Soviet Moon

As I was walking home this evening from the grocery store in my neighbourhood, I was stopped in the street by a woman who stood motionless as I approached her, staring into the piece of sky hung above the neon lights of the dollar store. I was listening to music and removed my headphones to see what she wanted. Initially, albeit unfortunately, I thought she may be stopping me to ask for change, as we are programmed to think in these situations which occur in neighbourhoods deemed economically divided. Directed by an arched finger, she gestured to where her gaze previously lay, in the air above a wavering green and yellow neon light, through the softly falling snow, to a newly observable crescent moon. 

We stood together for a moment, watching the moon. I ventured that it looked like a Soviet moon, which I suppose could be any variant of a crescent moon, and then smiled. 

She turned to me and said, "It's so beautiful, I just needed to show it to someone".

White Light

The first time my mother got sick, I was twenty five. I had just moved to Montreal and from what I recall it was the beginning of spring. A friend offered me a ride to Toronto, dropping me off in Kensington Market, a backpack slung over my shoulder. My mother had been assigned a room at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, where daily she would be guided face down by gloved hands into the talons of a radiotherapy machine. The sickness chose to manifest behind her left eye, and the talons I refer to were metallic protrusions that clung to her temples in order to keep her perfectly still throughout. I wasn't permitted to witness the treatments, but I imagine a doctor wielding a clipboard, entering numeric sequences into a computer, subsequently waiting for the room to fill with blasts of white light reminiscent of sheet lightning. 

In lieu of observing these treatments, I spent my afternoons in Allan Gardens, wandering aimlessly amongst the various foliage, taking breaks to smoke outside in the rain. Every time I so blatantly expose my body to poison, while its potential threats lie closer than ever, I think of these lines from a poem by David Berman: 

I reached under the bed for my menthols
and she asked if I ever thought of cancer. 

Yes, I said, but always as a tree way up ahead
in the distance where it doesn't matter 

And I suppose a dead soul must look back at that tree, 
so far behind his wagon where it also doesn't matter. 

except as a memory of rest or water. 

The treatments were a success. The blasts of sheet lightning eradicated the root of her sickness, and she was discharged from Princess Margaret. She got to go home. I decided to spend this afternoon back at Allan Gardens for the first time since those initial operations, to revisit that place of respite I was so appreciative of over eight years ago. 

Considering the previous circumstances, I decided it best to forego the cigarette, in favour of recording this remembrance of her trials and eventual recovery, magnified and illuminated by wandering through these humid botanical gardens once again.

A Facsimile Of Spring

The first time I noticed Mr. S, his torso was draped over a steel railing, its posts driven deep into the craggy lakeshore. The sun had set, and a crescent moon hung in his wavering reflection. Held in one hand was a tangled mess of fishing line. Suspended from the taut line was a microphone, fastened by a wad of pink chewing gum. His overcoat fluttered in sync with the branches of the willow tree he stood below. It was early May and the nights were becoming warmer. 

Crouching, I concealed myself behind a tree as Mr. S mined the roof of the water for its audio. Apart from the lapping waves, all that was audible was his anxious breath. The hand wielding the microphone remained perfectly still. He resembled a sort of priest, speckling the lake with droplets of holy water from an aspergillum. It appeared as though he was collecting something. His own magnetic facsimile of spring. 

Suddenly, Mr. S jerked his hand, and the gummy microphone leaped and fell into his opposite palm. He cackled wildly as he stuffed the tape recorder into a satchel, turned, and made his way up the muddy bank towards the road. For some reason, in that moment I pictured him hunched over a wooden desk, carefully fingering the ribbon of grey tape by the light of a lamp. Waiting until he disappeared over the road, I'd follow, keeping my distance. 

I made a habit of attending Mr. S's ritual. The first evening became a template for the rest. I would tuck myself behind the tree and then follow his footsteps in the dusk away from the lake. Each night I'd cling a little closer, but would lose his trace before seeing what street he'd taken. A nagging sense of completion bloomed in me. I knew the ritual's beginning, but I needed to know it's end. Where was he dragging these tapes off to? What on earth would he be doing with this mass of unmelodious audio? 

Two weeks on, my curiosity overcame my respect for Mr. S's anonymity. This time I didn't wait for him to reach the road. As soon as he turned to make his way up the muddy bank, I left my post and traveled closely in his shadow. Crisscrossing through streets and alleyways, I was surprised when we ended up back on my street. Cackling amidst heavy breaths, Mr. S fumbled with a set of keys before letting himself into the house directly across from mine. I waited a moment to see if a light would appear. On the third floor, three parallel windows suddenly lit up. I walked towards the house to see if there was a name plate. It read, 'Apartment Number Three: Mr. S'.


Spools of tape aside, another question remained: What exactly did this man look like? Apart from spending so many nights in observation, I was left with a distorted image. Granted, it was usually dusk. He wore a black overcoat with an upturned collar and a black brimmed hat pulled down low, shrouding most of his face. One afternoon, talking with a neighbour and her son in front of our adjoining houses, the spectre revealed himself. More importantly, what this ponderous child revealed was an integral element of a broader spectrum. Donning his usual apparel he came hurrying up the sidewalk behind us, carrying a briefcase. Not willing to lose momentum, his shoulder brushed that of my neighbour as he passed. Turning back for a fleeting second, he tipped his hat towards her in recognition of his misstep. I caught a glimpse of his face. His cheeks were sunken and deep furrows were etched into his skin. His eyes were dark pools, as if he hadn't slept in years. His hands and arms twitched and shook. As he continued his frantic pace, the child pulled on his mother's pant leg: 

"Mommy...mommy, why does Mr. S's body shake like that?" 
"Oh sweetheart I don't know. Maybe he wants to be a hummingbird when he grows up!"
"Oh...I've never heard of a black hummingbird before..."
The boy looked at the ground and kicked a stone onto the road. 
"Besides, all the birds I see are with other birds. The seagulls at the lake are always with other seagulls. If he wants to be a hummingbird so badly, why is he alone?" 

I smiled at him and said, "Well you know, hummingbirds like being alone! They are small and quick so they don't get eaten by other animals in the animal kingdom. Plus they don't have to wait for their friends when they fly south for the winter, so they can fly as fast as they want!" 

"Oh. That sounds lonely...are hummingbirds lonely? Why would Mr. S. want to be a lonely animal?" 

"Oh I don't know, sweetie. Some people and some animals travel by themselves. It's just the way it is!" 

"Oh. Well, if I were him, I'd probably be sad up there, all alone." 

The boy pointed towards Mr. S's apartment windows, two of which were propped open. 


One June morning, I awoke to an odd sound. It was an elongated drone, gurgling and bereft of melody, as if it were submerged underwater. The only person I could see from my window was my neighbour's kid, bouncing a soccer ball and meandering aimlessly in front of Mr. S's building. I dressed and went downstairs to ask him if he knew where it was coming from. He kicked the ball onto the grass and again pointed towards Mr. S's windows: 

"Oh, that. I think it's coming from the hummingbird's house." 
The drone bounced between the surrounding apartment complexes, so it was hard to tell if this was indeed the case. I stood and listened. The sound groaned to a halt, slowly swallowed by the street's ambience. The kid shrugged and ran off. 

Sure enough, after several minutes, Mr. S. appeared in the building's entryway. Fishing around in his coat pocket, he pulled out a jingling ring of keys and locked the front door. As he did so, I caught a semblance of the cackle I heard the first night beside the lake. Strolling down the walkway, he emitted a depth of calm that altered my previous impression of him. His eyes now contained a glint of light. Smiling, he tipped his black hat, and as he walked past, said: 

"Good morning." 

I found his cheery disposition unsettling. What lay behind this sudden shift? Between his rapid breathing and trembling limbs, it seemed to me this newly projected serenity was a state of mind that would remain foreign. That evening, I decided to go back to the lake, but Mr. S. wasn't there. 


Before long the sound, devoid of musical categorization, became the official soundtrack of our street. No one seemed to mind the auditory addition, but no one seemed to question it either. It always began around sunrise and lasted just over two hours. It became as intrinsic to our environment as the seagulls or car horns. And everyday, like clockwork, I would watch him leave his building, tranquil and collected. When he'd find the boy with his soccer ball outside on the lawn, he'd offer a smile and playfully tousle his hair. 

I needed to understand his daily transfiguration. How did he successfully navigate his frazzled core to a point of serenity, even temporarily, every morning? What role did the sound play? Was he swallowing handfuls of anti-anxiety medication? 

A few days later, I became determined to find out. As every morning, I woke to the drone creeping through my window. I needed to close the gap in the circle of curiosity. Just before the two hour mark, I appeared on the landing. After locking his door, he turned and found me standing before him. He seemed startled at first, but quickly regained his composure and spoke with an air of quiet confidence: 

"Why, hello again." 

His eyes were the faintest blue, almost powdery. They seemed to rest on a point beyond my face. Unnerving as this was, I did not flinch: 

"Good morning, neighbour." 

I outstretched my hand, but he chose not to comply with my offering. 

"And, what is it that brings you here? I hope I haven't done anything wrong?" 

"No. No, no, I'm just here to inquire about the sound...Is it...coming from your house?" 

"It is, yes."

He seemed neither surprised nor apologetic about my question. 

"Um, I've watched you before...recording the water..."

"Yes. I know." 

"You do?" 

"Yes. Your presence is wholly audible in my recordings." 

The sentence lacerated my ability to speak. 

"You really thought I wouldn't notice? I pay an infinite amount of attention to detail. I've spent countless hours editing out your footsteps..."



"I don't understand..."

"Yes. You do. You do understand. What I don't understand is why you insisted on continually interrupting my work." 

His powdery blue eyes became interrogative. 

"Every night when I got home I'd replay my recordings. I'd listen meticulously. Ever so faintly, I noticed another presence creeping somewhere in the background. At first I thought I was losing my mind. But no, I wasn't. I was right, there was this faint click-clacking. From the second I'd leave until the moment I'd get home, the recorder would remain on. Each evening is its own singular document." 

He continued as I tried in vain to muster an explanation. 

"I soon realized that what I was hearing was a set of footsteps apart from my own. At first they were a thin clicking in the distance, but every night they rose in volume and clarity, until it sounded as though I were walking side by side with someone else." 

" did you know it was me?" 

"Very simple. After identifying the footsteps as footsteps, as someone following me, I'd stand by my windows in the dark, watching. I began noticing a silhouette, looming on the opposite sidewalk. When I'd finally flick my lights on, the silhouette would disappear. And, after a few moments, a light would appear in the top floor windows." 

This connection made sense. He did see me in front of my house, that day with my neighbour and her son. 

"I confirmed it was you using the opposite approach. Any time I'd notice the light going out in your windows, I'd stand by mine, waiting to see who left your building. It was always you." 

At this point, justification seemed futile. 

"But...the the sound recorded water? Why record water?" 

"Because it's the basis of my therapy." 


"Yes. My burden is anxiety. It's followed me all of my life, as close as your footsteps on my tape recorder. It dislodges my thoughts and  makes my hands shake like a timid bird's wing." 

An image of a hummingbird materialized in my mind. 

"I've been though so many pills. So many pills and so many different doctors. Over time, a half-pill no longer produces an effect. So then you take a whole one. Then one and a half. Two. Then the prescription runs out and your doctor accuses you of abusing the drug. That doctor can't get you what you want, so you find one that will. The pattern is cyclical and hideous. I needed to escape the labyrinth I created." 

"So you turned to music?" 

"In a sense, yes, music."

His fingers contorted into quotations as he said the word 'music'. 

"I keep an old reel to reel tape machine on a desk in my room. I've been lugging it around for years. You can play recordings back at a rate significantly slower than intended. What I mean is, It can make a jaunty string quartet sound like a melting glacier. One morning, realizing I had taken the last of my medication, there was no more on the horizon, and as a result my anxiety flared up. I couldn't catch my breath and was sweating profusely. I swear it's like a fiery tongue licking my lungs and heart. I didn't know what to do. I pressed play on the machine and began fiddling with the speed. In fact, a string quartet is what was on the reels it came with, Tchaikovsky I think, or Brahms? I don't know. Anyway, I found that if I focused on the decaying pace, the rate of my heart and breath would slow alongside it." 

"I see. It acted as a sherpa, of sorts." 

"Yes, exactly. This process took the place of the drugs I could no longer obtain. However, akin to the daily dosage of pills, playing the same music over and over lost its potency. The string quartet would no longer suffice. I began recording various snippets from the radio and applying the same process to them." 

"But, after a while, those snippets would no longer work either?" 

"It's inexplicable, but somehow even music lost its medicative effect. It did nothing whatsoever." 

"But, again, why water?"

"In the midst of those anxious episodes, I'd try and conjure any thought that would offer respite. Water was elemental in these imaginings. Waves, rain, the lake, spring, it permeated everything. So I decided I'd make my own recordings of water and see if that might provide a viable solution." 

"Like an experimental treatment. A last-ditch effort." 

"Yes. I cut and edited all these shorter snippets of the lake into one long piece, almost an hour in total. But the constant rippling was too chaotic for my heart and breath, so I play it back at half-speed, which gives the water a breathing quality. I needed the water's breath and my own to meet." 

"That explains the length." 

"Precisely. In my room I've invented a landscape by my own design. A landscape I can escape to where pervasive emotions do not exist. I've built my own facsimile of spring."

"This World Needs Our Beauty. And We Need The Beauty Of This World."

This morning I met a woman standing perfectly still beneath a tree. Draped over her body was a white shawl, with silver crosses embroidered in arbitrary patterns across the surface of the discoloured fabric. The light illuminated the emblems along with the starlings, whose singing perforated the silence. She stood motionless on the sidewalk with both hands grasping the wiry handle of a shopping cart. 

Moving closer I attempted a smile, but was met with a surreptitious glance. As I approached, the woman removed her hands from the cart and pressed both her palms firmly against the base of the tree and closed her eyes. Puzzled, I asked if she was ok, if she needed my help. Her voice exhibited a concentrated rhythm, almost musical:  

"I stand here not to talk with anyone. I stand here not to talk with anyone at all."  

I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to leave her alone. A man with a briefcase skirted our periphery. Taking notice of the mute interaction he came upon, he shrugged and smiled before shuffling past. The birdsong mingled with the sound of passing cars. 

After several moments, the woman opened her eyes. Scanning the tree, she came across a shoddy piece of paper tacked to the bark with a nail. In almost illegible handwriting, it read: 

'Art Classes. Learn to paint your dreams with me! Cheap and fun. Call now.' 

Dangling below were a dozen paper fingers, all with phone numbers scrawled on their surface. She plucked one, turning it over carefully in the palm of her hand. She spoke as if she had discovered something vital: 

"This. This is a good idea. This world needs our beauty. And we...we need the beauty of this world."  

With this she closed her eyes as well as her hand around the piece of paper. She repeated the phrase which sounded like a prayer or a proclamation: 

"This world needs our beauty. And we need the beauty of this world."

A tear slipped from each eye and flowed within the deep furrows on her face. Opening her hand, she let the paper escape in the breeze and cleared her throat: 

"To this harmony I would give the rest of my days. I may not have many left, but there are some. They are blank, but not empty. There are still beautiful people among us in this world."

Singaporean Eliza In The Botanical Gardens

This afternoon in the botanical gardens I met a woman from Singapore named Eliza. Before I learned that she was Singaporean, or that her name was Eliza, I came across her siting quietly on an iron bench, nestled beneath an arrangement of succulent trees in an unkempt greenhouse wing, immersed in a book. Trying not to disturb her reading, I sat down on the opposite end of the bench, recovered my notebook from my jacket pocket, and began writing. The only audible sounds were that of trickling water and intermittent voices. The voices swelled and receded below the convex glass of the Palm House. 

After several minutes had passed, the young woman turned to me and asked, "Pardon me, but are you a writer?" I closed my notebook and said, "No, are you?" She refocused her eyes back upon the book resting on her knees and said, "No, but I want to be". I smiled and responded, "me too".

Melody In Memoriam

I am sitting on the train in seat 10d, which is the window seat. Across the aisle and up three rows, sitting in seat 7a, which is also a window seat, is an elderly man reading a hardcover novel. Since departing, approximately two hours ago, he has been reading this novel with what, to me, appears to be an enviable degree of meticulous contemplation. However, after completing each chapter, (or fragment) he places the book on his lap, turns his head to look at the landscape, and whistles a melody. Initially, of course, everyone was annoyed, including myself. But, after several repetitions of this pattern, it seems the level of irritation amongst my fellow travellers and I has diminished significantly, giving way to an intent admiration towards the melody. Each time he cycles through the sequence, while looking out the window with the book on his lap, everyone gives their undivided attention to every minute detail of the song, as the sequence itself contains a perplexing amount of notes, and each sequence is repeated verbatim, every time. Try as I might, I cannot recognize what piece of music his melody is derived from. Just a moment ago, a Via Rail employee approached him during one of his whistlings, and placed her hand on his shoulder. Abruptly, the man stopped his song, and, establishing an apologetic tone, began to speak, when the employee cut his apology short. The woman told the man that, no in fact, no one was bothered by his whistling, and that, in fact, she and everyone else were quite amazed at how closely his whistling resembled that of a bird. The man gives a quick scan of the train. It's easy to tell he's more than a little embarrassed at the attention. Quietly, he explains to the young woman: 

"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bother anyone. My wife just passed away from cancer. It's nothing more than a coping mechanism. I try to read in order to distract myself, but every time her image interferes. So, every time I see her image, I whistle her favourite song, in memoriam." 

With that, the woman fell silent. The man musters a reassuring smile, and returns his gaze to the pines and grassy fields drifting by in the distance. 

Funny, now throughout the car I can hear other attempts at the same melody, hummed awkwardly; patchy variations on the original, perfected theme.