“And to die is different from what any one supposed,
and luckier.” — Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
standing there, waving, and saying, “Good-bye,” and all the while, she’s
thinking, Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, and she can feel the tears
streaming down her face, despite the fact there are none. Her name is Cindi.
Her mother always wrote it with hearts dotting the i’s, and she liked this
until she was twelve and someone laughed. Now, he has gone, his name is Daniel,
and he has not kissed her, though she felt he wanted to a little, so that is
something. She hears the soft, metronomic sky-slice of helicopter blades and
knows she should go inside, but instead she sits on the stoop of the
restaurant, and imagines a bomb dropping, and then the spray of bullets, and
her body, ugly and then unfathomably uglier, torn, the bloom of blood coursing
faster and faster. Her head is on the sidewalk, and the rest of her body
splayed upward, her legs all crazy, and then she laughs wondering whether
Daniel would regret having not kissed her if she died. Or whether he would just
squint and breathe out a quick, “Hunh,” and carry on. One, then two, Apache
helicopters rove into view and then out. The noise is unbearable but Cindi
stays sitting, bringing their awful percussion into her fantasy.
There are people moving about in
the streets. Who are these stupid people? It’s a dull thought, because she
couldn’t really care less; after all she is out, too. We are stupid, all of us,
she thinks, or else we’ve become inured to this sort of thing, or maybe just
too tired to bother self-protecting. She can’t get Daniel’s lips, the soft hair
on his cheeks and neck, too, but more the lips, out of her mind. It presents as
a kind of target she has missed. Ha! she thinks, It shouldn’t be so hard to
give or get a kiss, it’s not like an enunciation, for fuck’s sake. For
instance, she kisses her husband almost every day, sometimes even lustfully,
and it means nothing in the long run. It means, at the most, I’m horny, in a
biological sense. But this is not that, it would be a lie to say it was.
She knows Harry is waiting for her
at the house, checking his email, watching whatever news he can access for free
on his laptop, and biding time until she arrives back home and he announces to
her he is tired and going to bed. He will wait to announce this, she knows,
because he likes a proper exit. She gets up to go home, and instead decides to
go for a walk. She bends to pick up her black purse, slings it over her
shoulder as she rises. A short man in the distance scuttles around a corner.
She heads toward him, curious without really questioning why.
Afterward—much later—there will be
a transcription of the banter between the soldiers in the two helicopters. The
boys in the choppers are beautiful, one still awaiting his beard. They are a
little older than Cindi’s children.
I got a black vehicle under target. It’s arriving right to the north of the
Yeah, I would like that. Over.
Moving south by the mosque dome. Down that road.
Okay we got a target fifteen coming at you. It’s a guy with a weapon.
There’s about, ah, four or five…
Bushmaster Six copy that White Six?
…this location and there’s more that keep walking by and one of them has a
follows the short man, and as she does, she wishes it was Daniel, but it can’t
be. He has left more than ten minutes before, he is on the subway, halfway
across town to his own house, thinking about the things he thinks about. Art.
Politics. Materials. Truth. Time. Geography. Humanity. What would it have cost
him to kiss her? People conflate the price of things. The short man is milling
around in a small crowd outside the old mosque on Dundas Street. She knows it
is Toronto’s first mosque, that Malcolm X visited there in the very year she
was born, precisely a month before he was assassinated, but that now it’s being
renovated into a wine bar, into basically the opposite of a mosque. Because it
leaked, they’ve patched the dome with copper. They’ve done a nice job on the
reno, and she and Harry are looking forward to checking it out when it opens. A
black van inches past her on Dundas street and she scrutinizes it. She doesn’t
know makes and brands of things, certainly not cars, but she notices the dents,
and the rust, and the scruffy man driving it. He looks tired—and kind.
The other man, the one she imagined
was Daniel is beckoning her from the crowd that has formed inside the small
yard beside the mosque. Two of the women in the group are wearing burqas and
she envies them their anonymity. She wonders if they feel free to cry in
public. She thinks that if she had the privilege of wearing a burqa, she would
cry all the time, she would be an
open wound inside that dark place. One of the helicopters is suspended in the
sky way up above the group and—they shouldn’t be gathering, she thinks, it’s
“Cindi, hey!” the man calls. “What
are you doing out?”
She realizes suddenly who the man
is, even as she scrambles for his name. He is the hipster who works the cash at
the organic grocer a block away, and maybe she doesn’t know his name, maybe
she’s told him hers and never asked his. He is “the clerk” to her. She goes
over to him and they hug, because hugs are free and times are strange. He
kisses both her cheeks, well, he kisses the air just in front of them.
“It’s weird,” she says.
“It sure is.”
They stand a little off from the
“I’m going to move to New York
City,” she says. She has just thought this, and saying it feels right. She will
go there as soon as the boys are finished high school in less than three years.
She will finish up her PhD there, and the Civil War novel.
The clerk glances up at the
noisesome sky and nods. “Tell me all about it.”
Even though it is obvious from the
way he says it that he doesn’t really mean for her to tell him all about it,
she does. She describes the white-painted apartment in Noho that she can’t
afford, and the white bed sheets, and the desk, and how she will write, and how
she will walk through the people there like it is a factory—some of the people
heading in to be made, and the others heading out fully formed.
“I never thought about it like
that,” the clerk says. And then he gently touches her arm and brings her closer
to the group in order to introduce her. There is a girl skipping beside one of
the women in burqa. The clerk introduces her to the woman and then to the girl,
whose name is Antoinette.
“Tony,” says the girl, without
missing a skip. “I prefer to be called Tony.” She puts on a fierce face and
skips harder, beginning a wild series of elaborate skipping tricks so that her
arms cross over her heart and the rope twists and untwists. She’s probably
twelve, probably a little too old for skipping games.
Cindi claps. “Brava!”
“Shut up,” Tony whispers through
her exertion, “You’ll break my concentration.” And then the girl does trip on
the rope and it hangs there from her hands, sad and dead looking. The woman
grabs the girl and pulls her close, so that the girl is half wrapped in the
lapis blue burqa.
“Oh,” Cindi says, “Sorry.”
Tony’s skin is glowing from the
exercise, beautiful, numinous against the rich pigment of the cloth framing her
face. The rope is dirty and limp—squirreling out like a long drip on the pavement.
An entrail. “I could have skipped all day,” Tony says, accusingly. “Now I’ll
have to start again.” She looks up.
Yeah roger. I just estimate there’s probably about twenty of them.
01:13 There’s one, yeah.
I don’t know if that’s a…
Hey Bushmaster element, copy that White Six?
01:21 That’s a weapon.
Cindi looks up, too. The sky is overcast,
and has been for days. The weather is accumulating some awful thing. She misses
Daniel, and this missing is a hard place in her chest, a nugget of ruin. She
and Daniel had sat over a pizza, and she told him things she had promised
herself she wouldn’t, then watched his surprise, watched him laugh in shock and
something like flattered joy, and then sober up and let her talk and talk. He
was acting or he was real, and she couldn’t be sure. She really didn’t know him
all that well and wanted so badly to believe him.
“I dreamed you wore clown pants,”
“Really?” he said, for what could a
person say to that?
“We were talking and I scanned your
face and then down, like a camera.” She showed him with a horizontal palm how
her eyes slid down his torso. She said, “And you were just you, and then the
“I suppose it’s a taboo from the
waist down,” he said. He’s serious.
But no. That’s not it.
“My fantasy never went there,”
Cindi said, and smiled because of the admission, but also because she’d
confused him, and it was pretty to watch that confusion play out. She bit her
lip watching him, her heart shuttering, open, shut, open.
“What was it then?”
The answer to that lay thick and
deep, some fermenting virus running through her for weeks and weeks, taking all
its forms but never completing. It tangled in her gut now, and down her legs.
She watched him, watched his dark eyes, and dipped her gaze hesitantly to his
lips, and popped back up, because that was way too intense. She was touching
her face too much, but couldn’t stop, her fingers drawing and redrawing the
outline of her mouth. “You’ll laugh,” she said.
“I swear I won’t.”
“It was a kissing fantasy.”
She said it, and her eyes closed
for just a flicker and, in her mind, they were kissing. But when she looked, he
was laughing. His eyes and whole face were laughing and he was trying to stop
himself from that.
“Sorry,” he said. “Really, I’m
sorry. I did swear I wouldn’t laugh and here I am.”
“It’s okay.” She didn’t mind his
laughter because he seemed so delighted to be part of this story. At least in
that moment. The way the delight played out in the room, it was nice.
“Kissing?” he said, then. “Really?”
“Yes.” Her tongue, teeth, the taste
of him, tempo, pressure, her fingers on his face. It was unbearable.
And then they just sat there for
some seconds and looked at each other and tried not to laugh, it made her want
to kiss him even more.
Finally, she said, “It’s a
schoolgirl crush. I feel like a schoolgirl.” She could feel her face beaming
and she looked down, shy.
bottom of the Apache is a menacing green, the guns like gloomy, industrial,
hanging gonads. She thinks, Dumb metaphor. It’s not unusual these days to see
Apaches sweeping along the tops of buildings, but never good when they are this
close. Cindi begins to feel self conscious so near to a growing crowd. The
clerk has become irritated with the helicopter intrusion, has pulled his cell
phone out, and is lining up to take a video of it. Cindi is shaking her head at
him, so he stops and says, “Well, who the hell do they think they are?”
“Still,” she says, “it’s
provocative.” Last week an entire family was gunned down.
The clerk leans in to her, whispers
something that upsets her enough she makes a face. He says, “All right, then,”
and tucks his cell phone into his jean pocket. Then he pulls it back out, taps
at the screen repeatedly with his thumb. “Look,” he says, nestling close to her
to show her the phone, and the image on it, of her and Daniel in the
restaurant, caught slyly laughing. She takes the device and peers at the
instagram image, thumbs it bigger, lets it into her heart.
“Oh,” she says. “Why?”
He shrugs. “There was something
“Yeah. Do you see it? What I wanted
Cindi stares at the picture. “I see
a Peeping Tom,” she says, and clicks the screen black. She shoves the phone
into the clerk’s hands and walks away, her nostrils flaring in indignation.
“Don’t bother following,” she snarls, when she feels him on her heels, but he
persists so she turns around. She sees the girl, then—Tony—skipping again, a
travelling move, she is following, too. The thrumming of the Apache helicopters
becomes a kind of ugly music to this.
Cindi waits for the girl, wanting
her company. And above? They do not know what is transpiring above. People in
the little group begin to disperse, to get on with their days, food shopping,
meal making, the business of their interior lives stabbing at them in all the
different ways possible. Cindi imagines again the initial contact of her lips
on his, how she wants to touch his collarbone, feel the heat of his skin, and
hold his bottom lip gently between her teeth. It feels like all her organs are
trying to live on the outside, trying to pump and wheeze without her. Time and
space are pressing in, she can’t distinguish all that is collapsing. She thinks
of Whitman, of universes, of all things happening at the same time and place,
her tongue gently sliding along his gums.
“What really is love, anyway?” says
At the mention of the word love,
she feels a jolt through every cell, she swears she feels the particularity of
each and every one of them wake up and listen.
“There is a Florida lady,” says
Tony, beating out the words to the rhythm of her skipping, “who married a
Ferris wheel named Bruce.”
“Well, what do you make of that?”
says the clerk.
“Fuck off,” says Tony. She has a
swooning look on her face. Cindi thinks she is imagining free rides, and the
dance of crazed lights spinning in the night blackness.
I’m gonna… I can’t get ’em now because they’re behind that building.
Um, hey Bushmaster element, copy that White Six?
02:10 He’s got an RPG!
All right, we got a guy with an RPG.
I’m gonna fire.
pictures Harry back home, feels a twinge of guilt for not being there, then
feels a vibration up her leg which she mistakes for somatization until she
realizes it is her cell phone communicating something to the flesh of her
thigh. Tired, it reads, when she
pulls it out. Going to bed, it reads.
She cradles it, gaining some unfathomable pleasure from the blue light and its
warmth and the legibility of the message. Harry has proclaimed his exit from
this day, and this proclamation gives her some brief respite. She will walk on.
She turns and sees the others will follow, that they are yearning toward some
unknown narrative, too, that they are waiting for her to begin this.
It is at the very second between
thinking of walking and canting into it that the soldiers in the Apache open
fire, the boom of material contact against the mosque wall and the concrete
curb atomizing into billowing plumage and the splintering of people. It could
happen anywhere, Cindi thinks, but it is happening here. The clerk has the girl
by the arm, and with his other hand, he grabs Cindi and they run, stumbling
“My name is Bruce,” he says as he pulls them into an alcove.
“Right,” says Tony, and snorts at
Cindi squints at the clerk,
wondering if he’s for real, but he is nodding. He says, “Yup, just like the
Ferris Wheel.” He looks at Cindi queerly, then he looks away, and adds, “I did
overhear much of what you were
“My pain is my pain.” It would be
better if it were just her and the girl.
“It was only a kiss,” Bruce says.
“My wife always tries to make mountains out of molehills, too.”
This comment puts Cindi in mind of
the opossum she has seen squashed on Glenlake Avenue that very day, all that
inside of it outside. At the time, she had thought, Don’t let this be a sign,
because she still thought things might go in a different direction. She presses
her palm against Bruce’s chest so that she can see past him to the carnage.
There is a man lying very still on the paving stones, and a crazy torn burqa-d
figure crawling through some dreadful wound. It looks like a news clip, and it
could be argued into one, if only the air didn’t stink of spent fuel and
ammonia. Bruce has lost his grasp on Tony, and she has gone shrieking toward
“A shipment of avocadoes came in
yesterday,” she hears Bruce say.
“No,” he says. “Tangerines. Come by
tomorrow and I will give you some. I want you to have them.”
“It’s nice of you.”
Bruce has clearly lost it.
The Apache tilts away and flies in
a circle to get a better vantage point on what havoc it has wreaked. She
watches as its guns thump out more and more destruction. She watches Tony, and
would scream if she could find her voice, but what would be the point? The girl
is enveloped briefly in the plume of cement dust and human bits that burst up
into the air. When she comes into view again, she is almost unrecognizable. Her
hair is thick with what looks like soot but is shattered sidewalk, and her skin
is shredded, bleeding from what appears to be hundreds of lacerations. Tony
smiles and looks up at the Apache and waves. The kid is sassy. Hello, she seems
to say, and then her arms drop and then rise again, then drop and rise again,
as if she is building momentum. It’s a curious thing to watch.
“Basil, too,” says Bruce. “Very
And suddenly, Tony is cartwheeling
down the road. She cartwheels over and over. Cindi wishes Daniel could see it,
it’s that enchanting. She pulls out her phone and opens the camera to film it.
She captures ten seconds of Tony’s perfect cartwheels as the dust dissipates,
and then Tony is so far away she almost turns her camera off. But the girl is
returning. She is getting bigger and bigger. It’s the most beautiful thing, so
beautiful—her pink leggings, the florid tattered shirt, and the red drips of
blood coming out of her everywhere. When she gets closer, Cindi plans to grab
her and take her to Emergency. The girl requires saving. She’s gone temporarily
mad, for sure she has. The burqa has stopped moving.
“Why is she doing that, do you
think?” says Bruce.
“Cartwheels,” says Cindi, shaking
Tony is maybe twenty feet away, her
cartwheeling has become more and more elegant. Sometimes she throws in a
backflip, and sometimes a limber over, but still it is the perfect circle of
her body in a wheel coming closer and closer. It is as if reality has been
shattered, and even the soldiers are in awe; they lift the Apaches and wait, or
maybe they are finished here. Cindi thinks this and then:
All right, firing.
Let me know when you engage them.
02:49 We’re shootin’.
Light ’em all up.
Come on, fire!
Keep shootin’, keep shootin’.
volley of bombs concusses the street and pocks craters into the buildings down
it, but it is as if Tony is magically protected. She just keeps cartwheeling
until she is close enough and Cindi can rush out and grab her.
“This is madness,” she says. “You
are coo-coo in the head.”
“I’m practicing my moves, bitch,”
says the girl, and wriggles to get away.
Cindi holds the girl by the arm and
then there is a thumping that seems to rise up under her feet. She knows she
was moving toward the alcove and toward Bruce but she can’t make her body
continue in this path. Her body has other plans for her, and she is careening
toward the pavement; she has been flying, she thinks. They lie now at Bruce’s
feet, both of them breathing hard, Cindi from adrenaline and the girl from the
exercise. Cindi stares up at her phone and realizes she is still videotaping,
so she presses the stop button. Then she finds Daniel in her contacts and sends
him the video; what will he make of it, the girl rotating through this mayhem?
Under it, in a separate text box, she writes: This just happened. She turns the sound bar up in case he responds.
How could he not respond?
“You’re very talented,” she says to
Her phone dings. The text reads: You okay?
She writes, sends: Under fire, feels her heart surge. It is
blood actually. She is bleeding. And the girl is not moving much at all. She is
tangled up beside Cindi. Cindi jostles her. “You okay?” She looks down at the
lozenge-shaped wound between her own breasts, and there is nothing else but this
one compact gash. Quite a lot of blood is trickling from it, a kind of
Bruce tucks his arms under Tony and
lifts her. “Go home,” he says to Cindi. “Can you make it?”
“Sure,” she says. She watches him
crouch with the girl along the side of the building, then run toward St Joe’s
Hospital, disappearing with the girl. She lies there listening to the receding
whirr of the Apaches, their work is done, and she tries to gauge her injury.
She can move her arms, her legs, but she feels pinned, like in a nightmare,
like when a body part falls asleep. The girl was such a strange girl, she
thinks, and then her phone dings.
be okay, his text
She thinks how there are those
worse off, and writes: I’m dying.
Then, deletes it letter by letter and writes: It won’t. She deletes this, too, and sends him a link to that video
of a cat barking.
She lies there watching the rivulet
of blood slow, the laceration is maybe three inches long, but bone deep, it has
cut into her sternum. She closes her eyes and there is Daniel smiling. She
wants so badly to have kissed him. She wants this as a shimmering promise to
draw from, she wants it bone deep, not for Daniel, not against Harry, not for
anyone except herself. She would have tucked it away forever, a perfect gem, a
thing, an object to take out once in awhile and marvel at. But he has said no.
“I won’t be that guy,” he said.
“Which guy is that?” she answered.
Her phone rings. It is Daniel.
“Hi,” he says. “Are you okay?”
“I’m lying in the street bleeding,”
she says. She tries not to sound frantic.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“It’s not your fault.”
“Still,” he says.
She can’t help picturing him, his
eyes, his smile, this strange new secret he now knows: that she loves him, and
that she can’t help it, and that it is impossible. She is sitting with him on a
park bench and there are trees and green around them, and his skin is pale. He
is not beautiful but he is also beautiful in the way average-looking people can
be when one covets them, and she runs her finger along his cheekbone and over
his mouth. Kiss me, she thinks, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, and then they are
kissing, the hard softness of it. It feels like crying and laughing at once,
like the world getting sucked into just this one thing, how painful and raw and
unfinished and real that would be.
Instead, she will go home, and
everything will be just the same as it was. She hears herself say, “It would
have been okay.” She wishes she could say it with more effervescence, with less
tearful saturation. Everything catches in her throat, though. “If you ever
change your mind,” she adds, and then laughs, as if she means this as a joke.
“Cindi,” he says. “Surely, you
“Yes,” she says. “I understand.”
But she doesn’t. Not really.
Kathryn Walsh Kuitenbrouwer is the bestselling author of the novels All The Broken Things, Perfecting, and The Nettle Spinner, as well as, the short story collection Way Up. Her work has won the Sidney Prize, a Danuta Gleed Award and been nominated for CBC Canada Reads, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, The Toronto Book Award, and the ReLit Prize. Kuitenbrouwer’s recent work has been published in Granta, The Walrus, 7X7 LA, Joyland, Maclean’s, and Storyville. She holds a Ph.D from The University of Toronto and is visiting faculty at Colorado College.