Last Winter Here

By Emma Healey

Indie Writers’ Deathmatch Quarter-Finalist 2008

Curtains.
I take an English lit class once a week in this room. It’s a class that everyone says is important and good and useful, and for those reasons, it’s hard to concentrate on anything the teacher says. It’s harder still to listen. I do a lot of half-looking, where I stare out the window but don’t take in the scenery. The first time I actually looked, I saw snow dust on power lines, office towers and parked cars. I had to turn away and regroup. Now I avoid eye contact with that window. Sometimes our gazes meet, and I feel guilty and strange.

Five blocks.
I walk home the way you’d read a book. Left to right or it doesn’t make sense.

If you’d like, you can come home with me and read my street like a page. The cars and the wind are like commas, gulps of air between run-on sentences. The dance you do passing strangers on the sidewalk is made of verbs and adjectives. Start and stop. Eventually you’ll get there.

Slush.
I hate the winter. I hate the cold, I hate the snow that turns to gray slush so quick, I hate the smokers huddling in doorways, I hate visible exhaust and breath, I hate the dry. I love the trees, how they tear the edges off the sky like pulling a page out of a notebook, all ragged and torn. I love skating. I love quiet. But I hate winter.

Today when I came home, my father was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at a large cardboard box I didn’t recognize. He was half-smiling, “What is that?” I asked, knowing he wanted me to. He took it out of the box.

It looked wrong standing there on our kitchen table, shiny and smooth and mechanical. Its body tilted towards our faces like it was asking a question. It made me nervous for some reason I didn’t fully understand. I looked at the side of the box.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder Therapy Lamp?”

My father smiled again, really.

“It’s going to make me marginally happier,” he said.

The Problem With St. George Subway Station
Is all the green. I get distracted so easily. Everyone moving and talking, stomping the slush off their boots. Everyone so sure where they’re going, pissed off and pushing. The fluorescent lights that make you look tired. Sometimes I just stand and watch and wait for things to calm down. I’m always late for everything.

Contemporary Studies In Vocal Cadence.
I like this class but the teacher speaks in italics. She sounds like a full symphony orchestra. All swells, emphasis, everything a beginning or a short, plucky aside. It’s wonderful and exhausting. It becomes hard to tell where you’re really supposed to be paying attention, to tell what’s really important. I end up listening for the art in her lessons, for the patterns. I notate her speeches in the margins of my textbook, the markings rising up and down through definitions and diagrams, taking up space.

The agony
Of not kissing him. On the subway. The boy. Me in my stupid fucking trapper hat my mom bought me from the Bay for $16.99 and my giant backpack, my giant flashing neon sign that says “HIGH SCHOOL HIGH SCHOOL,” and him all university coffee-shop cool half-smiling the whole ride there, six stops, everyone else frowning. I sneak a glance behind myself, twisting. He is reading philosophy and I am reading his eyes. That half-smile and if I could be half as good as Plato. The beautiful brown curly hair. The headphones around the neck. When I am older I will know better and when I was younger I knew less than this. We are at Bathurst. I am getting desparate. If he looks up at me before we get there, if the two tight-lipped, angry-faced, cold-hearted, fur-coated women crossing their arms over my view of him (get away) will move, if he will turn that same nearsmile to me, if I can make out what’s on that button on his jacket, I will kiss him. I will. I swear under my breath and try to attract his attention with my feet rooted to the spot. I don’t want to talk, I whisper, nearly, hoping he’ll get it.

Seconds.
I think about time a lot. I find myself wanting to turn off all the clocks in my house, to stop everyone’s watches just to see what would happen, but it would be so hard. In my household there is never a lack of time. We have clocks everywhere. Bedrooms, bathroom, living room. Five in the kitchen. It gets crowded sometimes, all these numbers, and there’s a sort of secret code you have to learn if you want to get anywhere on time. The clock in the bathroom is six minutes fast on purpose, the one in the kitchen always inexplicably three-minutes slow, no matter how much resetting we do. Outside the house it’s worse. The air is crowded with minutes. Parking meters, payphones, ipods, watches. The clocks in my school are all out of sync with each other. Mandatory math class lasts five years and art’s over before you can take out your paintbrushes. You spend the day in class, exhausted from calculating the differences, from anticipating, and then you get home. It’s different there. The clocks make it safe. They mean the house never gets that wind-tunnel feeling buildings can when you’re alone. You can always flick a switch or cast a glance and you are anchored, a part of the world, running late but still running.

Emma Healey is a writer and artist currently living in Toronto. She was the 2006 Playwright-in-Residence for the Paprika Theatre Festival, and her play Frameworks has been workshopped with Paprika, the Summerworks Festival and the Toronto District School Board. She likes most of the same stuff you do, like taking photos, watching the duck pond in High Park and baking cupcakes for rock stars.

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