Strangely I heard a stranger say: I am with you.
The traffic along Cook Street is discrete, continual, an urban stream thinly metalled. Stream of sound similar to wind, waves. An early creeker, I like the creek's faces, face. Down the street is realty. A sign beside the road. The i is missing. People in the cars. Faces. We are trafficking in realty. When the sun is out, if I look as far as I can see down the street, the shining on the cars is like the creek. A chip looks like a city. I'm studying the machine's architecture. Two men, an Indian and a dwarf, pedestrians, killed blamelessly outside my window not too long ago. The logic of the street is partly to blame. But computer simulations done by the Traffic Engineering department of the traffic patterns on Cook between Caledonia and Pandora showed nothing unexpected, produced no fatalities in cyberspace. These were part of very careful, conscientious studies conducted after the fact. The causes and reasons why are difficult to calculate. I myself have wondered about the causes and the architecture of the street, and how much they wanted to die, if at all. Nobody was drunk. The accidents were not 'hit and runs'. No charges laid.
The Indian man was hit at seven in the morning. The driver shouting for someone to call 911 woke me up. The Indian was motionless in the gutter on the other side of the street, his blood trickling easily down it. They say he died quickly. I called 911 and asked if there was anything I could do. "Just make sure nobody moves him." No one moved him, and he never moved. The ambulance attendants and police did what they could.
Later on, after he had been moved or removed, his brother showed up on the corner. A huge man. Falstaff like, I thought. He wore it well, and his colourful headband and vest suggested to me that he might be a story teller. All he saw was the blood in the gutter and I saw him looking at it. It was clear he was the brother.
I didn't get it debugged that day, though I studied the logic of the code until midnight. When I left, I couldn't remember where I'd put my car, so I tried to remember what the day had been like when I'd parked it. But I couldn't remember what time I'd parked it. Could have been weeks ago. I wasn't upset, had been absorbed in writing the program, if frustrated debugging it. I was more mystified than anything: the distance was what mystified me. There he had been. There I was across the street sitting where I am now. The distance had seemed very large. And I wondered where he was. That distance and the difficulty of communicating over it and even shorter ones.
I saw the brother on the corner the next day. Standing on the corner where his brother died and where I heard a young woman crying one midnight and her lover's harsh words as he walked away. And where, until recently, old people would stop and sit for awhile before walking on. Home Hardware has removed the big flower box they'd sit on. So they just keep walking now. There was basically nothing I could do, but wanting to do something, I grabbed The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, which I'd been reading for the last few days, and took it across the street to him.
"Hi," I said, "this is something I'd like you to have.
"Oh, it's one of my favourite books, I thought it might be of some use. I live just across the street, up there," pointing to my window.
"Uh huh. My brother was killed here yesterday."
Just the way he said it, matter-of-fact, no question in it, no pleading, no surprise, completely what it was, gave me the impression that this was not new to him.
"Yes. I know. I called the ambulance. I'm sorry."
"They say he was killed instantly," he said, looking at me.
"I never saw him move at all." He nodded and gazed off into the distance.
"I'd like to give you this book."
"What? Give me a book?"
"I don't know whether it would be any help, but it's one of my favourites. I'd like you to have it." He took it and looked at it with a disinterested curiosity.
"What's it about?"
"It's supposed to be read to or for those who are dead or dying. But I've found it quite interesting." He looked at the book, then at me.
"Well, we're all going to die sooner or later, aren't we?"
"I'll read it."
We shook hands and parted. It took some time to cross the street.
It was only about a week later that John the dwarf was killed at the corner of Balmoral and Cook, half a block down from my apartment. I was walking home from town when I came upon the scene. Ambulances, police, the street blocked to traffic from Pandora to Grant. I saw a young blonde woman in the back of a cruiser being comforted by a friend. I just saw the back of her head for a couple of seconds, but her posture and the situation suggested that she'd done the killing. Her head was entirely rigid, staring straight ahead into the distance, not responding to the young man's consolations.
The next day, as I was again walking home from town, I came across John's brother on the corner of Balmoral and Cook. There was a car idling at the corner on Balmoral and I had to cross. I hadn't made eye contact with the driver and I didn't know whether he was ready to turn or not, so I yelled at him to get his attention. As I was crossing, the driver rolled down his window and exclaimed "Thanks. People should do that more often. My brother was killed here yesterday."
I went back to talk. We exchanged hellos and once more I offered the customary and pointless apology. When we say we're sorry what does it mean? That we were partly to blame? Or just that we regret. Or a simple offering of condolence. All three, I suppose, in various proportions.
I told him that someone else had been killed nearby just last week. His response was that he would have to tell that to the woman who hit his brother. She feels so badly, he said. Maybe it would make her feel better, he said. An astonishing generosity. And would he be able to sustain it over time, I wondered?
I told him that I'd met the brother of the other man just down the street a few days ago, right after his brother died. We were both puzzled. He turned to me. "What do you think he was looking for, so recently, not so far away?"
I had speculated on this, could have elaborated. In the end, I could only acknowledge to him that it must have been much the same as what he himself was looking for. "That doesn't help much though, does it?" He shrugged, bemused.
"Some sort of understanding... even a message. You think of that." He turned to me, half jokingly: "You're not the messenger, are you?"
It startled me. How could I be? The role was beyond me. Even had I thought that he really wanted me to, I couldn't have played it. "No. I've met two brothers, though. I don't have any, but I'm wondering about brothers."
He glanced at me with a look of preoccupied disappointment, checking also to see that's all I had to say. "Yeah," he said, "it doesn't make much sense. Maybe it does. I don't know."
He was quite drunk. Had arrived in Victoria from Halifax that morning. A man of about 45. He told me John was just walking home from his job at Mcdonald's. I'd seen John around. Burly. Well known in Fernwood. Lively character. Never met him myself. We parted.
From a distance he cried out, "You could be the messenger without even knowing it! Without me knowing it either! Until later, perhaps! Or not! It's like that with brothers--that's how it was between us! My little brother John..."
He waved, rolled up his window and turned the corner, drove off into the night.
A couple of weeks later I met a guy in a bar who'd seen the accident. He hadn't reported anything. He told me what had happened. There was a subtle implication of speeding to the story as he told it. When I asked him, he pondered his beer and said "Oh, I wouldn't say so... no, I wouldn't say so." We took a pull or two on our beers and looked at the scene in the bar in the abstract way of taking in a bar's flavour, the women laughing the enthusiasm of the slightly tipsy, the men thrusting forward into their fourth beer and all that they have too to tell the woman, or just relaxing, pleased to be having a beer on a Friday night and no worrying now, possibly more pleased with themselves than they have been all week.
"No, a pretty young woman like that. I saw her. She's in a bad way. It wasn't her fault, really. It's a lousy spot. Made for an accident like that. She'll have to deal with it, that's all I can say. Here's to justice."
We drank a toast to decisions. Our little city isn't the sort of place where people leave from fear of the place itself. We are moderately famous for the moderation of the climate, the magnificence of the wilderness we have left, and the quaint air of British colonialism maintained for tourists and lack of other vision. Though recently we were featured in The New York Times for our practice of dumping raw sewage into the ocean. And everyone knows about Michael Dunahee, the abducted little boy from Victoria. Curiously, all of North America has responded to this particular boy's disappearance. "If the little boy from Victoria is lost after the war and more of the same, the boy is very lost, is he not?", queried my acquaintance. You cannot travel five blocks without encountering his picture. Yet he is nowhere to be found. Somehow Victoria has been trafficking in realty and parable for some time. The search for the abducted boy and the blameless killing of the Indian and the dwarf. We study this over another beer or two, the place closes. I haven't seen him since. In fact I cannot remember his name.
When I'm home, I ponder the street, its goings on, its logic. No signal light between Caledonia and Pandora. Middle of a straight stretch. Narrow street. Drivers can't see pedestrians sometimes until they're in the street. No cross walks, a lot of parked cars, no speed-limit signs. Treacherous, particularly since it was widened to four lanes a mile away, bringing more traffic into the city. No islands for pedestrians. Lots of people walking, living around here, but it's not zoned residential. Maybe people who live and walk here think it's so close to home it must be safer than it really is. And so forth. As a suicide machine it would be a conveniently pointless, blameless, and sufficiently risky way to die. The noteless and possibly unwilling victim of an unforeseen accident. No ugly question left for the living as to why. You could do it any time in a second. I would not leave a note. Never complain, never explain. But who could trace their actions, thoughts? Perhaps they were dreaming of women, expecting rain.
I ended up writing a letter and going to a meeting of the Traffic Advisory Council. The Engineering Department had recommended a pedestrian island, one crosswalk, a turning lane in the middle of the street at certain points, and adjustments in parking regulations. No light. I said I thought a light was necessary. So no decision's been made yet. They did listen to me. They said they'd call me about a committee on it. Haven't yet. I suppose I'd better phone them, now that I'm out of school. Working at the Ministry of Transportation for the summer. Doing something.
I also said that if removing the crosswalks had been a good idea (as City Council had, to "remove the illusion of pedestrian safety") then we should remove the stripes down the middle of the road. A good illusion goes a long way. I said this politely. There was at least one chuckle. I was very polite. But nervous, damn it. Silly me. Machine architecture and bureaucracy seem to occupy my speech these days. The poetry of plan twenty-three slash two b. One genius on the Traffic Advisory Council suggested that a speed-bump be put at North Park and Cook. I presume she did not think of how high the cars might loop through the air. But, then, Rob Waters writes a fishing column in one of our community newspapers. John Savage is the provincial minister of Indian Affairs. The street is not as dangerous as comedy gone bad.
My civic responsibility made me feel better. Joe citizen to the rescue. Is it possible, do you think, to engineer a chip or a city in which the logic is not so harsh? As you know, I do not remember my dreams. I look at a chip and see a city, look at the city and begin to feel that I do not live here anymore. What do the brothers make of it? Not this story. The Book of the Dead says over and over again to the dead and the dying that it is sufficient for them to know that whatever they may experience in that passage is of their own making, is their own mind. And that we are brothers and sisters in this though a little mortal fear may linger. When we look into the future we do not look into the distance far enough. What is the architecture of the soul, and is that what we see on the street? Realty on what was, or is, or may be Salish land. I wonder if the Indian man, as of old and despite land claims, believed that it simply could not be owned?