I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.
— Virginia Woolf
The woman has been dead a month. I have a few hours to turn it around, the obituary I am writing, before my editor pounds out a frantic email to me—gentle, but frantic, because the policy at the Globe and Mail is to publish these essays within a month of a person’s passing. I’m a well person, midway through my life, and I live in Toronto’s east end, near a city park with century old maples and a water slide for small children. I am surrounded by lives, both in my home and in my community. Each day my son plugs himself in, gives me a quick hug, and slips through the front door.
My neighbor, who resembles Stevie Nicks, straps a knapsack shaped like a casket on her back and threads in skull earrings and walks past our house each morning. There are the well-dressed dogs in booties tugged along by reluctant humans preferring to stay in bed those extra few minutes each morning than trudge around after shit; rushed moms determined to beat the school bell’s reminder that breakfast dragged on this morning.
Earlier this morning, while working at home, from the corner of my eye I watched the cat shift position and settle into a deeper sleep, snoring in wisps and sputters. Whenever my typing slowed down, his head popped up. He is lulled by the sound of clattering keys and the motor in my thinking.
I tell other people’s stories and thousands of other people read them. Meanwhile, the first viewer is my cat. Once I started thinking along these lines, my eyes on him more than they are on the screen, I decided it was time to leave the house. Downstairs, as I was snapping up my coat, the phone rang. It was my eldest sister, Kathleen, and because she rarely calls—and when she does, it’s often with worrisome news—I picked it up.