canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Future of Anger

by Lynda Curnoe

As is my habit early in the morning, I walked up to Bloor Street last Friday for a wake up coffee. It was mid November, not my favourite season, the time of death or, to put it more tactfully, nature’s annual sleep, but still the fall colours were there to be admired, bright red of burning bush, yellow of silver maple, mottled pale green of dogwood. These days local householders are fond of buying large fall tubs of chrysanthemums, in orange, yellow and deep red to decorate their front porches and walkways.

In The Coffee Tree my favourite spot was empty, a threadbare loveseat at the back of the shop with a small battered coffee table in front. Unlike the other local coffee chains which are usually crowded at this time of day, this restaurant does not feature loud popular music. So I can sit and read the morning paper and enjoy my dark roast coffee. Sometimes I buy a croissant or muffin but not too often because, after getting home, I will prepare a big bowl of porridge or scrambled eggs.

In front, there were two tables occupied, one by two women apparently with lots to discuss, their eyes focused on each other, mouths alternating in movement. They were dressed in business suits but seemed to be talking about personal matters. Business people tend to lean back confidently while these two were leaning close to each other, across the table. One of the regulars was seated at the other table, a lean and keen looking guy in mid life, probably unemployed, carefully reading the want ads in the Toronto star. I had encountered this man several here and tried to avoid eye contact. Because if you let him know in any subtle way that you were free to converse he would approach your table and say something, anything, to get started and then if you responded would sit sideways on a nearby chair and begin to talk about something he had just read in the paper, usually Toronto city politics.

But there was one other person, a young woman sitting close to where I was headed. She was leaning forward and writing in a coil notebook, the same kind I use for my diary. These are usually called school or student workbooks, with letters on the front advertising “300 lined pages with dividers” or some such and they are cheap but durable. I have a stack of these at home, filled with writing from over the years. I have never seen anyone else use this type of notebook, most people preferring a more genteel sort of book, something manufactured as a diary with a plain cover, perhaps with a place for a name inside.

She didn’t look up as I walked by but kept writing, occasionally sipping from her cup of tea. When younger I drank tea as well, from naiveté actually, getting used to the hard stuff, coffee, as years went by. But after I had got settled I found I couldn’t help stealing glances at her. She looked familiar but at my age a lot of people look familiar.

Obviously Anglo, she had light blue eyes and blondish long hair that she must have attempted to grow straight. One side was straight to her shoulders, as though it had been ironed, but the left side stuck out a little in a slight wave, like mine, strangely enough. Her skin was very fair with a sprinkling of freckles across her small nose. It was the largish mole beside her nose that made me start. It ought to have been removed I, thought, until I remembered the mole that I used to have in the same spot.

Then her clothes. She wore a tight orange cable knit sweater covering her little boobs and below a pair of slim blue jeans. On her feet she wore running shoes. That sweater was familiar, in fact I owned one just like it about 40 years ago. I remember wearing it with an orange plaid mini skirt. Orange has always been my favourite colour. In stores my eyes always catch hold of orange colours and won’t let go.

She must have felt me staring because she suddenly looked up and stared back at me. At this instant I felt a terrific shock, not of unease but of recognition. For she was a younger me. She didn’t seem to know who I was yet. But her searching eyes looked me over until her face finally brightened in a grin.

“There you are.” she said, “I’ve been looking for you.”


“Well I don’t mean to upset you but I need to have some things clarified.”

It was the way I would have talked to my daughter or my ex-husband, a sharp, aggressive, accusatory, confrontational style that had little to do with what I wanted to discuss. I did it, I suppose, to get their attention and it worked. I was immediately on my guard.

A feeling of guilt had crept into my mind. I had nothing to feel guilty about to anyone but there it was.

“Here I am,” she explained, “twenty five years old with only a grade twelve education, newly separated from my husband with a little girl to support and no income or money to do it.”

“Why is this my fault?” I argued “ You made out OK later on. You have to deal with it just like I did.”

I have no patience with whiners, even myself. This took her aback as she was obviously looking for sympathy.

She persisted with, “I’ve had to go on welfare since we don’t even have enough to eat. My rent had to be paid at the first of the month and there was nothing left. My daughter had to go to school without milk money for two weeks.”

Remembering myself at that time, I winced. I sent apple juice drinking boxes with Lucy, my daughter, but, because she never had milk money, she stuck out as a loser in front of her friends.

“Um, OK” I said. “Lets see what I can do to help.”

Not that I received much help back then but wait, I certainly did from Mom and Dad, lots of friends and my sisters. Psychological help though, not money.

“I’m ashamed to ask Cindy or Rebecca for help,” she said. “And Mom and Dad have just enough to scrape by.”

There were tears in her eyes glistening, not quite ready to slide down her cheeks.

I slipped from my chair over to the one opposite her and put my arms around her.

“Oh, I remember. It was awful but you’ll get back on your feet soon, I promise.”

By now the tears had started to flow and she began to lash out at me.

“Why didn’t you make me finish high school at least and go to university or teachers college. Then I would have had something to fall back on instead of nothing. These days you need some kind of qualification you know.”

I said I knew. But I also knew but couldn’t tell her that I later went back to university and got two degrees. What good would it be to tell her that now.

“You were just too stubborn to know what you wanted.” she wailed.

“What plans do you have?” I asked, changing the subject.

“If I can get some money together to help with tuition and babysitting I want to take a one year secretarial course at Humber College. There must be a good job for me somewhere.”

“Well I can help you with money so why don’t we walk along Bloor street to my bank”

Fortunately her bank was the same as mine and I was able to transfer five thousand dollars from my account to hers. She had asked for two thousand but I made it five because I wasn’t sure we would ever see each other again. I also handed her five hundred dollars in cash. That almost cleaned me out. The money had been earmarked for my one week cottage rental in the summer.

Then I took her shopping at the local No Frills where I instructed her to buy whatever she wanted and as much as she wanted.

“Pretend you’ve won one of those contests where you win as much as you can stuff in your shopping cart except, there’s no time limit and you don’t have to run around the store.”

This seemed like fun and away we went. She filled up two shopping carts in the course of about an hour, strolling the aisles and looking carefully at all the packages and cans so she didn’t forget anything. And quite a bit for her freezer, since she told me she had access to a larger freezer owned by her landlady.

I told her to stock up on things she might need in a month or so, like detergent, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. She had a cat so I suggested buying extra kitty litter. But, she pointed out, her cat ran free, just coming in to eat. That’s how it was then. The bill wasn’t so bad, $250.00 or so. I wouldn’t have minded more. I used my debit card which would automatically debit my line of credit.

She had to hurry home, as the babysitter’s time was almost up. I paid a cab driver to take her to an address closer to downtown, where she lived.

“Take care of yourself. If you need me again just let me know.”

She never did contact me again. I know she turned out all right because here I am right now sitting in The Coffee Tree thinking over what happened last Friday morning. It was the least I could do.

Lynda Curnoe is a writer fond of most forms of writing and reading, especially short stories and poems. "A Trip Around Grenadier Pond," a long poem detailing a trip around a pond in Toronto’s High Park, was published as a Chapbook by Lyricalmyrical Press in 2007.





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