Exactly one century ago James’s great-grandfather built the Blind Family Tomb into the bank of the Don Valley. The plot of steeply descending ground he purchased from Necropolis Cemetery was chosen for the view it provided, or the view it would eventually provide. At the time the Bloor Street Viaduct was in mid construction, with the web of black steel beams forming only one of the eventual four arches. Great-grandfather Blind would have known that the complexity and immensity of that web of steel was not simply there to hold the road and pipelines; it was built with the foresight that one day the city would build a subway, and that subway would want to cross the valley. The tangle of black steel that arched beneath the road was built to hold a subway track within it, and, sure enough, sitting in front of the Blind family tomb, anyone today only has to wait a few moments to see a silver train appear from one end and traverse the arches to the other.
The first black steel arch crosses Bayview Avenue, which snakes around the valley floor and forms connections up the banks to the city’s East and West sides. The second and third arches cross over rail lines, patches of forest, abandoned industrial fields, and a fenced in concrete path next to the Don River, which holds the flow of so many other small creeks from connecting valley’s within its corrugated steel walls. The fourth crosses the Don Valley Parkway, the south and north running sections edged at different heights into the East bank like concrete terraces. An endless flow of trains, cars, trail users, water, birds, coyotes, and smaller mammals pass through these arches, and the tomb’s sitting pad overlooks it all.
The façade of the tomb, made of limestone blocks and hand carved marble finishing, entirely bounded by the descending bank, curves out and descends with the bank’s natural form. Held within the curves are marble benches, and in the limestone blocks of the curves themselves are carvings of the city’s downtown. The cast iron gate is a marvel to look at, and not just because it allows a view of the vaulted interior and the coffins held within. None of the gate’s rods hold straight; they curve, intertwine, and end in silver capped arrow heads pointed at varying angles. Dead centre in the gate the cast iron forms the surname Blind.
James is standing with the Blinds in front of the gate. Gratefully for James, a heavy fog sits over Necropolis and the rest of the city, blurring out any view of significance he would otherwise have to hide his eyes from, most importantly the panoramic view of the Don Valley and Bloor Street Viaduct seen from the sitting pad.
Cecilia says to Kitty, “This is absolutely absurd. I can’t believe you brought the key, that you’re going to open up the tomb.”
“We’re doing this, we’re all doing this; I have the key, I have the candles. Wait, you brought flowers, right? Where are the flowers, the one’s you had with you earlier?”
“I bought those for the kitchen.”
“Ugh…we can’t do this without flowers. Go to that huge pile we walked past at the top of the hill and pick up some roses, I think there’s some white ones that would be perfect,” Kitty says.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate, they’re from a recent funeral.”
“Did you see how many there were? They won’t mind.”
“I’m certain they will,” Cecilia says, walking up the path anyway.
Kitty says, “Oh my, I’m kind of nervous. It’s not the first time I’ve spoken to Tracey in the last two years, but to actually speak to him in the tomb, to his casket…well, we’re here now. Perhaps I should just go ahead and open the gate,” but still she hesitates.
Gabriel says, “There’s nothing to be nervous about; there’s a coyote skull I found once in the creek and I keep him in my room, well he’s in the shed now, but when he was in my room I would speak to coyote. I would say, ‘Coyote, I just woke up and it’s the middle of the night. I have to pee but I don’t feel like getting out of bed. What should I do?’”
Kitty smiles at him, “That’s weird, but thanks,” and opens the gate when Cecilia comes back with five white roses. Limestone blocks form an arch high enough for even James to stand straight up in, and the capacity of the tomb to hold caskets in its layers of marble shelving is impressive, but the dull glow of afternoon light through the thick fog makes it difficult to see anything in the enclosure. Even the candles Kitty lights and places at either end of Tracey’s casket illuminate little more than the polished wood grain they sit on, but their flickering light does entice a number of moths to appear and flutter about the casket and candles. Gabriel is immediately enthralled: “I’ve never seen these before.” They have silver wings and metallic blue patches along their bodies, both colours powdered in texture and reflective even in the minimal light.
Cecilia, Gabriel, and James stand behind Kitty, who stands in front of the casket. Kitty says to Cecilia, “I don’t think I dressed appropriately.”
“You look beautiful.”
“I know,” she says, her blonde hair draped over the straps of a white summer dress, “but maybe I should be in black.”
“The funeral was two years ago; considering you’re here to talk to bones in a casket, I would suggest Gypsy clothes as the most appropriate. Can we please just move this along?”
“Okay, so hi Tracey…sorry to disturb you, but I thought…no no no, this isn’t right. Okay…hello my love, how are you…ugh…”
“Maybe you should just get to the point.”
“Don’t push me, but okay…Tracey, we’re here to say a few words to you. I thought that on this day, the day that marks the second year anniversary of the accid…of your death, well I thought that we could speak to you, to your spirit that is.”
She looks back at James, Gabriel, and Cecilia pleadingly, desiring some support. Receiving none, she takes a deep breath and continues, “We miss you, Tracey, of course you know that. That first year was tragic. I’m not sure one word was said between us. I worked, Cecilia chored, Gabriel stared into the tiny worlds he held in his hands, and your brother…and James…oh God…we barely saw him. Except for Cecilia’s occasional check-ins, he just rotted alone in that apartment. I’m sorry; it was such a hard year. It’s still hard of course, missing you, recovering from the tragedy, but it’s been two years and I feel like the worst of the trauma has past.” Kitty pauses, watches a moth land on a flower. “There’s something else…I…I don’t know…I’m realizing how complex death is, how much more there is to it than simply losing a person. It’s not just you we have to learn to live without…or…what we have to adapt to…I mean…we aren’t learning, or adapting, or…Tracey…we’re getting worse. We’re all lost, lost because we lost the ground we stood on. You took it with you; you took the entire universe that raised our kids, that saved James, that gave me a reason to live. It’s just so strange, I mean, at least in that first year we suffered the same kind of pain, the pain of living without you, but now…I don’t know…what’s going through my kid’s heads, what’s going to happen to James? We can’t understand each other because…it’s the pain of living without the…the…oh…the ground…the universe…”
She stops, frustrated, tears already coming. Cecilia puts her arm around her shoulders. Kitty says to her, “I’ll never forget the day we met. He was twenty-two, working in a kitchen at a restaurant on Queen. He started yelling at his manager right in front of my table and in a fit of passion quit and marched out.” She turns her attention back to the cloud of silvery moths hovering above the casket and starts to giggle. Cecilia removes her arm, looking at her quizzically. “And I know—don’t think I don’t know now after years of looking back—that you were putting on a show for me. I ate there all the time, alone of course, studying of course, and you probably figured out that I ate all my meals out and always alone with my school work. Our eyes met a few times through that window into the kitchen. Okay, I’ll admit it, I watched you sometimes, moving through that kitchen with such a motion, such fluid, efficient…I don’t know, it was like you were floating. And the brunches you made for me—wow! So that one morning, when you screamed at that manager…but really what did he say to you, really? You told me once that you were late and he yelled at you about it, but he wasn’t yelling, he looked like he was worried about you. Oh, I’m sure now that you wanted to see if I was interested, but what can I say? You threw your kitchen hat to the ground, ‘And don’t try to fire me, because I quit,’ and of course that would’ve been the last time I saw you, unless…and what can I say? I followed you out, I chased you.”
The moths seem to circle more erratically with the extra enthusiasm of Kitty’s words, and she stares at them with a teary eyed smile. “The course of my life changed from that moment on. He started cooking my meals, making me lunches for school…and…and he re-organized my condo so that it became the perfect work space…he built me tiny mirrors, a side table, a jewelry box, and on the first birthday he celebrated with me a heavy oak chest with wrought iron hinges…how did he hand-make something like that? And all the while taking care of you James, at your own apartment…oh…he was a kind of man I didn’t know existed.
“You, Tracey Blind, were different, and I fell in love because I saw that you had a true calling—the work of creating a perfectly comfortable, orderly, secure, manicured, purely hand-made-and-maintained living environment for me and our future family, not to mention your delicious meals. I wanted to be your wife, and you to be my house-husband.”
Cecilia puts her hands on her hips. “I can’t believe this. You fell in love with Tracey because you saw that he would make the perfect house-husband? Dear God Kitty, now I understand why you’re so hung up on our meals and the pile rooms and yard—it’s the loss of the house in the house-husband that you find more difficult than anything to cope with, isn’t it? What about the husband?”
“You don’t understand Cecilia; think about where I was coming from. I wasn’t like other people at that age. The girls looking for a guy to marry, looking for love and security, they didn’t grow up the way I grew up. The institution of marriage was purposeless for someone like me. My connections were set, my capital was in the bank; I had a tax lawyer who made marriage deductions seem like pocket change. What on earth did I need a husband for? Even friends were pointless in my life, unless they were associates.” Cecilia looks horrified, so Kitty takes a breath and continues to explain herself, “My parents died when I was five-years-old, okay? They died wealthy and well-connected. You know this story, just think about it. I was raised by Jack, my father’s closest business partner.” Kitty pauses, then laughs. “My MBA was such a breeze, know why? Because it was so similar to growing up. Jack read me books on economics, investing, and entrepreneurship at bedtime, and when I was a teenager he took me to business conferences and retreats so I could observe him. Girlfriends would occasionally linger in his life, but rarely for more than a few months. I came to see them as second to Jack’s closer business relationships.
“I never regretted my upbringing, that I was raised to be confident, passionate, ambitious, and to take advantage of my opportunities. I was sad, though. The world simply had no reward that I was interested in. Sometimes the world wasn’t even a place I wanted to stand on, so what was the purpose of my work, what was the point of it? Tracey was the answer to that question.
“His handy work, the crafts that came out of that garage.” Kitty is shaking her head in awe of the memory. “We purchased the house furnished, but slowly, piece by piece, that furniture disappeared, replaced by his own heavy oak version. The tables, side tables, cabinets, dressers, beds, and shelving…the house couldn’t look better if we commissioned a whole Mennonite community to furnish the home. And I can still smell the aromas he created in the house—from his cooking, his home blended cleaning solutions, his fresh cut flowers. On the weekends there wasn’t anything I would rather do then spend an afternoon in the backyard watching him work in the gardens—weeding, pruning, clipping flowers, harvesting roots and vegetables; or watching him work through home repairs. Everything in the house was fixed by Tracey, even the plumbing. He actually once pulled twenty feet of piping out of the walls and found a leak. Of course we could have called a plumber, but to know that even the water in our toilets is delivered in part by his handy work...
“Oh Tracey, you were our king, and we were merely peasants in your castle. Now your castle is gone, decayed to a barely livable environment. Your gardens no longer exist…and…and cleanliness and order are maintained in only a few key rooms…and…and there are no new inventive interior design rearrangements or additions…and…God…the place is utilitarian, as if we’re prisoners. Help us Tracey, show us the way out of the mess we currently live in…”
Cecilia’s face is a mix of offense, incomprehension, and concern, but when Kitty breaks down into sobs, pushing her face into Cecilia’s shoulder, she pats her back and sighs. “Well that was educational, anyone else want to pretend-talk to Tracey?”
Kitty pleads, “Somebody…please?”
Surprising everyone, Gabriel steps towards the casket. “Tracey…um…you made my leather satchel. It’s pretty much the best thing I own, because it has the perfect set of pockets. Before you made it you first asked me what I liked about the creek and the forest; you asked if I were to collect things from the valley what would I collect. It was funny because I didn’t even think about that stuff then. I think you wanted me to collect things because you never went down there, and maybe you wanted to experience the place without having to leave the house. Anyway, somehow you managed to make the perfect satchel for collecting stuff from the forest even though you never did that yourself.
“For the longest time I was into rocks more than anything. Soon I had a huge collection and they kept getting lost all over my room, so you made my rock cabinet. You made it so big, but with so many tiny cubby holes, and every little wall made of glass with wood framing. It’s the most amazing piece of furniture you made, and I still look into it every day.
“When I started collecting other things, you showed me how to make nature mobiles. Cecilia won’t let me hang them anywhere but my room, and now the shed, so I just keep remaking them, with new mixes of wood or feathers or nests or dried plants and flowers, anything light, and I have some in the shed now too—they’re all bones, like you, or your body I mean. Okay I’m done, or wait, amen, or whatever.”
Kitty kisses the top of his head. “Thank you.” Then pleadingly, “Cecilia?”
Cecilia takes a deep breath, steps forward, and says, “Tracey, you read to us every meal, and that’s something I’ll never forget. We still keep the televisions out of the main rooms and in the bedrooms, but the dinner table is silent now. Gabriel brings field guides and his black and white photography books, stares at them, traces them with his finger, while Kitty flips through business books which all have future in the title—the future of business smarts, market strategies for our future, and of course the future of futures. James actually reads the trashiest celebrity and news magazines at the table cover to cover. Only my reading material hasn’t fallen into mindlessness. I’ve continued your tradition of great series fiction, continued with Tracks of the Dead, which is still the height of tartan noir, but I’ve also started into post-apocalyptic zombie novels, like this new series The Walking Dead Empire—you would love it.
“Sometimes I look around the table at everyone reading and remember what it was like. Your voice was just so mesmerizing. Not like an actor’s—I remember you trying to change it for different characters, but you always sounded the same when you read, like someone provincial, or a CEO of a bank speaking to specialists about tough economic times ahead. I don’t know why, but it was endearing. Your voice made every meal seem like an important meeting. You’d take bites while you read, but so slowly, particularly during climatic chapters, and Kitty or I would slip your plate out from under you, warm it up, then return it without any break in your reading.” A moth flutters to the ends of Cecilia’s hair and grabs on. She looks down at the glittering body hanging there and smiles. “So that was pretty amazing.”
Everyone looks up at James, their eyes compelling him to say something too. He puts a finger out over the casket. A moth flutters around his hand then lands on the finger, and he pulls it up closer to his eyes and inspects the powdery, metallic blue patch on the body. He drops his hand and the moth rejoins the cloud. “Tracey, I would have ended up on the streets if it wasn’t for you. Now that I’m without you again…I don’t know…I think Kitty and Cecilia are right, The Fear is getting worse.”
Kitty rubs his arm sympathetically, then Cecilia and Gabriel too, and a tear drops from James’s eye. It’s a nice moment that stretches into a long silence. The silence stretches so long that James starts to feel awkward. Then he senses that everyone is waiting for some word that will end the séance and release them from the tomb. “Does anyone else ever think about the sauna? Every once and a while I feel like I’m still anticipating it, like I’ve forgotten Tracey’s dead and not just putting the last few pieces together,” he says. Everyone nods. Kitty says, “Remember how far he flew? Gosh, that was such a zap.” More nodding. Cecilia says, “Remember how excited we all were for it? He spent all summer building that sauna, and we kept crowding around him as he worked, kept rushing him, even when he was rewiring the fuse box…that was a mistake.” Nodding; nodding. Gabriel says, “Remember the black mark on his chest, the hole in his shirt with all the black streaks coming off it? It was like a rocket ship blasted off him.” Laughing, just a little. When the laugh fades away, and they’re all just staring at the caskett again, Kitty lightly tosses the white roses on to it. All the moths, their silver wings and metallic blue bodies glittering in the candle light, land on the pedals.