The world outside my window was one of discontent. The sky was flat and pale. Snow blew across its face and between the red brick houses below. I cradled my cup of tea in my hands as I gazed out the window. The thought of leaving home on a day such as this was unsavoury, but necessary. Packing up my laptop and library books, I swung my bag over my shoulder and left the warm comfort of home.
It was the eve of the break-up. I had planned it all out in my mind: what I would say, his reply… Around and around in my head it went, along with the nagging reminder that conversations never went as planned. But I knew that I had to get out. Out of my head, and out of this house that was filled with triggers of memory. Anyway, I might be incapable of doing anything productive tomorrow.
It was late in the day by now. The library and bank had closed, the two places I had to go. So, I returned the books via the slot by the front door of the Gladstone Library and then… Then what? Blankness.
Now that I was out, I didn’t feel like going home just yet. I enjoyed the gentle kiss of the falling snow on my nose and the swish and crunch of snow beneath my boots. I admired how the fresh snow sprinkled the grey slush at the side of the road. It reminded me of Edward Burtynsky’s aerial photographs of glaciers and waterways.
Snow gathered on my lapel, turning my black wool coat white. I stopped in a used book shop to run my eye through the eastern philosophy and finance section. The snow off my coat and hat dripped down onto the bookstore’s tiled floor. Conscious of this, I didn’t want to chance picking up a book that I hadn’t been searching for. No titles on the spines of the books shone out to me as new possibilities, so I returned outside to continue my wander down Bloor Street.
I love my neighbourhood. There are so many wonderful ventures to choose from. Usually, I have hankerings for specific things or places: a drink and bite in yellow light at Drift, beer and captioned films in the dark at Disgraceland, pub grub in a buzz at TallBoys, or a coffee and cookie in the artsy, sunlit Saving Gigi’s. This evening however, I had no picture in my mind, no ambiance, nor specific drink to guide myself this evening. I felt lost.
“When it doubt, go to your regular spot.” I thought as I steered myself West towards Spark.
Spark Espresso and Fresh Bar had recently opened up in my neighbourhood, directly across from Ossington subway station. The interior was all white with white washed furniture, blonde wood tables, and industrial accents. It was beautiful and the staff were welcoming. Spark was a good choice for me tonight.
I ordered a chai latte and sat down with my laptop. The barista started chatting with another patron, both carisimating about working the cafe to bar hours of 6:30 am to 4:00 am. Under normal circumstances, I would have just kept my head down and continued working. Tonight, was different. I decided to chime in.
I was introduced to “…the guy who runs the bar around the corner, the pineapple bar.” I had gone to many bars between Lansdowne and Spadina on Bloor, but not this one. The wooden blinds in the windows were never fully open and it always looked dark inside. It didn’t look inviting from the outside, despite the golden pineapple on its facade – the universal symbol for hospitality.
He convinced me that his bar was not as intimidating as it looked and invited me to come by sometime. I smiled and returned to my work.
Once the cafe had closed, I packed up my laptop and pulled on my coat. Again, I found myself on the cold sidewalk, a light dusting of snow on the grey concrete. Looking North up the street towards home, I decided that I wasn’t yet ready to return. So, I turned East, instead towards Civil Liberties – the pineapple bar.
The owner was standing in the doorway of the neighbouring diner smoking a cigarette. The retro backdrop, casual pose, and cigarette went well with his 1950’s/60’s aesthetic that so many in-the-know men now wear. As the man saw me approached and stood upright, tossing his cigarette into the snow.
“I thought I’d take you up on that invitation for a drink.”
Smiling, he opened the door into an expansive room of copper, wood, and white that was bathed in the yellow light of candles and hanging lamps. He set me up at the bar with my MacBook, plugging it in behind the bottles and giving me the Wi-fi password.
“What would you like to drink?” He asked from behind the bar.
“What’s the house specialty?”
“We have many specialties!” He paused to think. “Do you like the taste of alcohol?”
I smiled my answer.
“Oh, yes.” I assured him, although I had never quite figured out what made bourbon so different from similar grain based spirits.
“Then I know what I will make you.” And with that, the bartender drew up a saucepan and a spiral of cedar wood – like an over sized twist of lemon. Setting these down in front of me, he set the cedar alight. As it burst into an orange flame, filling the air with the scent of cedar, he placed a bar glass over top of it. The smoke swirled around inside, a tempest storm in a bar glass.
Tossing a bottle in the air, he prepared the mix. There was a crackle as the cocktail was poured over the ice. Taking a sip, the scent of cedar smoke met my nose and I was left with the sweet aftertaste of the cedar infused bitters.
The bartender then moved onto the couple sitting next to me. The woman was sipping a classic martini, served in a shallow round glass straight out of the Great Gatsby. The man, a French beer. The bartender told us all the most wonderful stories. Each drink he made that evening had an enchanting story, a memory, or some sort of drama around it. It was wonderful! All the time, there was jazz and blues playing in the background, adding to the atmosphere.
Turned out the woman in the couple next to me was doing her PhD in accessibility, my own specialty. The two of us geeked out for a while, before I made a conscious effort to reel the man into the conversation so that he wasn’t left out. He was very nice too – a researcher as well.
Once my budget was blown for the weekend, I got the bill. I felt refreshed from the experience, and re-assured in myself as I walked home in the snow, munching on Indian sweets I’d bought earlier that day.
The day of the break-up was spent rehearsing in the mirror what I would say. I strategically laid out Kleenex boxes around the room, an arms reach from the most likely places the break-up would take place. In the moments leading up to the prearranged time, I made tea. In my very British family, tea was the answer to every problem, tough decision, or in this case – possible heart break. I combined his favourite tea with mine in the pot: ginger and Bengal Spice, with some fresh mint to garnish, adding some Moroccan flare. I lit the candle beneath the kettle warmer, got out the tea cozy and my best set of teaware. Then I waited.
I was a mess the day after the breakup. I found myself taking frequent breaks to cry in the washroom stall at work. I was cheered by an invite over to a friend’s house after Icelandic language lessons that evening. Monday night lessons were usually a highlight of my week, but today I only made it through the first hour. Loss on my mind, I ducked out during the half-way tea break to head home.
I was greeted by my friends Kitty and Caitlin with a bottle of red wine in the dining room. On the table was a large bouquet of dried lavender, lovingly tied up in a sage green bow and burlap. Next to it was a heart-felt card and little gifts wrapped up in colourful paper. I cried.
Conversation soon turned to online dating and the pleasures of being alone. As if on cue, Kitty’s roommate Brendan came home.
“Is that Nell?” He called from the kitchen.
“Nell, I saw you the other day on the street! I chased after you, and called your name.”
“I’m not surprised I didn’t hear. I usually walk around in a bubble, alone with my thoughts.”
From the kitchen, Brendan started singing as he took off his snow boots, “Lonely Nell… Nell is so lonely, in her loneliness…”
And then he turned the corner and saw the gifts on the table with the ominous bouquet, the card, then my tear stained eyes. The horrified look on his face only added to my laughter. I was laughing so hard that my belly ached. The song couldn’t have been more perfectly timed!
Yes, I was alone, but it wasn’t a bad thing. It was a beautiful thing, full of prospect, hope, and independence. With this ending, something new could begin.