Flanny on the Danny August 23, 2017

Walking out recently, being a flaneuse on the Danforth. A flanny on the Danny.

At Pape, a pigeon flies down from a store awning into the path of people heading for the subway. Turning, it flies close to the face of one woman, who doesn’t even flinch, before winging around the head of a serious-looking young woman in glasses. I don’t think she even notices the pigeon, which has calibrated its trajectory neatly and cants around the back of her head, flapping onto another awning to settle.

Holy Name Church. Two men, maybe 20s, pushing bicycles, are calling as they walk with a woman maybe their age sitting on the church steps. They’re laughing as they say goodbye, and as they push their bicycles towards me, one man says to the other, “She’s a wild thing. She’s a Sagittarius.”

Further on, I felt happy to see neighbour and writer Paul Quarrington coming toward me in the distance, his distinctive walk, remembering an instant later that Paul died quite a long time ago now. Six or seven years? Lung cancer. He had a rolling barrel walk and this man does too, although now that he’s closer I can see that he looks nothing like Paul, and calls ahead in Greek to someone walking a little behind me, which I know because the other man answers almost directly into my back. I figure that’s maybe that’s why I registered this non-Paul person, not just the walk but the fact the man had been looking in my direction, seeing the man behind me. Maybe he’d looked up when he’d noticed his friend and the movement caught my eye.

I find myself thinking of a story by John Berger called Lisboa in which the narrator sees an old woman walking toward him while visiting a city that’s not his own. He recognizes the way she walks as being very like his mother’s walk, although his mother has been dead for years. Then they meet, and he finds it really is his mother. The dead don’t stay buried, I remember her saying. She says or implies they’re just sent to another place to live.

It’s been years since I read the story, but I’ve kept thinking about it, our dead not staying dead, not as long as we think we see them on the street and carry them in our hearts. Then there are the crowds of people around us, people we don’t know, and maybe they’re the dead of other people and places. They’re dead to us, empty of connection.

Since reading that story, I’ve always felt surrounded by both the living and the dead—m aybe I was of the age to start thinking that—and resolve to pull Berger’s stories off the shelf when I get home. Meanwhile I have a happy idea of Quarrington living in Lisbon, or maybe raising a glass of retsina in Greece, that cheers me as I walk on…

Passing two little schoolgirls who look like sisters, the elder dressed in a Catholic school plaid skirt, the younger saying plaintively, “But I don’t want to get hit by a car.”

Further on, there’s a fruit store where a kid walking a little behind someone who looks like his grandmother runs his hand along a display of packaged raspberries, knocking a line of plastic packages to the ground and spilling some of them. A Teacher voice says, “Whoops, look what happened,” and the grandmother turns and stops to pick up the packaged raspberries before starting to put the loose ones back in the packages, saying, “I don’t know what to do,” while the boy looks sulky. 

I’m almost there when I pass a couple getting out of a parked car, the man laughing as he says, “I can’t go to your parents’ home again.” Calling, “Help me. Help me! I can’t do this!” And because he is black and she is white, I think of the horror-ish movie Get Out in which the man really shouldn’t have gone to his girlfriend’s parents’ house, and which is very funny.

Then I arrive at Book City, where I’m planning to buy a birthday book for my husband. I go inside thinking it’s too bad so many of the people I passed were plugged into their headphones or working their smartphones, looking inward rather than outward, although of course at many times in many of our lives, there’s a need for anaesthetic.

As I start browsing the books, I find myself hoping that none of the anaesthetized are would-be writers, anaesthetic not being in the job description. At the same time I decide not to look for John Berger because I’m sure I have his collection at home, although when I get back, I don’t. It’s gone to live in another city. Or on a friend’s bookshelf. I don’t remember lending it to anyone but I probably did.

This blog originally appeared on Open Book, where I was writer-in-residence for the month of June. You can check out all the month’s blogs here.

Meanwhile, please check out blogs from Open Book’s August writer in residence, Naseem Hrab.