James stands in front of his window, looking at the blanket which blocks the twenty-third floor view of East York—a once separate borough and now an amalgamated region to the city. It’s true that he has never seen the view himself, but he can confidently form a mental picture of what the scene must look like. Directly below his window is Taylor Creek Park. Taylor Creek Valley begins on the opposite side of the park, where it guides the creek west, away from the window, but with a curve to the north. Danforth Avenue runs parallel to the southern edge of the park, but with no curve to the north, so in James’s mental projection of the view on to the blanketed window he can see Danforth Avenue and Taylor Creek split like a Y from the base of his apartment complex. East York, for the most part, is what’s in the centre.
Cecilia and Gabriel live with Kitty—their mother and James’s sister-in-law—in a house perched on a bank overlooking Taylor Creek Valley a few kilometers north-west of James. The five stops west on the subway and few blocks north on the bus he rides to get there is all the direct experience he has of East York (and even the subway line is south of East York’s border, but post-amalgamation this is an arbitrary detail). Since he points his eyes downward away from the windows of the bus, and since the bus drops him off nearly at the front door of the house, his above ground mental map is filled mostly of details acquired second hand from Gabriel and Cecilia’s experience of the area. He has a vivid mental picture of the Danforth from Cecilia, which the subway runs beneath, and Taylor Creek Valley from Gabriel, which forms a direct line between their house and his apartment.
The section of the Danforth near James’s apartment is lined with the kinds of small, independent shops that pack into main strips of the city’s most eastern neighbourhoods. Cecilia goes to this area almost every day to buy groceries, clothing, and supplies for the house. Often in the evening she’ll talk about stores along the stretch, which have opened and which have gone out of business. She even gets to know owners, and for periods of time a name will repeat itself: Tony from the fish shop, Abdul from the electronics store, Sam from the produce place. Her relationships are usually based around negotiating deals, something that clearly keeps Cecilia entertained endlessly during her days of shopping.
The section of the Danforth closer to the house is predominantly lined with mid to high-end restaurants, mostly Greek. Kitty picks up take-out from these restaurants for dinners when she can’t handle another bland meal made by Cecilia; aside from the house, it’s the only area in East York Kitty ever visits.
Gabriel spends every daylight hour he can in Taylor Creek, which he likes to describe in detail to James. The valley is heavily forested, and in the summer the Birches, Maples, Willows, and Oaks form such a full canopy that it’s impossible to see the houses lining the ridge or any of the city beyond. The activity trail winds along the valley floor, sometimes crossing the creek via small wooden bridges, and the valley itself curves, opens, and thins along its jagged route. At James’s apartment complex, where the valley opens into a park, it’s wide enough to contain fields and parking lots, but near the house it becomes quite thin, the walls so steep they are almost like forested cliffs.
Whenever Gabriel arrives back at the house, Cecilia asks him where in the valley he was, as it’s rarely the same place two days in a row. On the hottest days he spends most of his time in the shaded forest. If he gets out early in the mornings he’ll go to the field at James’s apartment where a thick mist always hangs just above the ground. He’ll spend some days just wading through the creek, and when he tells this to Cecilia she cringes and sends him to the shower. “Disgusting,” she’ll say, “that creek is linked to hundreds of storm drains, most of them industrial; there’s no telling what gets dumped in there.”
Gabriel isn’t supposed to go too far west along Taylor Creek trail, though he has told James in secret of day hikes he has taken all the way to the Don Valley, where Taylor Creek joins with the Don River. James is not unfamiliar with the Don Valley, the largest landscape feature in the region. In his mental projection he sees the valley, like an obvious and brutal dent in the landscape, running across the top of the Danforth-Taylor-Creek-Y. While Taylor Creek empties into the Don River at the northern tip of the Y, the southern tip turns into a black steel viaduct which carries the Danforth and the subway across the kilometer wide floor to the city’s West.
Kitty works in one of the sky scrapping towers of the West side, and she spends a substantial bulk of her waking hours working. She describes so little about the downtown, except to say how busy it always is, and so little about her work days, except to say how busy they always are, that Gabriel and Cecilia have learned to see this half of the city as just some void that swallows their mother up for most of the day. This disinterest in the city at large has become so ingrained in Cecilia and Gabriel, and is so passively accepted by Kitty in her reluctance to describe where she disappears to for so much of the week, that James can’t even remember the last time any of them spoke the city’s name.
Ironically, and despite the fact that James can’t remember the last time he has said the city’s name either, he spends more time in the downtown centre than Gabriel or Cecilia. James strolls in what’s called the PATH, an underground network of corridors lined with shops and offices, interspersed with food courts and subway stations, and all interconnected like a labyrinth burrowed beneath the city’s office towers, condos, and busiest streets. It always amazes him how much the people he observes in this submerged world can accomplish, with its dentist offices and clinics, government service centres and libraries, bars and restaurants, gyms and fountains for the public to lounge beside; places of work, places to live.
James loves walking there at 5pm when the bank and office towers flood the corridors with rivers of people, sometimes seven wide, curving with the turns, splitting where the corridors split, merging into slow moving lakes through the larger spaces. James has observed the 8am rivers as well, when the condos flood the corridors instead, and he has walked the labyrinth for hours and hours in those middle times when the lives of the PATH’s shop workers are much the same as those of any above ground row of store owners, chatting and trading with locals in the middle of the day.
Standing at the window, staring at his stained blanket, James realizes he’s never once mentioned his walks in the PATH to his in-laws. Perhaps the Blinds are people who roam their own areas: James and the PATH, Cecilia and the Danforth, Gabriel and Taylor Creek, and Kitty and the Sky Scrapping tower she works in. At least they have the house, that one central place where they meet around dinners, but that’s happened a lot less in the last two years.
James hums a sigh and goes to the kitchen for a microwave burrito.