10 Summer: N.N.
The Abandoned Plaza
A funeral service was to begin in a half an hour, and the woman returning from the dead was now within a few minute’s walk of where the body of a boy lay in repose. But the revenant sheltered under the straight-angle mansard roof overhang of an abandoned building. In the middle the signage fronting the flat overhang, which was made of red wooden shingles, was defunct.
Once a staple of the community, it was no longer a suburban strip plaza alive and teeming with the activity of a dairy bar of happy handmade ice cream lovers, a barbecue restaurant, a dry cleaner offering “one hour Martinizing,” a variety and gift shop, a barber shop and a Toronto Dominion Bank. Now that they were deceased, she had needed to look up at their headstone, now relegated to a time capsule. So before she took cover under the roof, she did regard above it mournfully with a resolute gaze:
F-A-I-R-_ _ _ K was the identifying element of both the former business establishment and the neighbourhood surround itself.
The now missing letters of the compound word could no longer speak for the whole, but in that they were absent, they might speak for her, the revenant thought. For in the now hollow spaces were the skeletons of the light fixtures that once made their announcement in a blue light. That colour would have matched some opposing sections of the morning sky that now seemed to promise an imminent return to the same brightness that had lit her up while returning.
P-L-A-Z-A, however, was fully intact.
Bernice now gazed at the myriad droplets pounding the empty weather-beaten parking spaces, which still showed off their yellow lines. The water made its way along the cracks in the asphalt, overwhelming the daisies, dandelions and ferns. But she was merely waiting for the rain to taper off because she did not care to tarry, even if the water was an intermediary between the base on which the past lived and the eighteen-degree-Celsius heat that was escaping the macadam.
So Bernice imagined herself, perhaps dampened, perhaps bone-dry, making her way placidly down that quarter-mile long undivided stretch of road. She now looked in that direction. She could see the houses that would flank her as they ushered her back into the past, to the very end of Bank Avenue, the thoroughfare of the community and at the end of which she had lived. But her sudden impatience, born of the unexpected delay to shelter herself, masked guilt and shame. It also plucked her back from her imagination. She returned her gaze to the droplets of water and instead began to ruminate on her guilt and her shame, even though she was bent on picking up the pieces. She knew that she must have reduced one boy’s life to pieces.
Then she felt as if she could raze the whole place, the entire Fairbank, to the ground with her bare hands. Sterling Street, forking to the east off Bank Avenue, would be spared because it was on a hill, she thought, but not Fair Court. It was another eastern fork near the end of the avenue that led into what was a cul-de-sac.
A red pickup truck began to roll across the graveyard of parking spaces. The focused, nonchalant approach of the wheels towards where she stood made her admit that she had not the coordination necessary to home in on something, much less to physically destroy a place. And this over-abundance of empty spaces infiltrated by overgrowth also reminded her of the trick of her illness, which had vanished in a word. The vehicle pulled up in front of Bernice. It was June 26, 1972.
“Is everything okay, ma’am?” The driver had tilted his head down and looked across through the window of the empty passenger side.
“Yes,” Bernice answered tersely so as to not allow this intrusion to cause her to take her focused gaze away from the sheets of water still cascading down the sides of the flat overhang. She was grateful for the fortuitous rays of sunlight that now made the rain sparkle. The effect filled her with hope even as the yellow and white flowers enlivened the sheer depression of the ghostly parking lot.
The man stared at Bernice. “You from around here?”
It occurred to her then that despite seven years of death she was both bothered and displeased that the man did not know or recognize her. “Then you must not be from around here, sir. But can’t you see that it’s raining?”
He reached into his breast pocket and removed a pack of cigarettes. He knocked one out, lit it and took his sweet time filling his lungs. Then he exhaled slowly. The interior filled with smoke and obscured his face briefly. “I take care of the place, is all.”
Bernice opened her mouth to ask what happened to the establishment but cancelled the question because she thought instead that it was already clear to see that it had been abandoned and also because she did not care to know the reason.
Then the man said, “Can I give you a ride somewhere?”
It was now that Bernice finally broke her gaze with the rain. She looked at the man, who was White and who wore a blue baseball cap. A half an inch of cigarette ash perched precariously between his middle and index fingers as he curled them, fingernails grimy, over the steering wheel and deliberately repositioned his buttocks into the seat. Through another plume of smoke, mushroom-like, he cast Bernice a look, but the truth of it appeared on his lips. They seemed ready to commit violation wherever upon the violated they would please their owner to go. And she thought then that she had never witnessed someone who enjoyed smoking the way that this man seemed to. Bernice stepped out from under the overhang and turned her face up into the rain.
She no longer wished that it would halt.
Then she walked back to the tail of the pickup, where she ended up in a puddle deep enough that her flats squelched with every step she took thereafter. Having exited the site of the now abandoned Fairbank Plaza, Bernice Saunders took her own sweet time walking south, feeling the lustful gaze of the White man and perhaps the brush of his lips, too, for the last time she felt a man’s was the night before she became the graveyard woman.
As Bernice, bringer of victory, was coming back, she could see the side profile of the large cross belonging to the other staple of the community. She kept an eye on Fairbank Redeemer Christian Family Church because not only had she just come out of her cemetery, but also she remembered that she had christened her son there. But she did not see that there, too, was a hearse.