A novel about everything bad that can happen, told in many small parts. Perhaps less of a novel and more of a curiosity (a path curiosity can take). Today I burned sage that I picked at my parent’s home in Saskatoon, filling the entire apartment with smoke. The air by consequence feels now pure. I would like to do the same to certain habits that I have found in myself, a certain darkness: to shed light on it. To fill it with smoke.
All false infinities are hell. It rained last night, or this morning. It’s raining now. Yesterday afternoon I wanted to leave everything I brought with me in the car. My phone, my jacket, and almost my suitcase. I had already left my keys plugged into the computer in my brother’s office. I think that I have never read anything, never in my life picked up a single book, and then I see an image that reminds me of an image from a chapter in Sebald’s Vertigo. A porcelain hand that Stendhal kept on his desk, a hand which would often move him to tears. Then I think, “I knew about this resonance when I took the photo.” (Of my own hand.) In the past year or so, hands have meant a lot to me—as entrances, as indications, to call to the core of another’s being. (“My mother always said that someone would love me for my hands.)
In the morning I try to remember my dream. It’s a form of devotion, to not forget the person you were in the night. In my dream I was trying to put something back together. It was broken and the person who had broken it had decided she wasn’t going to tell me about it. There were five or six people sitting on two couches. I recognize the couches but not necessarily the people. The couches are from one of two homes: a springtime cabin somewhere remote, or a house in Forest Hill. But when I got up to turn off my alarm this morning the halo of the screen stuck in me: a notification from a friend. That was all I could remember. I went to bed and thought about what the notification meant. Then I remembered that I should try to remember my dream, as a form of attention and devotion. Now I’m sitting at my computer, noticing how much my bedroom is slanted back from the window: as I type my chair starts to roll backwards. Until I am far from my desk. How did I never notice this before? I noticed, but maybe I was not paying attention. Only incrementally did I become aware.
I still haven’t written about the lights I saw biking home with Liz and Rohan. It was long past sunrise and we were on the beltway, unilluminated by streetlight except near intersections. Only Rohan had a light bright enough to lead us, and so we biked in front of him. Or slightly behind, anxious about the gap between illumination and non-illumination on a trail that was covered with hazards (pot holes, branches, the occasional dog straying far from its owner).
We had gotten turned around—coming to pause underneath an overpass, lonely and imposing in the darkness. Rohan mapped out a new path on his phone while Liz and I went back the way we had come, realizing our mistake only when we found ourselves in perfect darkness. I was eager to get home—a ride that had only taken me thirty minutes on my way there was going to take well over an hour.
Ahead of us on the trail was a cluster of bright lights, tight and focussed and hovering into themselves. It looked like something from a movie about a close encounter with an alien race, the way the lights seemed to cohere into themselves, a coherence that suggested, to me, a kind of sentience or intelligence.
Whatever it was, it was on the trail, clearly moving but also seeming from my vantage rooted in place. As if it was just hovering, holding its position as it swayed back and forth in the wind, scanning the forest or scanning for us. If it had made a noise, or moved suddenly, I might have turned around or darted into the brush. Who knows what I would have done. As it was I was transfixed, waiting for it to arrive.
Only when it was almost upon us did its shape find emergence—a peloton, a group of spandexed men riding through the beltway at top speed, in tight formation, with the same bright white light affixed to each of the handlebars of their expensive bicycles. “Keep right,” they called back to each other, as their frames whirred quickly past us.
We’d stopped cycling, both to wait for Rohan and because we knew it would be dangerous to try and press forward through the crowd. I felt like a rat trapped between four wheels of a car, quivering close to the asphalt.
Like a speck on the horizon, as far from myself as the lights had been.
Two weeks later I was biking home following a late shift at the circulation desk of the Law Library, making a turn that I have made hundreds of times before. Except I was suddenly on a street that I didn’t recognize, a street shrouded in darkness that my bike lights barely pierced. I turned, trying to correct myself, and found myself in a long alley that ended at the major road I had wanted to avoid. I wasn’t quite lost, but it was disturbing how quickly I had lost my place. I was forced to double-back through a neighbourhood that I knew intimately, that I had lived in and adjacent to for years. Most of my adult life.
I couldn’t figure out what about it had changed—why I was suddenly so confused, or what part of myself was missing in the darkness.