Oh it’s HEAVEN out right now! Is it raining there? It’s nice here.
We are a seven minute drive apart, but the mountains make many mini-weathers in North Vancouver.
Yeah, maybe I just haven’t been outside in a while I say, to her and to myself. She knows that. She knows when I’m talking to myself and when I’m talking to her. She’s been listening to me talk to myself, through her, for 23 years.
She tells me to go outside, because of the 23 years, and the air.
From my chair at the dining room table with my two screens, I survey the sky and see two weathers - sunshine and clouds. I decide that it looks like there is sunshine on a road that leads to a place where I could go.
I’m gonna walk to Superstore! I announce from my belly. But it’s not a big belly announcement. It’s a shallow-breathed expulsion, because I’m sitting slouched, my shoulders having lost their agency a few hours prior.
Ok! my dad hollers back, through a cough. I can tell from the holler that he’s coming with me. I come with you!
Yeah! I need a picture frame!
We get outside and I resent the immediate onset of my shiver reflex. I shiver like a rabbit in a field 40 minutes north of Paris on a November evening. I shiver as if I can’t not. But I’m not convinced that I can’t not. I try to unfurl my shoulders, and breathe out slowly. You’re fine, I tell my body. You are not freezing to death. You don’t need to do this.
My dad walks behind me, and we pass a little girl staring deeply into the eyes of a succulent plant. She’s sitting on a stoop, clasping the little planter with both hands, gazing into as if it’s the face of a beloved sentient creature. I do a closed mouth smile, with a heavy focus on making sure my eyes are smiling, but I don’t manage it in time, and she looks scared of my quivering Ichabod Crane skulk.
I can see from her face that my dad, walking behind me, doesn’t smile at her. North American adults smile at children, to allay any fears the children might have. About what, I’m not sure. But we do it. We smile.
No strangers smiled at me when I was a kid in Vienna. I can recall an older woman who smiled at me once, while I was examining the tri-colour spheres in the glue-on poster on the back of the bus stop, wondering how they got the entire image out of the same three colours. I saw her smile at me as if I was a sweet young girl, and so, I assumed she was German. Germans were friendlier. Our neighbour was German, and she smiled at me every day. The phenomenon bore out too, when tested outside Vienna. When I lived in Hamburg as an adult, I was shocked to find that people said hello in stores. People didn’t say hello in stores in Vienna. If they did, you either felt embarrassed by their naïveté, or waited to hear the German accent, and then felt a smugness for what the Viennese would do to their sunny, simple disposition.
Do we need anything?
Just the picture frame.
They have that here?
Well they have everything else. I’m sure they have picture frames.
We split in the store, fanning out into the home section without a plan or acknowledgement of our divided fronts. I lose him. Sometimes he doubles into my lane, and we pass each other, like strangers. He’s scanning, diligently. I idle, eyeing soap dispensers and picking up cheap candles.
You know these masks really work. I can’t even smell this candle, I announce to him, as his route brings him into my aisle.
He lights up. Oh yeah, mine is a new one, it’s really tight on my face. No spaces!
I look at his cheeks to see if I can pick out the absence of spaces, as we fuse our scanning routes.
How can they have shower curtain rods and no picture frames? Should we get a shower curtain rod?
How do we know if it fits?
I try to explain that it’s a one-size fits all situation, but I don’t find the words fast enough and he loses interest.
Here they are! I pick up a plain black frame. He sits down on the pallet the stockers left behind and watches me turn the frame in my hand.
No, he says. Get gold. The thin gold one. That’s nicer. The black looks like Oma’s funeral.
We walk out through the stationery and books section. The cards wall has their Easter display out. My dad carries on up the aisle, to the magazines. I pick up a card. A rabbit with its ears in the air, that can be taken apart like a puzzle. There’s a flower pot with a bunny tail in it, the tail and flowers made of pastel fabric baubles. There’s a beautifully painted hare with a flower crown thing for a collar. The Renaissance painting of the Papyrus exhibit. I keep pulling it back up, marvelling at its beauty. This is Papyrus?
There’s a whole selection of cards with chicks and eggs. I want to buy them for someone. I want to spend $8 on each card and send them to everyone I know. I want everyone to see these cards.
Easter is a florid celebration in Vienna. The city’s winding streets and squares becomes aisles for outdoor Easter markets, where merchants set up hay beds cradling hundreds of hand-painted Easter eggs. My Oma (grandmother) always made an Easter tree - an Osternbaum - and would call across the Atlantic to describe its glory to me. My mom loved the baby chicks part of Easter, and would always send me a card with a fluffy yellow chick on it. As a kid she once dragged me out of a brunch in Italy because the servers brought cages of chicks to the table, to be chosen for slaughter by a dining guest. I wished that she’d been able to find a reason for us to leave, without telling me that it was because they were displaying live animals to eat.
But she even told me a story of when, as a teacher’s aide at a school that had a pet snake, she’d been horrified to see live chicks brought in for the snake to eat, and even more horrified at the thought of the little kindergarteners trundling to their desks, past these cages of shrieking chicks.
I go back to the rabbits, pulling each one of them up again: Humour. Silliness. Spring Fever! Joy! Fluffiness! Renewal. Elegance. Grace.
I pull some out of their shelves completely, so I can examine their rabbit faces up close. I check each of them. I don’t find any that look like they are shivering.