Short Story: Lucy

“Psychic/Medium $25” – turquoise cursive curled on a black A-sign outside a brick-walled shop.

Michelle had dragged me here because, “You never know” and “What if?” and “Come on, Lucy, it’ll be fun – if you hate it, I’ll pay for yours, too,” even though I knew I’d be paying for both of us because Michelle never had any cash on her.

Whatever. I gave in. I always gave in to Michelle because she’s my best friend and kind of like a sweet stray cat I unofficially adopted and also the free spirit part of me secretly wants to be and to be honest, today I’m just out of fucks to give.

My estranged mother died 10 years ago today and I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal because I’ve always been over it, but I woke up this morning and realized apparently it’s a pretty big fuckin’ deal.

She left when I was three – just took off one day without a word, leaving my dad to work two jobs and parent three kids – so I never had any real memories of her anyway. Then when I was 19, my sisters and I each got a hefty cheque in the mail from her estate. Apparently, she’d come from money – dad never knew about this so I guess she hid it well – and had left all of it to us and charity when she died. I never cashed the cheque. I was perfectly fine with not having any attachment to her until this 10-year anniversary caught up with me and filled me with this weird combination of raw loss and pure rage that I didn’t know what to do with – so I called Michelle, and her solution was to take me out (on my dime) for dim sum and bubble tea and a movie, and if all that failed, a drink (or four). The psychic was an unwelcome detour between bubble tea and the movie.

“Come on, you go first,” Michelle said, pushing me through a colourful bead curtain – of course there was a colourful bead curtain – toward the dimly lit backroom of an antique store.

“Michelle, I…”

“It’s a half hour of your life – you’ll live.”

We got to the backroom, half-drunk bubble teas in hand, where an old, dark-haired woman covered in rings and scarves sat laying out tarot cards at a small wooden table. Candles and crystals all over the place; incense burning on some sort of shrine thing behind her – this was like every psychic scene from every cliché movie ever – with a colourful bead curtain to boot.

“Which one of you would like to go first?” She asked, without looking up.

“She will!” Michelle shoved me forward.

The woman looked up at me.

“What kind of reading would you like?”

“Um…”

“I think just a general read would work for her,” Michelle answered for me. “Ya know, see what you pick up. I’ll wait outside!”

The woman and I made awkward eye contact. I gave her a forced smile.

“Please have a seat,” she said.

I sat down across from her at her table and set my bubble tea on the floor.

“What’s your name?”

“Kelly,” I lied. She pursed her lips like she knew.

“Do you have a specific question you’d like to ask?”

“Sure, how ‘bout, ‘will I find love this year?’” I winced at my own sarcasm.

“Alright,” the woman said, gathering her tarot cards into a stack. She handed them to me.

“Shuffle these and think about your question as you shuffle.”

I sighed. “For how long?”

“Until you feel they have been shuffled enough,” she said simply, not entertaining my tone.

I sighed again and took the cards, beginning to shuffle. I could feel the woman’s eyes on me.

“You know, Lucy, your mother never actually died.”

An Ode to the TTC

To the TTC, with love…

 

Red seats, blue seats, yellow emergency strips.

 

Ding, dang, dong.

 

“Change here for Line Two.”

 

Subway screams and streetcar sighs. Buses that lurch and horns that blare.

 

Tokens, passes, Presto, POP – Proof of Payment, not Coke, but also, Coke, probably, hopefully, spilled on the seat.

 

Rush hour – packed like sardines, packed like pickles – too close to strangers. I can. Feel. Your. Breath. Sweaty handrails in summer, salt and sand in winter.

 

Delays. Delays. Delays.

 

Scheduled upgrades.

 

Delays. Delays. Delays.

 

Shuttle buses. Northbound. Southbound. East. West. Why does the Bloor line get all the old trains?

 

Buskers with talent – maybe I won’t rush past today.

 

Yellow. Green. Nobody rides Blue, and Purple is only for IKEA.

 

“Oh, did you hear? Someone jumped.”

 

“Fuck! I’m gonna be late!”

 

“Also, that’s sad. RIP.”

 

“Have you been on the new streetcars yet?”

 

“No, but they look really cool.”

 

“Ya know, we have the best transit system in North America.”

 

“Oh ya?”

 

Delays. Delays. Delays.

 

“Bad service, is what it is. Expensive and bad and unreliable. I’m writing a letter. And they call this city the best, that’s the funny part. Imagine if I was a tourist, would I be impressed?”

 

“Oh my god, excuse me, sir, your bag. Your bag! It’s hitting everyone!”

 

“They should privatize it.”

 

Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Go.

 

“Okay, I’ll write my letter. I’ve written them before. They know who I am.”

 

Characters, all of them. Pure, raw characters.

 

The tall homeless man with the short dreadlocks who wanders up and down the cars.

 

The racist woman with the overstuffed shopping cart who mumbles her anger.

 

The mother with a double stroller on the bus on a Friday afternoon.

 

Schoolboys swinging from the bars.

 

The canoodling couple, not a care in the world.

 

The old man with the unsteady cane – please don’t fall – independent to the last.

 

The travellers who brave the subway trek with the world’s biggest suitcase plus duffel bags.

 

The women who need a seat for their purse.

 

School trips – four flustered teachers and 20 six-year-olds – having the time of their life – the six-year-olds, not the teachers. The teachers need a drink.

 

Commuters in Halloween costumes.

 

Commuters in costumes not on Halloween.

 

Spiderman on a non-October day, leaping and swinging down the entire train.

 

The woman with no shame who, after what must have been a long night, spread her knees from her blue subway seat and let the vomit pour, then proceeded to spit, just once, dripping with class, to close the show.

 

Crying babies. Yelling men. Women with headphones and books.

 

The wide-eyed addict with the wild blonde hair and the wider-eyed white rabbit she frantically strokes.

 

The spinster with the annoyed fat cat in a carrier, howling the whole ride home.

 

The woman with the turquoise scarf and the ferret who’s allowed to run freely.

 

The guy with the ponytail and the sneakers doing a one-man karate show, southbound.

 

The man with the black hat calling people the devil. He says they need Jesus.

 

The cops who look important and angry. The cops who look nice.

 

The Bay Street guys with their expensive suits and empty conversations.

 

The makeup girls with impractical heels and impractical nails.

 

The college students. So many college students.

 

Manspreaders.

 

The starving artists. The successful artists. The hipsters with bow ties and non-prescription glasses.

 

The newspaper readers.

 

The guys who blare rap from their phones because they haven’t heard of headsets yet.

 

The Subway Jacker? Is he real? Is he myth?

 

“He’s real,” your friend says with a shudder.

 

The driver who gives you a lift even though you’re out of tokens and out of cash.

 

The attendant who spends five minutes giving you directions, without getting mad.

 

The woman who helps you lift your stroller up the stairs at King.

 

The man who gives up his seat on the 52.

 

Characters, all of them. Pure, raw characters.

 

Every language you can imagine, spoken all at once.

 

Loudspeaker announcements no one can hear.

 

Vomit. Always vomit. And coffee. Spilled coffee, everywhere.

 

Suspicious newspapers left on seats – what dangers lurk beneath?

 

Feet. Feet on walls. Feet on seats. Feet on everything.

 

Free rides on New Year’s Eve.

 

In winter, one lone glove.

 

An institution we love to hate, but don’t dis it if you don’t live here. Only we can hate our transit system – and we do it oh so well.

 

“Fuck the TTC!” We say, and the woman with the blue hair and the piercings nods and says, “Right? Fuck the fuckin’ TTC.” And the guy with the sunglasses and the backpack and the earphones nods solemnly in agreement and gives you a high five. The quiet woman with the glasses and the novel laughs to herself at your outburst because she knows she’s felt the same before. Your anger ripples through the crowd of disgruntled commuters, picking up strength from everyone it touches as it rolls like a tumbleweed picking up dust. They all agree: “Fuck the TTC!”

 

But those buses and streetcars and trains never take it personally. They just keep welcoming you back on board with their grunts and their shrieks and their rumbling sighs and they get you where you need to go, for better or for worse, every time.

 

TTC. Toronto’s True Charm.

 

You don’t realize how much you love this city till you leave it. And then you come back and you realize you know Union like the back of your hand. And you stop at Museum just to appreciate its design. You get off at Eglinton and see how much has changed. You go back down to Bloor and see that nothing has.

 

The driver on the 501 blasts his horn for 20 seconds and yells at a car that didn’t stop.

 

A drunk guy staggers on board and starts complaining about life, and you realize:

 

You are home.