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.