Joyland

Toronto |

Your Disappearing Theme

by Kathleen Brown

edited by Emily Schultz

Leon is leaving Toronto tomorrow. Toronto is a city, a notion of a city, a city en route, a map, adrift, an imaginary allotrope of road and lake, grass and bone. Leon, on Gibraltar Point beach: tossing smooth skipping stones at the lake’s surface sunrise. Plip, hop, plip, hop, plop. Again. Leon marvels: Lake Ontario looks like the sea from the far side of the Toronto Islands. Texture of blown glass, color a shade between ultramarine and turquoise. Whirling battery of water like light-tipped wings peaking, the shooshing whoosh of the lake’s frothy waves the morning’s drumbeat. Plip, hop, plip. Stop. Each thrown stone a line, a number, an item, a point, a bullet on the lists Leon is making in his head while he hovers on the shore. Leon’s lists: Things to Do, Things to See, Things to Eat, People to See Before I Go. His lists an ode to the place he has grown up in, to the grooves and trails he has worn through her neighborhoods: moving and settling and moving and settling. Leon like a skipping stone tossed through one apartment after another after another until finally settling on Toronto’s farthest shore in the arts center in the old island elementary school. The city softened from his home on the island, her glow still visible from Gibraltar Point, from the jutting pier by Chelsea Beach. Toronto’s ambient sound: the ringing of a chorus of cosmopolitan longings, reverent reverberations of hundreds of firsts and lasts, the soundtrack of our home making itself home. Leon’s last night in this home: can’t finish his dinner. Six o’clock and the common kitchen is empty excepting him, at the marine blue slab of a table that sits a dozen, but for now seats two: Leon and the city, a place for her set, and empty. Every meal over the last week: four mouthfuls and then quiet falls on his hunger, and he stares out at the courtyard garden. The orange Gibraltar cat: stalking a chickadee, now a finch. The forsythia: yellow blooms shocking the foreground, like a child’s drawing of stars, page full of them over the background of budding silver maples. Across the ragged lawn, willows stretching out of winter: long, slow greening fingers ungloved. Ohio buckeye: bare blinking sentinels on the path to Slate’s grave. Slate, thirteen years of cat: dead. Furred clutch unclenched, now his spirit eyes luminous slits like tiny early stars, his transparent coat weaving serpentine through the grassy pockets along the path to the beach. Leon’s eyes rest on ghosts. Catch in the blue glass orb on the southwest corner of the garden that holds the white disc of sun like a fishnet buoy holds the light at sea. The Pacific is not too far away now, one more sleep. His dinner is cold, minutes churning away from him faster as the sun descends. Fresh pasta again with every last vegetable mixed into the rosé sauce, his place in the fridge empty excepting a clove of garlic, and a lemon giving up the ghost. No need for groceries anymore. His last sup defeated, Leon lets go of his final variation of leftovers. Leon washing dishes from dinner in the sink. The pot from the pasta has a thick crust of sauce sealed to the bottom so he lets it soak. Washing his place setting plus one: a place setting for Toronto, serving as his last date. Two plates and two forks and two mugs that each hold a slumping white teabag, the teabags two tired pockets of leaves Leon tosses in the compost bin. He grabs the colander from the stovetop and the sopping rag, scrubs the colander in the sink while resting it on the rim of the soaking pot. The colander slips, the pot tips and spills its mucky, crusty water, and Leon makes a sound like a bird that has flown too high and been surprised. He catches the gasp and shudder from his chest and pockets it, leaving the last time he’ll wash the colander behind. Then: on his last walk, the water buries the shore, takes back the beach and he knows as he walks along it that he will not sleep, he will lie awake and look at the skyline, Leon and the city like two lovers looking and looking and looking at their bodies composing shadows and light in the room. Where his beard waits in line on his neck, where her breast is a fallen sparrow in his palm, where his thigh holds her and holds her and holds her, wrapped into his chest. Leon’s lists are heavy stones in his stomach through the night anchoring him in his nostalgia. Out the window the CN Tower is winking peekaboo hey, at flights from Halifax, Chicago, Ottawa sliding in to the island airport over the lake. The small streetlamp across from his home on the island road oranging his body in the pre-dawn, in a dark room, developing eyesight. Leon: languishing in last-minute laments, in this luminous loss we label longing, regret. Toronto whispers, her voice so small before dawn, dawn held under the horde of sparrows at 5 a.m. outside the open window, sparrows cooing at the dark blue sky, teasing day out of dream, cheering the sun on. Out the window the lake is surrounded, her hands are up for the trees: willows are budding, spring! A great stretch awakening. And now it’s morning in Leon’s bed: Toronto’s throat is the skyline catching on light, the concrete-metal-glass core achieving ignition. Between Leon and the city proper the lake stutters and begs: a sea not a sea, a moat, a bridge that he crosses, a wet road of cloverleaf junctions to ferry him back and forth, lost and found. A stone’s throw. The city familiar as marriage, as toast, swift tangle in his bedclothes. From the island, Toronto is a feeling that is like that hum that echoes in the close hollow mouths make when bodies lie together. Leon: half waking in the city’s arms. This is the only morning that matters, the day will line up like photographs in a time-lapse series, layered one over / one over / another, each photo a landscape compressed, a moment collapsed. The loop of the day will be flattened, every minute lined up parallel to every other. His memory will compress: skyline of office towers, SkyDome a simulacrum of the domed sky at sunrise, ferry docking awkwardly, rope loops pulling the huge boat bumper into her parking kiss, critical mass of bikers down Yonge in Friday’s rush hour, morose TTC driver piloting streetcar calling out Harbord, Willcocks, College, Nassau. The lists are tugging his dreams open, waking him up to ride his disappearing theme: a bike ride backwards from this present to his past. On to the last morning running its sunrise over Lake Ontario, on to his bike and on to the short ferry ride to the mainland. On to his parents, his brother, his band, his old room, his childhood haunts and trails. The ferry closes the gap, the lake is behind him now, and the downtown core is a girl in his arms who whistles like a white-throated sparrow: Here, Toronto, Toronto, Toronto. Leon biking through line items like crossing intersections, riding through them like ferries cross over from Hanlan’s, Centre, Ward’s to the docks at Queens Quay at the limits of Bay. The past is hard to see right now but he imagines in the future it will sound like four voices in harmony with a fifth rising an octave higher, a guitar looping its rhythm, and gentle piano bending the melody like a golden dog’s left ear bends to him in his memory, and maybe, maybe a sung refrain whose lyrics would be close to whispers and include “Trinity Bellwoods” and “Exhibition Stadium” and “garbage strike” and “August blackout.” Toronto calls Leon into her nooks and curves and the way the light brightens the body of her streets at sunrise. Leon, cycling, one outfit, no change of clothes, no other plans, no place to go but to her across the water, up Bay from the ferry docks, over the Lakeshore, under the Gardiner: flying into her this last lasting day. Here, here, his turning spokes a humming click, a bird call repeating over and over his unshakeable crush on her blooming side streets, her hidden trails, the paths he’s made that he will travel all at once today until every route has been ridden out of his body and written back into it. The city composes a route around him in the key of acute, the architecture of nostalgia building blocks in his body. Blocks he will take out of the chest later, once he’s in California. Small wooden cubes of homesickness he will contemplate one by one, turning them over and over: skipping stones, a colander, a girl’s hip jutting, a pier. Leon, cross-legged and intent like a boy playing at making worlds alone in his room, will construct a wistful palace of all his haunts. Then knock them down. Leon will turn into light. On his bike flight, the ride downhill Mount Pleasant by the Don Valley, Parliament to Queens Quay. Up the hump to the Bathurst Street bridge, over the railyard, down down downhill. King, Adelaide, Richmond, Queen, Dundas, College, Harbord, Bloor...her maplines a child’s rhyme, stops on the subway line, Leon crossing over each street one last time. The sound of a train in the wind whirrs through the spokes of his front wheel, whistling ode to motion. His thinning hair thick with breeze and light. You’d think things would fade, grey, dull but they will only get brighter, these places Leon picks to see on the day that is not the last day, just a day that will go through him for many days ahead, days that have not happened yet but will be filled with simplicity and beauty. His future days, the days-ahead days, will be easy awakenings to bowls of steaming grains, and growing things in the ground, and turning thoughts over and over and over until Leon will be a chord through them, a part in the song of the great sound that unmakes everything underneath it all. But Leon is not there yet, he is still in the now of today--moving through him like a wave so Leon is a polished stone of thought in the hands of the city, the city who will still set over his bed even though he will never sleep in it again, the city a white-throated sparrow, a soft cacophony of breath in a bird call repeating, a collage of lakefront sounds, and her streets a tangle of breeze through his limbs as he bikes.