Saturday, January 29, 2005


Imagine an umbrella. It’s over your head right now, look up at it. A pale red colour, the wan sunlight filters through it, illuminating the drops of rain that trail down its surface. Holding your hand out to the warm rain, you think that maybe nature hasn’t dealt you such a bad hand after all. You close the umbrella, shake it off, and place it in your bag. It’s not so much the umbrella you’re putting away, but what the umbrella symbolizes- safety. From what? The rain? You know this, and you know it’s silly to be afraid of a bit of water. After all, it never killed anyone, did it?

Imagine a diner, at the corner of a busy street on a rainy April day, right after you’ve put away your umbrella. You step towards it, into the street, and the water from the gutters splashes onto your shoes. You can feel the water swirling about your feet, and you know that your new sneakers might be ruined. With defiance, you splash for a moment in the puddles, throwing your head back to let the rain hit your forehead and roll off- “After all,” you think, “the shoes are already ruined and it’s such a nice day.” You don’t stop to think that the rain is a symbol of all that is wrong in the world- pollution, acids coming from the skies, covering the city with regurgitated filth.

The woman across the street looks out of the diner window, snug and relaxed. She sees a sprite of a girl, twirling in the rain, mocking the world with her simple act. Wrinkling her nose in disdain, the old woman, probably around forty or fifty, pays the for her coffee and hash browns with a cheque. She doesn’t tip the waitress. Stepping out of her solitary booth, her footsteps are soft on the ground. She is wearing the shoes of a grandmother, pale tan leather bought at Freeman’s, not on sale, with Dr. Scholl’s orthotics lining the bottoms. This woman in fact is a grandmother, of a remarkable eight. She comes from a farmhouse in southern Ontario, and raised her family in this very city. The City of Perpetual Umbrellas. Walking out of the diner towards a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta, straight off the lot, she pulls out her perpetual umbrella. A large, black umbrella with a sturdy duck-head-shaped handle. It block out the sunlight. It blocks out everything.

Imagine a garbage truck, the heat from the engines sending the rain up in steam. You step back up on the curb to let it pass, standing on your tiptoes to look over heads and umbrellas. An old woman is walking to the parking lot, her vision stuck to the ground. You watch as, in slow motion, the proud, shirtless garbage man’s mouth forms a silent O. You see the umbrella fall before you see the woman fall, and you hear the screech of breaks on new rain before you hear the short scream the woman utters. Life stops for the time being, and you, the only one who ever watched the garbage trucks go by, are the only witness to the soft sound of truck meeting flesh. You’re the only witness to the fatal wounding of a woman who never saw it coming. You unfold your umbrella and cling to it like it’s a safety blanket. You wait for the ambulances as if it were your own grandmother.


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