't that she was lazy. She just felt hugely anxious when it came to exercise. She was completely uncoordinated, so she couldn't dance, or go to those jazzercise classes at the gym. And the weight room intimidated her because her arms were so little she couldn't lift anything, and that was just embarrassing. Women were always telling her how lucky she was that she was so skinny, but really, she felt undersized, like a 32-year-old woman in a ten-year-old boy's body. And she wanted to be bigger, but she didn't know how to cook -- it wasn't that she didn't like food, she just didn't know how to make it.

(She hadn't always been this skinny. She'd always been thin, but when she'd lived with Bobby he had cooked for them. He wasn't an amazing cook, or anything, but he made sure Katie ate regular meals. With vegetables, and protein, and nutrients. Whatever the good stuff in food was. When they were first living together he'd always made her lunches. Packed them in little paper bags that he'd draw pictures on, and sometimes he'd include notes. Love notes. Or jokes. Or secret messages that only she'd understand. She used to love those lunches. She wondered sometimes -- always in the night, always around three, four in the morning, in the deep, terrifying darkness before the optimistic dawn -- she would think about who was unpacking those lunches now, and her heart would hurt).

The streetcar was emptying, and Katie found herself a seat. Melissa, opting to stand, pulled out her cellphone and checked the time. "By the time we get there we'll have missed the first four hours of the sale," she said, fretfully.

"I am sure there will still be something left." Katie reassured her friend with a patient smile. "You'll look amazing, and David won't be able to take his eyes off of you."

"Yeah...." Melissa frowned.

"What? Isn't that what you want? To impress him? To make him regret dumping you?" Katie was craning her head up in order to see her friend. "Can you sit down? This feels weird."

Melissa sat down across the aisle. "I don't know what I want David to do. Do I want him to regret leaving me at the alter? Absolutely. Do I want him back? I don't know."

"I didn't ask that." Katie could sense things were getting complicated. "I asked if you want him to want you..." Katie trailed off. "We've been sitting here for an awfully long time, haven't we?"

"Yeah. Traffic, maybe?" Melissa hung her head in her hands. "Maybe I should have called in sick today. Then I could have gotten to the sale immediately."

"We'll get there," Katie reassured her friend, just as the street car driver got up and turned to face them. "Oh, no." Katie murmured, and Melissa groaned.

"I'm afraid we have a bit of a situation here. We've lost electricity to the line, and no cars will be running down this route for the foreseeable future. A bus will be by shortly to take you the rest of the way. In the meantime I have to ask you all to get off the streetcar and make your way to the bus stop. On behalf of the TTC, I apologize." He sounded so tired, like the weight of the world was upon him and his blue-uniformed shoulders. Katie wondered how many times he'd had to make that speech.

"Damn budget cuts," murmured an older woman sitting behind them. She'd been muttering to herself for the whole ride, actually, but finally one of her mutterings worked in context.

"Yes, our new mayor is certainly to blame for this," an older hippyish man with a long ponytail and a backpack stood up and spoke loudly to the old woman, Katie and Melissa, the only other people on the streetcar. "What do you all say we march on over to city all and give him a piece of our minds? Why, we could round up all the other passengers from all the other cars that have been halted due to electrical outages" -- he said the words with such disdain, as though he were uttering the words genetically modified foods or social networking sites.

Katie smiled politely at him. "No thanks, we have a sample sale to get to," and before he could lecture them on the evils of consumerism, she and Melissa were sprinting off the streetcar and heading towards the bus stop.

"Oh, Katie, let's not wait for the bus. Let's grab a taxi," Melissa said, raising a long, slender arm and starting to flag one down. "We've wasted so much time already."

They climbed into a cab only minutes later, both of them crammed into the back seat. "So have you heard from your sister lately?" Melissa's voice was light, conversational. But the question was a serious one, and Katie, who'd been happily staring out the windows at the city whizzing past, felt like she'd been punched in the gut. What was with people today? First Erica, now Melissa. Why did everyone suddenly want to know about Anne?

Katie kept her face to the window. She didn't want Melissa to know how this kind of questioning made her feel. (Like breaking this window and flying away. Like falling into a deep sleep and hiding there. Like screaming like screaming like screaming with no end in sight). "Not lately," she said, trying for cheerful. She knew that Melissa only asked because she cared. But still. But anyway. "Anne's just doing her thing." Whatever that means. (Oh God, Melissa, please don't ask.)

Suddenly there was the sound of a phone ringing. "Saved by the bell!" Melissa's voice was too light, too high -- she must have guessed that she'd upset Katie. "Is that your phone?"

Katie turned to her friend. "No....Mine's on vibrate."

Melissa started looking around the back seat of the cab. "And it isn't mine...."

Katie reached down the side of the seat, by the door, and pulled out an iPhone. "Gotcha!" It was still ringing. "Should I...?"

"Maybe?" Melissa looked towards the driver, who was behind a thick pane of plexiglass. "Oh, just answer it."

Katie stared at the phone, still ringing. Didn't this thing take messages, or something? "Maybe I'll just let it go to voice mail, and then hand it over to the driver."

"Don't you want to know who it is?"

Katie wasn't sure. The driver looked like a nice guy; she was sure he'd get the phone back to its owner.



Monday, March 7, 2011

Two: In which existentialism is overthrown in favour of a shopping spree

"So, listen. I don't have anything to do this afternoon," Katie's best friend, Melissa, said in a low voice. "What do you say we get out of here and hit the end-of-winter sales?" She raised/lowered her eyebrows in a conspiratorial, silent-film actor way.

Katie glanced around the board room. It had emptied out pretty quickly; the only person left in there with them was Natasha, the young intern who was responsible for the terrible coffee at meetings. She was tidying up the coffee cart, making a show of not listening to Katie and Melissa. Katie mouthed, "Natasha," and cast a look of what she hoped conveyed Great Significance at Melissa.

Melissa only rolled her eyes and spoke in her normal voice. "Natasha doesn't care what we get up to, does she?" Natasha looked over at the two of them and smiled, shook her head, and backed out of the boardroom, pulling the coffee cart with her. "So. Do you want to ditch with me or not?"

Katie glanced at the clock. Three in the afternoon on a Friday. Surely she couldn't be blamed for taking off early. After all, she'd probably put in a solid, oh, 8 hours of work this week. Surely that should be rewarded. "Okay. Okay. But that's the last time this month. Judith is getting suspicious."

Melissa shuddered at the mention of the office manager, a humourless, shapeless woman in her fifties who made a point of not making friends with anyone, even the other humourless, shapeless people on staff, with whom you'd assume she'd share an immediate rapport.

"Fine. The month's nearly over, anyway. I'll meet you at the Senator in fifteen?"

"Make it twenty," Katie said, and felt a rise of panic/excitement, like when you're on the brink of something really good but also kind of bad.

Katie headed back to her desk. She didn't like skipping work, because she didn't like lying. The problem was, she was a really good liar. People always believed her. So she could deceive people whenever she needed to, but it pained her that people were so gullible. It was a God-given talent, she supposed, this ability to make people believe her, and she knew that God hated nothing more than wasted talent. Aunt Angela had an embroidered pillow with that very saying on her guest bed, and for those Terrible Four Months when she'd been homeless and unemployed, Katie had stared at that pillow, lit by the unforgiving moonlight that shone in through the gauzy curtains, whenever she was hit by insomnia (which was often) during those Terrible Four Months.

The office was "open concept", meaning that the company was too cheap to build indoor walls. Katie's department (or, sorry, Katherine's department) was smack in the middle. The executives and marketing and sales geniuses got the outer desks, near the windows, and Katie and the small team of three graphic designers were in the centre with the lower-level copy writers, where Melissa worked as senior staff. When she'd come for the interview, Don Juan had explained that this was because the "creative" teams were the "heart of everything we do here at Ambrose-Olyniuk" but she knew it was because they were the lowest paid people there. The worse you were paid, the further you had to be from the window. This was a rule. Somewhere, she was sure, it was written down.

"Nice meeting?" Erica, the world's smallest, quietest computer nerd looked up from her station. She was the techiest of the team, and the one with whom Katie found herself wanting to shake the most often. "Why are you such a cliche?" She'd yell at her un-make-uped, be-spectacled face, her hands gripping the shoulders of Erica's unironic wolf-picture sweatshirt as she shook her back and forth. But Katie knew she couldn't do it -- she was, herself, her own kind of living cliche, and at least Erica's cliche was happy with her life choices, wolf-sweatshirt and all.

"Yeah. I guess. Where are Mike and Paul?" The two other desks in their area were empty. She hoped they were still here. If they'd decided to skip off early, too, Erica would be left on her own, and that wasn't fair. Unlike Katie, Erica had no talent for deception. She even used her real name for online role-playing games.

"They're in the copy room. Making copies." Erica and Katie locked eyes and stared at one another, silently, for a long minute.

"Copies." Katie said, still looking at Erica.

"Yep," Erica's eyes were wide behind her overly-large glasses (the outsized frames worn un-ironically, bless her).

"How long have they been gone...?"

"About fifteen minutes."

"So I shouldn't go in there..."

"I'd give it about ten more 'til the copies are made."

Both Katie and Erica knew that Mike and Paul had been sneaking off to the copy room for mid-day rendezvous, but they'd never openly discussed this. Nor had they ever mentioned it to Paul and Mike, who would make up elaborate stories about why they had to make copies, and why they were gone for so long. But it was so obvious, and yet, in an effort to remain professional, Katie assumed, they were determined to pretend nothing was going on. Which meant she and Erica had to do the same, and she knew that this ruse was torture for her soft-hearted, honest colleague.

She knew she should address the issue, as their supervisor, so Erica could stop lying and Mike and Paul could stop their "corporate theft" of time, during which they engaged in illicit, secret sex instead of graphic designing. But Katie didn't want to deal with this. For one thing, it was secret, illicit sex. How do you bring that up in a staff meeting? And for another thing...the more sneaking around they did, the easier it was for Katie to justify her own bad behaviour. Like skipping work.

"Okay." Katie knew she had to get out of there soon if she was going to make it to the Senator on time. "Listen, Erica, I have to leave a bit early today. I got a text message while I was in the meeting and I have something personal I have to deal with. Will the three of you be okay without me?" Katie had been busy putting on her coat and getting her bag together so she didn't have to look at Erica while she lied. She looked up and Erica had tears in her eyes. Oh, damn.

"Is it your sister? Is she okay?"

Erica's mention of Anne caused Katie's heart to squeeze. Oh, oh, oh. Katie's eyes got a bit teary, too. "No, Anne's fine." (She wasn't, but there was no way that Katie was going to use Anne to get out of work to go shopping, as tempting as it was, and as much as Anne would likely support this exploitation of her current situation. ) "My house is, um. It's the basement. It's flooding. Again. So I have to go deal with that." She shrugged and sighed. "Never own a house, Erica. It's such a bad idea."

"Oh, I won't," said Erica, happily and earnestly. "It's rent-free at Mum and Dad's." She waved a tiny, un-manicured hand at Katie. "Good luck with that old basement!"

"Thanks." Katie hurried towards the elevator, her eyes downcast, and managed to get down to the first floor without anyone noticing her or catching her eye. Victory! She thought to herself, and pushed all thoughts of her sister, of Erica's trusting eyes, of her flooded basement (it really was flooded, it had flooded three days ago, Katie just didn't know what to do about it and was therefore ignoring it), and of Mike and Paul's steamy romance, and thought about the hours she was stealing back for herself.

Ten minutes later she was seated in a big wing-back chair with Melissa at the old hotel near their office. They were drinking lattes. "So you didn't even lie?" Katie was incredulous.

"You know I'm a terrible liar. I just told everyone that I had to leave early to get some shopping done."

"And you're not worried they'll, I don't know, report you?"

"To who? I'm their boss." Melissa took her role as department head much more seriously than Katie. She actually really liked work. "They won't rat me out." It was probably true. Melissa's staff was kind of afraid of her. There was no way anyone on her team would be sneaking off for illicit gay sex sessions. Melissa would have dealt with that head-on.

"Honesty. How novel." Katie took a sip of her latte and smiled at her friend. "So what are we shopping for?"

Melissa, with her long brown hair, long brown legs, and long brown neck, was like a coat rack (not that she was skinny, oh, no. This simile is indicating that she was able to wear anything, effortlessly). "I need a dress for Lucy and Brent's wedding. It's next weekend and I just found out David's going to be there. So the one we got last weekend won't work. It's too...tame."

"Oh." Katie made a face. David was Melissa's ex-fiance. They'd been broken up for a year, but hadn't seen each other much since. "Okay. Holt's it is!" She got to her feet, prepared to head out to Holt Renfrew, Melissa's go-to shopping emergency department store, but Melissa pulled something out of her bag with a slow smile. "Actually, I have something different in mind."

Katie looked at the flier. "Sampleicious!" it read. "One weekend only! Noon to Midnight! All your favourite designers, plus some you've yet to discover. Great prices! Amazing finds! Vintage, runway, and off-the-rack!" Below it were logos for the various designers and brands they could find there. It looked too good to be true. Which was what you wanted in a sample sale.

"A sample sale? Huh." Katie knew she should feel elated. She knew she should be feeling the way Melissa was -- it was obvious from her face, all aglow with excitement -- but she just felt tired.

"What's up?" Melissa was standing, getting her coat on. "This is the first real, legit sample sale I've found in months. This is what we live here for!"

"I guess." Katie tried a smile. This was her life. She'd chosen it. She had chosen to move back to Toronto, she had chosen to leave Bobby and she had chosen this job, this salary that meant she could afford things like an (albeit small, flooded) house and designer (albeit sample-sale) clothing. She knew that married women, homeless women, and women with children everywhere envied her this freedom, this life. "I just feel like a cliche, Melissa. Don't you ever feel that way?"

Melissa sighed and sat down in the wing back chair next to her. "Is this more of your existential crisis? I thought we got over that months ago." Katie blushed at the memory of Melissa sitting at her bedside at Aunt Angela's when she'd first got back to town, reading aloud from magazines and trying to get her to get dressed and go outside.

"I don't know. I just feel ... unfulfilled."

Melissa shook her head in exasperation. "That is what shopping is for, Katie. Now come on. If you don't want to come with me, fine. But please, if you do come with me, can you leave this whole Sartre-mood here, and try to find pleasure in this? I have to look amazing at this wedding. You have to help. I need you."

Katie knew Melissa was right. This was not the time nor the place for a meltdown. This was a time for shopping. "Okay. I will be good. I will be happy. I will come shopping. Who knows? Perhaps I can find a killer black suit for work."

Melissa shot her a glance. "Killer black what?"

"I'm joking." Katie had yet to own a suit. To her, a suit meant surrender. "I'll look for a dress, too."

"For what?"

"The wedding! You'll need a date, right?" Katie pushed her arm through Melissa's and squeezed her friend tight. "I can't let you face David alone."

"Thanks, Katie." Melissa's voice was soft, her eyes kind.

"No worries," said Katie, squashing her existential what-ever-it-was down to the tips of her toes. This was not the time.





Please leave comments below. Majority Rules! Expect the next installment within 3-6 days.

Friday, March 4, 2011

One: In which we meet our heroine

Katie was looking out the window. Again. There was this family of squirrels that lived out there, in a tree. They were always there, just hanging out. Maybe they weren't a family in the traditional sense of the word, but Katie didn’t really believe in traditional families.

(Well, she did, actually. She ached for a traditional family, but she'd never say that to anyone. Instead, she liked to talk about the value of groups of friends as families, of unrelated people coming together to form family-like units based on shared values, trust, and unconditional love -- but really, in her heart-of-hearts, she knew those were not really families. Katie had one of these pseudo-families, they spent holidays together and met for breakfast regularly. It was really Sex and the City that popularized these alternative families and made them mainstream, made them seem less desperate, but Katie knew: she knew as much as she loved her friendfamily, they were basically those people who end up on a deserted island after the lucky half of their shipmates are rescued during the terrible storm that destroyed their boat and these were the remainders who washed up on shore, unsaved, clinging to one another for fear of being alone. But this wasn't family. This was a group of squirrels keeping warm and sharing nuts. So these squirrels that Katie liked to watch were likely more a “family” than a family, but still, Katie liked to see them, she liked to think that they were--)

“Katherine? Your thoughts?”

(--happy. She wondered what they got up to in the winter, and she was gripped with a worry, all of a sudden, that she’d still be here, in this job, in this terrible, terrible job, in the winter. Winter was months from now, and if she was still--)

Katie felt a nudge against her ribs, and looked away from the window and back to the group. Fifteen faces staring at her. Katie stared back. Melissa, seated beside her, nudged her again.

“Your thoughts?” Don Juan’s smooth baritone came from the head of the conference table. “Katherine? Your department must have an idea about this.”

Katie hated that, being called “Katherine”. It wasn’t her name. She was legitimately a “Katie”, named for Katie Scarlett O’Hara. Her parents were not particularly huge Gone with the Wind fans, but Katie’s older sister had been, at 6, likely the world’s youngest Vivian Leigh devotee. Hence the name. But Don Juan (whose name wasn’t even actually Don Juan, it was Don Ambrose, but he was so old-man sexy that Katie and Melissa had started calling him Don Juan one night they’d had too many drinks and the nickname stuck, not that they’d ever call him that to his face, oh, no) had called her "Katherine" at the interview and it had stuck ever since. For five long months, she'd been Katherine. It was awful.

“Oh, yes. We’re very excited about it.” Katie smiled broadly. “Really looking forward to the possibilities.” Katie had no idea what they were talking about, but Katherine had to make it look like she was all over it. Katherine was the supervisor of a small team of graphic designers, working for an advertising agency, but Katie was an artist, so she had a hard time caring about whatever went on in this board room. Hell, she had a hard time caring about anything that went on in the entire building. But whatever, she had a mortgage.


She blamed her aunt for the mortgage. Ultimately it had been Katie's decision to buy a house, but it wasn't until the ink was fresh on the papers and she was sitting in the lobby of her lawyer's office, waiting for her cab (none of the members of her "family" -- God, it sounded like a cult when you put it like that -- had a car to pick her up), to take her back to her apartment to start packing up her stuff that she realized she'd never actually wanted to own a home in the first place.

The whole thing had been one of Aunt Angela's Ideas.

Her aunt was forever having Ideas. She'd call up Katie or her sister Anne (their parents were huge Anne of Green Gables fans) and say, "Listen, I have this idea." Sometimes these ideas were helpful, like, "I had an idea about supper this weekend," but sometimes they were ideas like, "I had this idea that you should be a homeowner." And then she'd outline all the reasons why her idea was a good one -- "The restaurant is owned by one of my clients and they won't be able to pay unless they do well, so if you girls wanted to take me there for my birthday we'd be killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. What do you think?" or "What with the rent increases in this town lately, and the decent salary you're making, it hardly seems responsible to be tossing money away with rent. What do you think?"

It was the "What do you think?" that was the trick, how her aunt manipulated things without overtly controlling her niece. It put the idea back on Katie, it made her think about it, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized that owning a home was a Good Idea.

A good idea? Yes. Sure. But hers? Absolutely not.

And yet. She was now the owner of a small, two-bedroom house for which she had a 40-year mortgage, which meant she'd be trapped in this boardroom until she was 72 years old.

Speaking of which. Katie looked at Don Juan and repeated, "Yes, we're really looking forward to the project," and smiled a hard, wide smile.

"Terrific. Glad to hear it, Katherine," he smiled back at her, and then glanced at the clock. "Okay, folks. Looks like that's it for the meeting. There are still a couple of hours left to the work day. Let's go make the most of them!"

All around the board room table, Katie's colleagues began packing up their briefcases. Katie rarely brought anything with her to meetings. She didn't have a briefcase. Still, she made a point of fussing with some papers while she stood.

"So, listen. I don't have anything to do this afternoon," Katie's best friend, Melissa, said in a low voice. "What do you say we get out of here and hit the end-of-winter sales?"