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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: The eight-block hometown blues

Sundown, centre city, St. John’s. —
Sundown, centre city, St. John’s. — Russell Wangersky/SaltWire Network

It is the time now when the light flees early. Orange lights the sky as the sun goes down, oranges that were so much later just a few weeks ago, and the lights inside houses blossom.

I walk.

I walk with the headphones in, and the world feels like a movie set, playing out around me in scenes. I never know what’s coming. An algorithm is constantly selecting my direction, my mood, the sheer tone of the show I’m in: an algorithm is playing music now, while I write this.

Block one: a front room with big rubber tree touching the ceiling, a black and white stair railing angling upwards. All the light’s coming to the front from the kitchen, and there’s a big smooth-furred calico in the front window, watching the close-to-the-house sidewalk. I’m sharing the sidewalk with a man with a sideways-sore-hip-shuffle, a man wearing a dark blue sweatshirt with a television motorcycle gang logo: “Sons of Anarchy”. The cat gives us a steady blank look — steady disdain.

Two: weeks ago, someone glued a dozen coins to the sidewalk with an olive-coloured heavy construction adhesive, an easy practical joke if you bend down and try to pick them up. Laughter on the other side of the curtains. The joke’s on them: the coins are gone, but the circles of adhesive are still there, complete with perfect mirror-image reliefs of the now-removed quarters.

Block three: the angle of the road to window cuts off everyone’s heads. Two teenaged girls stand in a dining room, hands on hips, turned to oppose, angled apart by 30 degrees.

Two: weeks ago, someone glued a dozen coins to the sidewalk with an olive-coloured heavy construction adhesive, an easy practical joke if you bend down and try to pick them up.

Their posture, even without their faces, says angry. A white corgi-like dog circles their feet. Steve Earle is in my headphones, telling me, “I wish I’d never come back home. It don’t feel right since I’ve been grown.”

On the fourth: a huge box on the front step on a green two-storey with bright yellow trim advertises the immediacy of “HelloFresh” on the outside, along with two cardboard boxes from Amazon. Lights on inside, but no one in sight. The still life with delivery makes me, for some reason, indescribably sad.

Five: a house where the rain gutter bends down across the front door, and there are patches of missing shingles on the roof where the rain must be coming in. But I’ve walked by enough to realize that the mail’s being taken in, pretty much every day. There’s got to be someone in there, but I imagine that everyone is whispering.

Six: an explosion of broken furniture outside dares me to ask a question, any question. The crows have pulled entails of garbage out through the heavy green-black bags.

Block seven: an angry dog leaps hard against a front window and lathers the glass with barked stripes of spittle and rage.

On the last block, the eighth, the street was higher than the houses on the left-hand side. On one house on the lower side, large windows looked out into the yard, showing a huge kitchen lit bright white with scores of potlights. White cabinets. A huge white island, as large as my whole kitchen. Reflections bouncing off stainless steel appliances, white-pointed stars cast in all directions.

A woman was in the kitchen, facing the street, both hands spread wide apart and pressed flat down on the countertop. As I walked by, her outstretched hands stayed flat, but she lowered her face until her forehead was flat on the countertop, too. Nothing else moved.

I walked on.

I didn’t think there was anything else I could do.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] — Twitter: @wangersky.


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