Truth is impossible without an acknowledgment of noise.
Mark Truscott, Form
With temperatures well below freezing, you watch as a man walks briskly down the sidewalk wearing shorts instead of pants. How could anyone, you wonder. It is too cold, far too cold for exposed skin. The snow sweeps gently in large, wet, accumulative flakes. Most disappear, meeting blacktop.
The night prior, you picked up Chinese take-out, and noticed the two women by the counter. They both wore blue flip-flops, and you were baffled by their lack of proper winter footwear. And then you noticed their brightly painted toenails. This possible mother and grown-up daughter duo, the elder woman still a trace of tissue between her toes.
An outing of pedicures, dinner. This made you smile: their bond, and shared activity.
Six years after your father dies, you make your way to the back of the property, an unused five-acre patch of Ontario bush. You played here as a boy, with memories of summer days spent exploring corners and coolies, footpaths years overgrown. It was here you wished for a treehouse or some kind of clubhouse, and your father repeated, they aren’t the right kind of trees.
You long suspected deflection. His white lie.
You spend days on and off tearing at trees and brush, eventually working to scrape down to soil for pasture. The property could always use more pasture. And then you discover it, a row of stone set up as a wall, perhaps a century abandoned. Not a wall between properties, but a former structure. There are other clues too. You have no idea how to read them.
Instant karma, nineteen years old. This was the summer you lived in Montreal on Queen Mary, spending late evenings at the Peel Pub downing pitchers of cheap draught beer. Back before Foufounes Electrique, with its hard-edge alternative club-vibe, added mini-putt gold to the outside patch of gravel. Back when Dutchy’s Record Cave existed, and rare European pressings of big name artists slid out of plastic wrap, to be picked or even pilfered, by the annual swell of September arrivals.
You won seventy-five pitchers of beer at a singing contest there, attempting to sing as the house band butchered familiar pop standards. Your only competition in the Lou Reed category: a man who screamed into the microphone. Given your natural baritone, the sound-alike competition was easily yours.
After three shared pitchers of draught before leaving, the certificate for seventy-two more was misplaced, long lost, and now there is nothing left but this recollection you can’t prove to anyone.
The story your father once told of a cow who’d escaped from the boundaries of pasture. You realize this occurs, that cows are able to leap fences as well as horses, but rarely do, unless cornered. A childhood sprinkled with memories of the occasional escape, as farmhands and sometime you too, were corralled into a posse, circling to return wayward milk stock from cornfields, a neighbour’s property, and even the front yard. What they’d do to the lawn, or your poor mother’s garden.
Once the cow left it was never recaptured, quickly becoming a creature of local myth. For two years there were sightings, apocryphal tales, the impossibility of a domestic Holstein remaining alive over the winter months in a mess of back fields, wooded areas and farm boundaries, yet uncaught. Every few weeks your father would receive yet another call to come over, but she was not to be found.
The first major snowfall of the season, and you already know that by living downtown in a major centre, your inconveniences are relatively minor. You walk twenty-five minutes to work, and live a block from a main street. At best, it’s a waiting game.
The snow falls heavy, fast and full. The cat chatters anxious at windows.
As your internet searches are calling it, this is a full-blown snow day. School buses are cancelled, some schools are closed, and certain government offices. The neighbour children are already outside, reshaping new snow into structures, redesigning their back yard.
You wait half an hour before heading out. The snow still comes, but the sidewalks and streets have been plowed at least twice, and the walk may be slow, but not treacherous.
When you arrive at the office at 9:30am instead of 8:45, one third of your office still hasn’t arrived. By noon, the lights flicker, and the whole building goes dark around one. You are all sent home.
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices atrobmclennan.blogspot.com