word by David Fleming
On the metro delivering the girls to my ex in a mall.
A young woman close by waves to them. She smiles her surprise at the sight of a man with children. I smile back, upholding her fantasy.
It’s alarming how the mechanics of a city collide and separate us. On the teeth of the upward escalator, I am holding my three year old. Her big sister wraps her limbs around my leg like a koala. I’m a little escalator, here for them to ride up and down.
Down a hallway, another escalator. I am sweating in rush hour.
I wonder how Sam’s managing. Trying to remember if I left her, or if she left us, and who the kids think left whom, and who they feel is still fully present.
Daddy, I STEAL YOUR NOSE! says the girl in my arms as she swats at my face.
Down a yellow hallway, offices curve into their little corners. We are in the space where underground becomes above-ground, where I sometimes feel myself gasping for air.
Don’t know why she wanted to meet here, this week.
A memory: eating in the food-court up the next escalator. J’adore la poutine? or la cheeseburger? I always goofed her with my fast food Franglish.
Again, we escalate quietly, a few impatient people pass to the left. For some reason, the toddler shrieks Mommy’s house! in my ear.
A crazy idea: I could ask Sam to have dinner in the food-court. Family hour. Our future, joined somehow, could be pleasant. We’d exchange small talk, remind the girls to sit and eat. We could be like coworkers, sitting in a lunchroom, rolling our eyes at the orthodontist bill.
Can’t you love a person the same from a different building, a different room?
An excited shout from my side.
Sam’s best friend. When we met in college, I liked her first, though she was always mean. I told her once, years later, when we were alone, in a season when we were getting along.
Wearing gym clothes, her hair in a tight bun, her glare scolds and scalds me.
I remember, now, Jess moved into a condo in this building last year, when it was ending.
Where’s Sam? I ask. I was hoping to speak with her.
She wanted me to pick them up today.
Oh, I said quietly. What’s she up to?
It’s not important. I’m in a rush, though.
I have some things to discuss with her, maybe I’ll just call.
A huff over her shoulder.
Look, I don’t know what you have in mind, but Sam’s busy.
She takes the girls, one on her hip, one by the hand, and gets on the elevator which, presumably, leads to her home.
Before the doors close, she leans forward intently.
Your choice, she whispers. Your choice.*
word by David Fleming
colour by Burkhard Müller