The Trattoria is expecting a particularly busy Friday night, so of course Jay calls in sick, thinks Kim as she sets the last of the restaurant’s twelve tables. Placemat, plate, folded napkin, fork and fork and knife and knife, cup for water, cup for wine, won’t you be my valentine, she hums to herself as she lays out the elements in perfect order. Jay is not going to ruin this night. Yes, she admits to herself, just she and Anna in the whole front of house will be tough– poor Anna, her first Friday shift and we’re man down– but we’ll make it through, and we’ll take home more tips for it.
Friday the 13th, Kim thinks, what a lucky day… and how lucky of me to know how lucky it is! Most people think it’s unlucky, but I know different– it was Friday the 13th last June I met Jack, and I’ve never been so lucky in my life. As she walks from table to table, squaring corners, lighting candles, Anna calls ten minutes from the hostess stand.
One of the cooks, Luis, walks through the double doors, his apron bloody with au jus, a pack of Camels in his hand. He extracts one with his teeth and asks through open lips if Kim wants to come out back. “We open in ten minutes,” she scolds him, “you don’t have time!”
“Sure I do,” says Luis, “you ain’t gonna take their order for at least ten minutes after that… so maybe you don’t,” and he winks at her before turning and re-entering the kitchen. Kim sighs exasperatedly. She walks towards the front of the room, where Anna is leaning uninterestedly on the podium, as if she is about to address a crowd of high-schoolers.
“Do you think Luis likes me?” she asks Anna.
“I think Luis tries to hit on everything,” Anna answers, looking out the darkening window at the passers-by, “but he knows you have a boyfriend.”
“It’s not even anything he says,” Kim muses, “it’s just that stupid fucking winking.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that,” Anna says. “Hey, so, what do I do if there’s a line?”
“You know, like, we’re full and people keep coming in?”
“Take their name and put them on the list,” Kim says slowly, “just like any other night.”
“Oh,” Anna says, “that makes sense.”
Kim is suddenly less certain of herself. Goddamnit, Jay, she thinks… well, at least it’ll be over by eleven, and Jack is coming home tomorrow. In just one day, can’t you see, you’ll be back at home with me… I just have to get through this, she thinks, “we just have to get through tonight, Anna,” she says.
“Yep,” Anna murmurs. She takes out her phone and starts thumb-typing. Almost simultaneously, Kim’s starts to buzz in her pocket.
“OK,” Kim says, “that’s the alarm. Let’s open ‘em up.”
Anna looks at her phone. “It’s only 4:55. I think we have five minutes.”
Kim reaches into her pocket. “It’s… oh.” She pauses, bewildered. “It’s my mom.” She lifts it to her ear. “Hi, Mom, this is not really a good–”
Anna keeps texting as Kim stands listening. The expression on her face is a combination of mild confusion and annoyance that her mother is choosing this time to call her. “No, of course not, I’m at work, how would I be watching the news? …I can’t right now, we open in like four minutes, can you just tell…”
She is silent for about fifteen seconds. As she listens, her face changes, tightens. The confusion becomes shock. She raises a hand to her slowly opening mouth… “Oh, no,” she says, “that’s…” And then, suddenly– so quickly, in fact, that Anna almost involuntarily spins around to see– the shock gives way to panic, to terror. Her eyes widen, her skin perceptibly whitens. “He’s on assignment,” she whispers voicelessly, “he’s photographing some band… I don’t fucking know, Mom, some fucking band, Mom, don’t fuck with me like this, the– how the– yes. Yes, that was them. Yes, the fucking Queens of the Stone Age spinoff thing… yes, that’s them. Mom, I need to go, I need to make a phone call” and she hangs up, raises the phone to her mouth and orders it to “call Jack” as Anna stares, wide-eyed, at the being Kim has suddenly transformed into.
“What’s happening?” asks Anna.
“It’s ringing,” says Kim, “it’s ringing…” Anna waits. “It’s… it’s ringing…”
Finally, after what seems like too long, Kim hangs up. She turns to Anna. Her hands are shaking. “I’m going to go smoke a cigarette,” she says, “with Luis.”
“What’s happening?” whispers Anna.
“I’m– smoking– a– cigarette,” Kim intones, “just like any other night.” And she turns around and strides into the kitchen. Anna is alone in the dining room.
Before she can point her phone to the news, the alarm rings. She quickly silences it. Now it is Anna’s turn to panic. She has no idea what is going on with Kim, why Kim is freaking out, and she does not think it is fair to leave her alone on her first Friday shift. Ah, well, she thinks, I suppose I can just wait until she gets back to unlock… but even as she is thinking it, a man raps twice on the door. Shit, she panics, what do I do? Unsure of herself, she tries to imagine herself as Kim… confident, experienced Kim, who seems to have disappeared… she takes a deep breath and goes to open the floodgates.
“Are you guys open?” the man asks. He is old, tall, and balding, dressed in a neat black overcoat. Behind him stands an equally old lady, short, with a bright red scarf.
“Y-yes,” Anna says, then more confidently, “Yes, we just opened, you are our first guests!”
“Two,” the man states. Anna looks at him. “Two?” he says again, holding up fingers in case she does not understand. “Where can we…?”
“Of course, of course,” Anna says, shaking her head, “let me show you to your table. Is by the window OK?”
“Hm,” the man hums. He turns slowly to his wife. “Window, Carol?”
“Hmmm,” she hums. “It is sort of cold, isn’t it?”
“But do you want to sit next to the window?”
“It is cold,” says Carol. “But I don’t know, why don’t you decide?”
“The decision,” mutters the man, “is not so very important,” and now another couple is standing behind them, on the street, and though they have been in line for no more than ten seconds they are already getting impatient New York faces. Anna’s heart nearly bursts through her chest. Where are you, Kim, she thinks, I am fucking up so bad already…
“Maybe a table farther from the window would be better?” she hazards.
“Well, of course it would be,” says Carol, “of course it would be, but you offered us the table by the window…”
“Ma’am,” Anna says, doing her best to feign a smile under the circumstances, “being the first guests here, you have the option of sitting wherever you’d like.”
“Well, put us by the window,” says the man.
“Away from the window,” Carol corrects him.
“That’s what I said,” he agrees. Anna leads them to a seat by the bathrooms. The couple that had been behind them is gone. Though she hates to lose customers, Anna is somewhat relieved. She goes to the bar (Jay’s usual spot) to pour two glasses of water. While she is pouring them, Kim returns from the kitchen. She sees Anna behind the bar and immediately walks over to her. Anna wants to berate Kim for leaving her alone on her first night, but she cannot; Kim outranks her, and furthermore, Anna can see that she has been crying. Her makeup is ruined. Anna tries to quash her lingering resentment.
“He’s OK,” Kim says.
“What is going on?” Anna asks.
“Jack is OK,” Kim says, “he just posted on Facebook, he was sick and stayed home, Jesus Christ, Anna, he was sick and stayed home…”
“What are you talking about?”
“Everything’s OK,” she says. She takes a deep breath. Everything’s OK, everything’s all right, the restaurant is closing soon, “Let’s just get through tonight. Let me take those waters. You go to the front door. Looks like you got a line,” she nods in the direction of the street. Anna looks up and, indeed, there are now three or four people standing at the hostess stand. It is going to be a long night, Kim thinks, a long, hard night for everyone, but it helps to have some perspective, doesn’t it? It could be so much longer… “It could be so much worse,” she says aloud.
Anna thinks for a moment. “You need to fix your makeup,” Anna says. “Let me take these waters.”
Kim touches her face. “Fuck,” she says, “I guess I’ll just rinse everything off, it’s better than all this running…” She smiles. What an inconsequential problem. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she assures Anna as she steps towards the bathroom. Anna trays the waters and walks them to the table where Carol and her husband are waiting. They, too, have their New York faces on.
“Finally,” Carol says aggressively.
“I apologize for the wait, ma’am,” Anna returns sweetly. “Your server will be with you in a minute to get you any other drinks.”
“We know what we want to eat,” says the man.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she says, “your server will really be with you in just one minute.”
“This is ridiculous,” says Carol. Turning to her husband, she asks pointedly, “Do you want to stay?”
“I don’t know,” he says, “do you want to stay?”
“I don’t want to stay but if you want to stay, I could.”
Anna looks towards the entranceway, which now has three or four entirely different people standing in it from before. The pace of life here, she thinks. Customers will come and go all night, but all we have to do is get through.
Nine o’clock. Time to go to class. I collect my belongings from the Bistro bar, my usual breakfast spot. I don’t want to be antisocial, but first thing in the morning is not a time, for me, for gathering, for eating together, talking and laughing: it is supposed to be solitary, quiet, I eat and read the paper and slowly, patiently sip my coffee, while the world around me seems to rush by in time-lapse. By lunchtime, I am ready to share a table, to break bread with friends and discuss the interesting topic of the day, or make stupid jokes if the moment calls for it. But not at breakfast.
Before entering the stairwell, I glance, as I always do, at the newspapers arrayed on the table by the entranceway: the Waterloo Record, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail. Interestingly, the Globe and Mail is Canada’s largest (in terms of circulation) national newspaper, but the Star is its largest overall; however, the Star’s readership has been declining steeply in recent years, while the Globe and Mail has held steady. The horse race. Today, all three newspapers bear the same front-page article, big bold letters, the images shouting, demanding. The Record: ‘Shocking’ attack;” the Star: “UNDER SIEGE.” And the Globe, loudest of all: Parliament in pitch-black silhouette, Gothic towers rising underneath a darkening evening sky, a maple flag shining brightly from the center as if lit by a spotlight, wanting, hoping to be called the spirit of the nation or something like that, eighty-point white letters exhorting attention:
Below the flag the subtitles:
I would soon hear banging and screaming, see smoke and smell gunpowder
How a city lost its innocence
An assault on the heart of democracy and the memory of Canada’s fallen
I pick up the paper, holding it broadsheet in front of me, the building (I have been there, I think, I used to go to Ottawa every year, do they still sell beaver tails on the canal?) looming outlined in front of me like the ghost of a terrible deadly emotion, taking up three-quarters of the page, and below it A WELCOME BONUS1 OF UP TO 25,000 MILES.
I remember that afternoon when I was ten. We went to see The Princess Diaries at Shoppingtown. It must have been about two-thirty, which would have been unremarkable except that normally I would have been in school at two-thirty, school didn’t get out until 2:50, and also because we never went to the movies during the week, never on a Tuesday. I thought it odd that my parents had come to school to pick me and my sister up, and to take us to the movies, all because of a plane crash somewhere in New York. Planes crash all the time, and it’s sad, but everyone we know is OK, and so why is everyone so upset? Nobody even really wants to see this movie, it’s not supposed to be particularly good, but Dad seems to think it very important that we go to see a movie and not keep– no one had gone to work– glued to the TV– but I didn’t know–
I remember when I saw the afternoon edition of the then-soon-to-be-defunct Herald-Journal. Newspapers do not usually have afternoon editions. Only then, maybe twenty minutes after I first heard the words, did I understand– even superficially– what had happened. No, I didn’t understand it– that happened, as well as I could say it ever did, only years later– what I mean is only then did I register it, only then were we finally talking about the same sequence of events.
I tried to focus on the movie. I was ten. It wasn’t hard. I laughed at the stupid jokes and I felt embarrassed for the princess when she was in awkward situations and I completely forgot that I would, on any other day, still have been at school. I can’t say for sure, but I do not think my parents had that luxury.
This is not about the T-word: there is too much to say there. I do not know if acts of individuals can be terrorism; I do not know if it counts if there needs to be no planning. Probably the shooting was planned, but clearly not in any detail. It does not take much planning to walk around shooting people; if you think about it, it takes disturbingly little, even none. It does not take much planning to run someone over with a car; if you think about it, it is not something that is really possible to plan. But this is not about terrorism and this is not about “terrorism.”
This is not about comparison. Time after time I come back to the question of how to compare. When the typhoon hit the Philippines I tried to compare it to Rockaway, and was saddened and ashamed at what I thought. We thought we had it bad? But then what do you tell to the people in Belle Harbor, in Far Rockaway, in Breezy Point? Will the rotting flesh in Tacloban rebuild the Harbor Light? Am I going to tell Canadians, it’s not exactly 9/11? This is not about comparison today.
This is about the A-word. This is not even about the word per se as a semantic unit. Because I am me, this is about typography, the word as ink on page, the accompanying image, the red and white flag today, the red and white explosions bigger than the bridge:
This is about the quantity of ink it takes to print a silhouette of Parliament 300,000 times. This is about the afternoon edition of the Herald-Journal, the only afternoon edition since the Kennedy assassination, which is still in the top shelf of the closet in my mother’s room. This is about the days that people remember, without judgment of the reasons.
The coming days will be interesting, but whatever may happen, I will save this paper.