Joyland

Toronto |

Breaking

by Julia Chan

edited by Kathryn Mockler

The little voice told me to come here. I don’t always listen to it, even though they say you should. But this time it seemed more urgent than usual. It whispered in my ear while I was at work. I was sitting at my computer, deleting emails. There are so many of them. Every click induces a wince. It’s not that I care about those emails—most were junk, or invitations to functions I had no interest in attending, or conversations I was only meant to witness—but you never know if you might want or need them later. That’s the problem, with decisions at work, and with life in general: you just never know for sure whether you’re making a terrible mistake.  

I walk up to the closed gate and squeeze through the gap. On weekends, when the spit is open to the public, the road buzzes with cyclists, pedestrians, and the parks and rec vehicles that drive incessantly back and forth. Today it’s technically closed, so the road is empty as I progress farther along the spit. The flat lake spreads east to my left. To my right, trees and the white masts of hidden boats.

This isn’t a place you’d come upon by accident. It’s a destination, a place you have to make plans to get to. Getting here is a royal pain. You have to take the subway, and then there’s any number of inefficient ways from there, but I took the 72, switched to the 501, got off at Leslie, and then I had to walk south. And it’s not an insignificant walk. So getting here—to this unnatural strip of land that juts out into the lake, made of broken bricks, chunks of concrete, metal scrap, and plowed-up earth, a dumping ground now a park—getting here is an act of will. 

The voice didn’t tell me exactly where to go. I assume I’ll just walk and figure it out. I guess it’s my intuition, the little voice inside that seems to just know the right thing to do. I take a left, onto a smaller road. It leads me away from the main one, further out into the lake. 

Out this way, the crying of the gulls becomes louder. The dry asphalt is cracked and troubled with potholes, and the shoreline is made not of soft sand but a sharp jumble of industrial debris. Rusted metal rods reach out of crumbling concrete blocks and angle up toward the sky. Bricks eroded over time become just rocks. So does glass. Everything changes, morphs, ultimately wears away and disappears. These pieces of garbage. Whole landscapes. My own body. I know this.  

I approach the point that leads the farthest away from the city and leave the road, make my way across rubble toward the water line. At the shore, such as it is, a woman is bent over. She wears a navy trench coat, and a cream blouse and black slacks. Her shiny leather purse is tucked under her arm. She looks like she should be at an office like mine, making warm photocopies, sending one-sentence emails from behind a desk with clean lines and sharp ninety-degree angles. Her eyes are to the ground, searching for something. Her free hand pushes rocks aside, picks one up, examines it, drops it. She straightens and moves a few feet farther, bends, starts again.

She is not alone. I turn my head and see a man farther down. He too is dressed in what might be office gear: a short-sleeved button-down shirt, bland cotton pants. He has abandoned a laptop bag some several feet away, and seems unconcerned that he’s leaving it behind. He is smoking a cigarette and taking photographs with a camera—a real camera, not a phone. He stops, cigarette between his lips, holds the camera up, turns the focus ring, and presses the shutter. He is far away from me, but in my head I hear the click. He walks on, picking his way. His eyes search, then train on something—I can’t see what—and he raises the camera again. Click

On the national paper’s website today, a story caught my eye. A developing story. It said: BREAKING. I read the rest of the headline and the details. There were several countries’ names, and photographs of artillery and men in uniforms, and the titles of their leaders and the various things they were quoted as saying, but I got the feeling what was more important was what they didn’t say. The story itself didn’t interest me so much as its prefix: BREAKING. It was in all caps, red, shouting at me. 

This is not the place. I keep walking along the rough shoreline. My ankles threaten to falter on the uneven surface. I think about what it would be like to fall, to feel sharp edges bruising or cutting the side of my body, but I keep going. Because usually I spend so much of my time waiting. Waiting for the bus or the streetcar, waiting for my paycheque, waiting in lines. 

Waiting to get word. 

Waiting for something to happen. 

The sun has set now, and the daylight will run out soon. When it does, I’m not sure how I’ll find my way back in the dark. But the voice tells me not to worry about that right now.  

And then, I finally find it: a large, flat rock jutting out into the water. I climb up and turn to face the mute lake. 

The noise of the gulls becomes almost deafening. There are hundreds of them—on the ground, circling up above, skimming the water. Unsettled, jumpy. They can’t decide if they want to be on the ground or in the air. Some chase and attack the others. They land and jostle each other on the jagged edges of concrete, pick along the rough ground. They are screaming, all of them.