Sunday was a rare day of rest for Sheryl. A rare day to trade the darkness of the downtown squalid little apartment that barely fit a bed, bathroom and hotplate for the expanse of a sunny summer morning to walk and unfold with the rising sun.
Today was such a day. She woke up early with the early day’s light and opened the small window over her bed trading the stink of the room for the more welcome stink of the city. A stink that smelled of exhaust, warming asphalt and garbage that had been washed in the night’s previous rain.
She lit a cigarette, drew deep and leaned out the window, elbows on the brick sill as she exhaled into the fresh air, nothing but a thread-bare babydoll between her bony shame and the world. Her hair was a witch’s nest of crazy black striving as if to escape a sinking ship, every strand for itself. It would be a good day.
Butting the cigarette out on the sill bricks she pulled herself back in to her room and wandered over to the hotplate to put the kettle on. From there it was a short reach to the shitty little radio she found one day on one of her walks.
It was a discarded little plastic thing that she felt good about and so she retrieved it from the top of the open trashcan, brought it home and opened it up to find a single loose wire that had pulled away from a small prong on the little brown board inside. With the delicate touch of a surgeon she took her heated iron in hand and with the very tip manged to melt the prong over the wire. Once closed, plugged in and turned on the radio blared to life.
This morning’s random choice of the radio Gods was Hanky Panky by Tommy James & The Shondells –
“My baby does the hanky panky
I saw her walking on down the line (yeah)
You know I saw her for the very first time
A pretty little girl standing all alone
Hey baby, baby, can I take you home?”
Sheryl smiled at the irony as she made her coffee with a teaspoon of Maxwell House crystals and sugar covering it like a small Kilimanjaro in the base of her mug preparing for the boiling flood.
A quick shower followed by another cigarette with her coffee. She pulled on faded old blue jeans and a buttoned, loose fitting, white linen top with a kind of lace pattern stitched along the front from top to bottom. Ready to go.
The best part of Sunday mornings for Sheryl was the illusion of freedom she felt. As she stepped out the front door of the downtown apartment building there was a sense she could walk forever and get away from this place. There were no walls, just a vast expanse of concrete and pavement glistening with the sunshine gleaming from the recently passed street cleaners.
Like her “office” the Toronto streets were currently empty on this Sunday morning. Her clients we busy with their families in church and the normal throngs that packed Toronto’s core were either sleeping or doing the same thing. Many of them abandoned the city for the lakes and cottages of Muskoka which was just as well for Sheryl – she did not envy them in the least.
She didn’t mind that the stores were closed…she didn’t have money to spend on such things anyways…she just liked to look as she walked an imagine that the rest of humanity had been killed off in some apocalyptic disease that only she was immune to. She hoped it had been painful.
In this emptiness she would live out the end of days as the last representative of humanity – smoking, listening to music and exploring the remnants of a world she would not mourn…a world that did not deserve mourning.
Sheryl had a routine on such mornings – she would walk to Queen’s Park (it took a good half-hour to get there) and spend some time sitting on a bench to watch. Of course it wasn’t completely empty – there were taxis and bums and squirrels and pigeons filling the scenery. The taxis, squirrels and pigeons were never a problem but the odd crusty old bum who could have been anywhere from 30 to 70 years old would often wander over. Sheryl would never let them get within 10 feet before staring them down and declaring as authoritatively as she could –
This sent most of them wandering off in a cloud of their own angry profanity. Sometimes Sheryl felt bad about it but it was safer this way – people were not to be trusted. Especially the ones that feigned kindness.
After about an hour (four cigarettes) of enjoying the squirrels in their loud chattering games of tag from tree to tree and branch to branch the church-people would begin to wander by. Men with their women pushing baby strollers or sometimes just the women (she never saw the men pushing the babies). This was her sign to move on.
Somewhere in the pit of her stomach she would begin to feel a pain. A kind of tearing empty hole; a sort of yearning regret that made her feel sad. These women with their men. These women with their babies. They made her sad…and so they made her angry. She wanted to scream at them and their nice clothes and the nice homes they no doubt went back to. She wanted to push them. She wanted to hit them. In these things she knew she needed to leave.
Sheryl would wander to Queen and Young to sit on a windowsill of the Woolworth building drinking a coffee for lunch and cautiously stare at the few other city dwellers wandering the street.
Three cigarettes later she would start wandering down Young Street toward the railyard and the lake beyond where she would sit for the remainder of the afternoon staring out at the waves, watching the boats and keeping her mind as empty as the blue sky until the sun began to sink into the horizon on her right.
At this point, with perilously few cigarettes remaining, Sheryl would regretfully wander back to her room knowing that, by now her phone had begun to ring, because even a Sunday evening would not be enough to keep some of her clients away.
The long walk back was necessary. It gave her the time to begin to shut off the emotions that needed to be shut off. It was like there was a little engineer inside her head walking from side to side flipping off switches so that, by the time she got home, all of her feelings had vanished, and she was ready to begin the night shift…the light behind her…the night ahead.