Ottawa

 

A doorway is shadowed by a man I might know, or might have known in a memory that is washed by rain I make myself, a little cry, a misting over of time. I think I have a whole day to wander about, all shadow and lag, so I skip the schedule, I walk this city's sturdy bridges with its fine landscape underneath all wet and steamy, so pleased with the flashback machine under my umbrella putting out a fog that forces itself through the bridge struts with their little huffs of dope-smell. I'm in Canada where anything retro can happen.

French pastry's in evidence down all the alleyways, regional chocolate cake revolves, roast lamb turns on spits—I turn too because I hear a dog bark—he had a dog—but in my turning, the bark fades as if I've imagined it. Do I? I'm trapped now, listening for it. Let another dog bark, or the same one.

Nothing. I walk another street beside the banks the fog hugs. Dinner with him would be perfect in an hour. I give him that long to turn up, the ache of being alone with food looming, with no other desire—liar. There's phone books to look into in the ensuing wait, there's the locals in his field who say no, they would have heard of him, and Google googles nothing. There's only history left, history other than ours—he could wash by as a corpse from another century, fall from a sailing ship stuck here for the winter by the creep of coming ice, have six children hitting him up for cash in a Canadian garret-or he could be sitting in a hotel room overlooking the atrium, awaiting me.

I mine a museum. I'm sure the mitten exhibit, as advertised on bright tri-colored flyers, would lure him, or there's nothing like seeing whales cut open according to the sea museum's guide, or how about a diorama of grain elevators up the official escalator? I circle the pleasures of seeing: here is where I am now, here it happened once for us too, although nothing in the mishmash of the city's renovation leaves a scrap of where behind. No souvenirs.

Exhausted, I settle on a place to eat, one that decorates with TVs, all tuned to bonfires. An ancient symbol of desire, a veritable chassis aflame—it's a kind of Hoary Welcome. Its distraction attempts to make up for the entre, dead-fish-on-a-platter, no parsley. I fork into it and pay and try another restaurant. But not after scrutinizing the revolving cake and meat menus of six others, peering through the windows at the crowd beyond. No doubt he eats at home. I settle on an appetizer of Brussel sprouts, a favorite of his. It comes doused in maple syrup, several cut into rose-shapes. I eat those first.

I could stay up all night, walk the streets, peer into what few nightclubs Canada's capital offers. I could sleep. That's closer to my desire, that's the same landscape—surrender, in the aged sense. I could tell the blank-faced concierge someone might be meeting me and break my imagined allure with the only man so far who has greeted me here in this city of no surprise.

With maple syrup still on my breath, I brush my teeth, and then discover the shower is without hot water. The concierge sounds so pleased to tell me I must move to another floor, he'll be right there.

He takes his time. Damp and rapidly cold, I telephone downstairs again. On hold—love that term, so sensuous—I spot steam escaping outside, a veritable Scheherazade of steam, I know that hot water's out there somewhere-and him.

But it's the concierge who growls, Venir! through the slit in my door and leaves the key, clinking, outside. He doesn't apologize, it's happened before. I remove my sticky soap from its alcove, and take the elevator with just the towel around me, nightgown in hand, scandalous, fully prepared to practice my Excusez-moi in Canadian understatement. But non, everyone else is happy inside their hot-watered rooms, no one, not a soul, lingers near the elevator, hoping to catch such a glimpse.

When at last water surges hot into this new tub, I'm slip in the all excitement and fall. I'm scalded, hair to toes, and skin my knee.

How much longer do I have to dwell in this state of Canadian exile, this not-quite-right part of my continent? Limping back to my room, I retrieve my small print program and it reveals the total error of my travel, mine and the organizer's, the changed slot for my speech opening and closing while I was mooning around town, self out of self, for someone who existed solely in the window's reflections.

See the cross of my morning's airplane so far above the river-isn't the hairshirt of memory something we would rather not wash and put on again?

Ha. With your mouth full of water, say Ottawa. That's how close I was to him.


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