Matthew said a dark rain’s coming, so I put on my mangy yellow raincoat and drew the strings tight around the hood. Matthew thinks I wore it because he said I should, and because his throat shot with purple veins when he did, but that’s not true. Not for rain—I wore my mangy yellow raincoat so I could beam under the streetlight like God in a lighthouse, beautiful because salvatory in a seaman’s wake, so Joe could see me from the other side of the road and wave.
Don’t tell Matthew.
Joe’s not under the blemished bus stop shelter when I arrive, even though he promised. So, I sit on the rain-spattered bench and kick my heels on the concrete curb. I check Matthew’s gold-faced watch, clasped at the tightest rung on my left wrist. And I wait. I wait a long while, and soon Joe’ll spot my mangy yellow raincoat shining like a star, guiding him towards the straw-filled manger, and he’ll be singing, “Kyrie Eleison!”
Meanwhile, I count the stars and trace their distant patterns with my clumsy fingers.
I yearn for those lonesome dippers, the crying beasts, the helmeted soldiers knelt in constellations of twinkling strife. Only once, Andromeda peered through the smog and winked her velvet eye at me. She left long before Joe. Now only vague sighs of light speckle the oblivion, or maybe they’re only raincoats, like mine. I wave to each one because maybe they’re aeroplanes; maybe Joe’s looking down. Maybe he’s seen my coat and smiled.
I look up to a map high up on the iron-cased bus shelter with real long words of places I don’t know. A red star affronts me with the reminder that I am here. I long for a binary star, a flicker to beckon, “He’s on his way! Look to your left; he’ll be there,” or, “Take a look down Bathurst Street. He’s waiting at the hydrant with his nose in the Book of Job.”
Life’s not that easy, Matthew likes to say. Matthew likes to make life difficult, so when it really is, we hardly feel the stones against our beat-down backs. His trick always avails. It avails on all cases but this, because when Matthew’s cockeye fizzles in my mind, I feel stray and humiliated as a beat-down she-wolf moaning on the long, long road.
Where is Joe? How long am I to wait between a slouching streetlight and indigo oblivion? Oughtn’t I be moving? Streetcars always move; streetcars shift on clockwork. I don’t know a thing about aeroplanes.
Matthew’s watch reminds of the seconds, of time like a light gliding over gloom.
So, I rise and I walk on. I walk the line where the streetcar skids, a line gleaming steely blue through patches of magma rust. Skyscrapers seem giant-like, with a thousand blinking, steady eyes, akin to strange men. I glance through their windows and yearn for a maternal face. I worship the puddles in the dip of the curb and laugh at upside-down worlds where Heaven is the ground and the concrete is sky-bound. I am still alone.
Dizzied, I go on until the concrete bleeds to chrome, and I yearn for a binary star to inform where I’ve come. Only blackness encases me, the ground smirks with glimmers wobbling with unforeseen light, until a minuscule puff, white as if fallen from that place high up, forms at a hydrant and yips at me.
Laughing at the dark, I take him in my arms, and let him rest in the chest of my half-zipped raincoat. The puff first wrestles and whines but gradually settles. Our warmth mingles in astounded relief.
I call him Joe, for now. I’ll have to change it when he arrives.
For now, the Joe in the chest of my mangy yellow leans against my collarbone. I lean on the fire hydrant, the only thing I see, and I search the sky for aeroplanes, and pray at the unfolding blackness for a streetcar or a sign, for a star or a street light beaming with Joe’s deferential eyes.
A fair stranger with neat hair, a white shirt, and elongated limbs has appeared beside me. I don’t know when. He is handsome, so I look away. I avert my eyes between the Joe in the chest of my mangy yellow raincoat and Matthew’s gold-faced watch, a gold face Joe watches like a monstrance, encumbered by piety.
The fair stranger also notes my gleaming gold watch. He lights the end of a short white stick, inserts it in his thin mouth, and boasts, “You know my pa’s the man that made the watch? He designed the first-ever, and he built that one too.”
A moment’s wait—he is strange, he smells of sewage!—until I mutter, “That’s a lie. Your pa’ didn’t make the watch.”
“How do you know that?”
Startled, I show him the gold face as if it carries Matthew’s likeness. “This watch belongs to Matthew,” I say, “and there’ve always been watches.”
The fair boy smiles like he’s discovered something over my head. “I can prove my pa’ made the watch,” he says. I ask how, and he advances one step, so I realize his nearness. We’re split only by the quivering puff of the Joe in the chest of my mangy yellow coat. Gesturing to my wrist, the fair boy wagers, “You give me your pa’s watch—just for now, it’s no big deal, just lend it here—and tomorrow, I’ll show it to my pa’. He’ll make a replica, and we’ll compare ‘em, you and I. You won’t know yours from his. They’ll be identical. And that’ll prove my pa’ made all the watches—even yours.”
Although reluctant, I mutter, “Alright.” I unclasp the watch and put it in the fair boy’s open palm. His hand closes like an oyster shell. He hides it in his tartan trouser pocket like any rusted penny and edges left of me.
“You waiting for someone?” It’s my turn to ask. Etiquette, Matthew likes to say.
“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself in this dark wood.” The fair boy keeps one hand on the watch in his pocket, the other on the white stick glowing in his mouth like a firecracker.
I don’t like that answer, so I say nothing.
Leaning on the hydrant, I look through the open mouth of my half-zipped raincoat to watch a mutt that isn’t Joe. But it is a mutt with pious eyes, pious eyes like Joe’s. I don’t know if it mocks me; I don’t think to ask.
Impatient, I invent mythologies from the shadows swirling far off, with a false yet warm Joe on my chest, the fair boy behind me, until I look from my fingers at a streetcar made of chrome that wobbles in the blackness around me, parting with confounding lights that blind me into idiot sound.
A light! And glass like dusty cathedral windows with dumbfounding signs to the God above. Whirring pulleys and engines, a mechanism I don’t understand. Through the glass door is where the man on the High Seat sits, before the mighty wheel.
“Fare?” asks the Elevated man. He does not open the wall. I don’t think that’s fair.
I see the fair boy has dissolved like mist; he’s made me lonesome. I don’t think I’ll see Matthew’s watch again. I have only empty pockets, and the only Joe I’ve known all night is the puff in the chest of my mangy yellow raincoat.
The man on the High Seat witnesses my pain. “Promise you’ll pay tomorrow?”
Glimmering doors almost part on my behalf. Life is not that easy.
“Dogs don’t ride,” says the man on his High Seat.
Quivering against me, Joe shrinks to a speck, and my heart beats against his.
“Dogs don’t ride,” the man up High repeats.
So, I unzip my mangy yellow raincoat and shakily lower Joe onto the curb, where he gazes up with pious eyes that say nothing. Tearfully, I whisper, “It’s time I go now, Joe. I’ll see you soon.” He knows I lied.
Now I board the streetcar made of a thousand panes of chrome, where nails rattle and wheels sob like weary businessmen. Dark rain splatters from Dada clouds above, blemishing the windows, sighing with the wheels of the streetcar without a route.
Matthew said dark rain’s coming, so I put on my mangy yellow raincoat and drew the strings around the hood. Matthew thinks I wore it ‘cause he told me to. I hoped it would make Joe smile. Either way, it’s raining.
Veronica Spada studies English and Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in The Hart House Review and Goose Fiction.