QUEEN AND DOWLING 5:40 A.M.
At the streetcar stop, in the warm and clean and early air, a Tibetan woman is holding an insulated cup containing tea, probably tea, likely tea with milk. She wears blue pedal-pushers, flip-flops and a blue sweatshirt. Next to her is a young man wearing knee pants and sneakers; his T-shirt, red. Next to him a pretty girl with wispy red hair in ringlets, wearing tights and a loose white top. Her shoes hurt her feet. We all have shoulder bags. When the streetcar arrives, we board in this order: her, him, her, me. A man is already on board, so we are five as we ride. I know this streetcar. I’ve ridden it before. I recognize it by the black stain on the aisle seat—the sheen, the shape of it.
Overhead: an ad for the public library; an ad promoting affordable funerals; an ad for a pink stomach remedy. Out the window: Bargain Mart. The Sizzling Grill. An internet café, empty because those people stay up late and get up late; this is early.
A man boards the car and thanks the driver for his transfer; the transfer is mandatory. This is not Venice, the Queen car is not a vaporetto, the street is not a canal; we don’t trust each other here. Across from me is a man with a scowl who keeps his bag beside him so that he won’t have to share the seat with anyone. Out the window: a big young girl in a sun dress—no sun yet—over a pair of tight black jeans. Queenglad Pawnbrokers Buy Sell Trade. A man with a dragon T-shirt.
The forecast: A mix of sun and cloud near noon. Wind becoming south 20 kilometres late this morning. High 28°. UV Index 8, or high.
The headline in the free paper: Doughnut Debate Heats Up. A yellow bicycle is chained to a tree in Trinity Bellwoods Park: yellow seat, yellow chain, yellow handlebars, yellow tires. Yellow art.
Three white people board the car: a white woman and two men, all carrying cups of coffee, likely double doubles.
A thought occurs: if the paper cup was soaked in coffee flavour, all you’d have to do is fill it with hot water.
A girl in heels—it’s too early for heels—tiptoes, ouch-ouch-ouch, into Super Queen’s Market.
Two men sit up front: grey brushcuts, short-sleeved shirts, speaking softly.
“Yeh, yeh, ah, yeh.”
Queen and Spadina, where the cop car burned. Past the Horseshoe Tavern where I saw Charley Pride in 1967. I had never seen anyone famous up close until then.
Two backhoes on Soho; one car in the parking lot; six men pouring a concrete sidewalk; a cop in a lime-green vest. The girl with the wispy red hair gets off at University, looking as if it hurts her to be pretty. It’s the shoes.
The Opera House: a Land Rover parked in the window. City Hall: two men sleeping on benches, one man sleeping on the walkway, all sleeping men in sleeping bags, all sleeping bags look like cocoons.
6:10 A.M. VICTORIA AND QUEEN (HER NAME, HER JOB, HER CORNER)
Five giant statues—men, tall and rusted, stand guard on the northwest corner. On the wall near the door of the coffee shop there is a plaque to honour the artist and explain the statues. Peter Von Tiesenhausen. Full Circle 2002. Cast Iron and Granite. “The iron figures in ‘Full Circle’ are direct casts of five wood originals that were carved”—the sound of a streetcar—“and blackened in a fire on the Canadian prairie. From there began a journey that took them 35,000 kilometres through every province and around every territory. From Newfoundland they navigated the Northwest Passage to Tuktoyaktuk. Down the Arctic Ice Road through the mountains of the Yukon and Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. ‘The Watchers’ returned to the plains five years later. Having nearly traced”—a sparrow, and another—“the geographical boundaries of Canada”—a man walking his dog—“they had come full circle.” The iron men are rusted. Rusting.
I have seen the photos of them when they were wooden, and burning on the prairie; the photos are not on display. Rust is a form of fire. The granite on which the rusting figures stand is shaped like the almond-sweet, sugar-powdered ricciarelli of Siena; on it someone has written, in a neat hand, with a felt marker: 5 Star.
A nurse buys a cup of coffee. That’s not coffee. Across the street someone sleeps on a grate next to a traffic cone; too soon to say if it is man or woman. An office worker, high style, Toronto style: ponytail, print shirt, dark skirt, sneakers, high heels in bag, on her way to work.
The sleeping figure sleeps like I do, and I sleep on my side. A well-dressed man with a dolly pulling two carry-bags full of papers. A man with his ID tag around his neck.
THE LONG BRANCH CAR HEADS WEST, MOSTLY EMPTY
A slim man in a red T-shirt whose expression suggests he thinks it’s funny that he’s up so early. His hair is water-combed. He talks to himself. “Oh.” O-roony. A young man wearing paint-stained jeans cycles west, and then another.
I think the sleeper is a woman.
A streetcar, westbound, covered in plastic wrap. Pictured: spoons; a restaurant ad.
The hospital, of course, with its blue angel. A man with a barbed wire tattoo on his biceps talks to himself. A pigeon, and another, and another. Banks in this neighbourhood, a park, some restaurants; shops selling voice recorders, cell phones, electronic gadgets; a couple of shops selling papers, magazines, cigarettes and gum.
The public square around the corner is not rimmed with cafés, where you can while away the time with an espresso or a glass of beer. A woman in a runner’s costume holds her coffee like a torch. A Wheel-Trans van, one occupant. A man stoops to tie his shoe. A taxicab, a meat truck, a plumber’s van. A man with a cane and a limp has a teddy bear secured to the zipper of his backpack and a cup of coffee in his non-cane hand. The sidewalk is clean.