To commemorate Toronto's Luminato festival, we commissioned 10 best-selling authors
to write for Globe readers.
Today we present June , a short story from Dionne Brand.
All cities are ambiguous and not just in fog or snow or rain. There is sometimes the inability to make a thing out. Fog, here, can make the next block a mystery; snow, disguise the known topography. And rain, something a poet once called the happiest of weathers, rain can turn any event doubtful. And never take heat and sun too lightly here. Well, who does? Anyway such is the changeability, the indefiniteness of this city; a plain day is never plain. Just because you can see doesn't mean you will see.
So it's that kind of a day in the city, the season doesn't matter. In fact it's not quite day. Everything is still perfect. June sits up in bed. She's heard something on the radio which wakes her. "One hundred musicians?" she says. "Great!"
"Musicians? No, policemen. One hundred policemen." Her lover rolls over, feet on the floor.
"It's musicians, I heard."
Her lover laughs, "You're still asleep, dreaming; he said policemen."
"Pianists, maybe then, that would make sense, I swear I heard pianists."
"For Jane-Finch! Don't be silly, one hundred policemen."
The radio's red numbers burn the early morning dark of the room. June is positive. The radio show she wakes to every morning on the CBC never fails her. It said one hundred musicians or pianists or flautists or guitarists, but definitely something to do with music. The mayor, it said, the mayor was sending them to Jane and Finch.
"No. it must be musicians. That's going to be awesome!"
"Dream on baby."
"Imagine! Jesus, he's a genius! Perfect." June feels as if she's inhaled water. God, the idea of one hundred musicians in the neighbourhood. Fucking perfect.
"It's diabolical!" she calls to the lover who is rising and moving toward the bathroom.
"June, wake up! Why the hell would they send one hundred musicians?" The lover's voice is exasperated now.
"Why wouldn't they?"
The lover turns back to June on the bed, just to make sure June's not sleeping. June's hair is in sleep disarray, June's hands in a splayed open gesture. June is sitting straight up and now she sounds combative. "Why not?"
"You're kidding me, right?" The lover only wants to go to the bathroom, shower, get on the 400 and get to work in Barrie on time. The lover doesn't want an argument, especially not a ridiculous one.
"I heard distinctly Andy Barrie say, the mayor is going to send one hundred musicians to Jane and Finch. If you didn't hear it, fine. But don't just dismiss it."
The lover really just wants to say, good morning, honey, and decides to say, "Good morning, honey."
"Don't be patronizing," June says, "I'm only saying one hundred musicians is what he said and I think it's a brilliant idea."
The lover looks at her patronizingly.
"Okay, fine," June says, "listen, they'll repeat it, you'll hear."
"June. June, he said one hundred policemen. They're finding money to send one hundred extra policemen to Jane and Finch."
"Musicians," June says emphatically. She's intransigent now.
It's too early. The lover doesn't want a fight. It's 6 o'clock in the morning. The sun's not even out yet. If it shows up at all today. June's a queer one. The lover remembers, once June spent all of breakfast, the whole bloody morning, talking in Tamil. That was because the before lover was Tamil. And once, in the middle of the night, June woke in Spanish. That was because of the Chilean lover in the eighties.
So now these musicians. Was June seeing a musician on the side? June carries remnants of people, of things, of the world with her. We all do, but June carries hers on the surface, her skin is iridescent with these glimpses and glances. Where others would filter out, June takes in. She herself never says who she is or how she arrived in the city, but she knows enough about other people. The lover suspects but wouldn't dare ask June. Anyway June would say something vague or something that felt like knives and that would be the end of it. June can be vague and then again something like knives and sometimes the lover wants to risk all of it, like now.
"Okay, let's listen." The lover sits mercilessly on the bed. Though actually another half-hour can't be wasted like this. Already cars on the 400 are tight like a huddle of penguins, the 401 is buckling with steel and rubber carabids, but living with June is not like living in the real world. "It's policemen," the lover says resolutely.
"Musicians," June says childishly.
"Policemen. Why in God's name do you think they would send musicians?" The lover is becoming intolerant. "What would musicians do?"
"Play," June says. "Soothe the turmoil, calm the heart, they're children, they're wrecked. Music would make them happy."
"Don't be naive. They're gunmen. They're sending police for the gunmen."
"The gunmen are children. They need music. They could use some bicycles, some painters, some soccer balls, some trees. The place is pure post-industrial dreck. Who wouldn't want to murder somebody? A hundred trees, a hundred teachers, a hundred trips out of there, a hundred anything, not a hundred policemen. Why are you so fucking pessimistic?"
The lover has laid down and nodded off through this bizarre dawn inventory. The word "pessimistic" pierces the senses, though.
"Pessimistic! Me, I'm pessimistic! Lord why am I having this conversation?" The lover springs up.
"Yes, pessimistic! Why would you say one hundred policemen?"
"I'm not saying it! He said it!"
"No he didn't. You did. What for? To lay siege? To lay waste? What is it? Another country? An invading foreign power? It's children! They're suicidal, murderous, nihilistic."
The lover never expected to wake up in the heat of a guerrilla war. Who does? Unless you live with June. June's voice becomes hectoring. "You really don't understand these things do you? Sipo would."
"Oh fuck, here we go with Sipo again. ... For the last time, that's what I heard!"
"Why?" The lover hears a plaintive note in June's voice but the lover will not be taken in and bolts for the bathroom. June waits for the news.
"No imagination ... none...."
The voice begins reading the news and June raises the volume. It says, and June unquestionably hears, "The mayor has decided to send one hundred musicians including flautists, guitarists, bassists, saxophonists, drummers and pianists to the Jane-Finch corridor to help curb the violence in the neighbourhood. The plan was approved by City Council...."
"Yes!" June yells toward the bathroom door.
People hear what they want to hear, June thinks, thinking of the lover. Right then the lover is thinking, June hears what she wants to hear, believes what she wants to believe. Like she's not living in the same time as the rest of us. Christ. Traffic. Late again.
The city, indistinguishable seconds ago, is coming into full light outside, the grey corners clarifying. The sun's coming over Neilson and Kingston Road. Soon, it will radiate the whole city.
Harbourfront Festival prize-winner Dionne Brand's poetry collection Land to Light On won both the 1997 Governor-General's poetry award and Ontario's Trillium Award. She is again short-listed this year, for her novel Inventory.
Throughout Luminato, The Globe and Mail is featuring commissioned writings by a superlative selection of authors, each offering a unique perspective on Toronto. These musings are from both Canadian and international writers. Catch the ongoing series at globeandmail.com
Last Thursday, William Gibson
Friday, Francine Prose
Saturday, Colm Toibin
Today, Dionne Brand
Tomorrow, Miriam Toews
June 6, Guy Vanderhaeghe
June 7, Ian Rankin
June 8, Maeve Binchy/
June 9, Ali Smith
This series of writings was produced by Luminato in association with The Globe and Mail and International Readings at Harbourfront Centre.