The Science to the Finding of Expensive Umbrellas
I was never good at science.
I went through a phase, once in my life, of finding expensive umbrellas at bus stops. I was 19 or 20, and going to a community college, traveling there by bus. The umbrellas were both Christian Dior. I found them on days that threatened rain, on the bus-stop bench. The umbrellas were still dry, and furled, fastened with their snap.
There was nobody else around at the bus stop, then. At the stop there was a wooden shelter, so you were under cover. I would sit and watch the traffic, wait for the particular silhouette of a bus, and then would look for the number I wanted.
Or I would study the way the church across the street sat on the wide green cared-for lawn with its sign that posted Jesus quotes. I would transfer off the bus on 49th. Sometimes I would see the bus I wanted cross 49th to go to the stop, but I didn’t want to run across Granville when it was busy. There were all the hedges along the side of the street. They weren’t just drug store umbrellas, the kind that after a while, the thread disconnected from the spider web of metal, and left the umbrella dangerous, like you would poke someone’s eye out and the fabric loose and flapping.
There was some time in between umbrellas. The first one was black. It looked new. I was surprised and happy to see it. My drugstore umbrella was ancient, and on the brink of collapse, and I probably couldn’t manage to fix it in some way. I used the Dior umbrella for over a year.
Maybe I should have left a note, and pinned it on the wooden shelter, but I just assumed it was someone who had been passing through. Part of the flow of people and buses at the stop.
And then, it happened again. I found the second umbrella. At the same stop, on a quiet day, again, threatening rain, nobody around, the buses roaring by on Granville to other stops, not stopping at mine. The second Dior umbrella was navy. The umbrellas were a solid color. I could only speculate as to why this was the Dior umbrella producing bus-stop.
The umbrellas, there was just something natural about the way they carried, in the rain, when I had done up my coat, and when the water was streaming along the deep gutters. Or a river, if there had been a lot of rain, and there were leaves, the rain would carry the leaves with them. Sometimes I liked the rain on my face, on my skin. When the rain stopped, I would close up the umbrella, and it closed perfectly, with sort of a momentum, like all the right mechanics were happening at once, and with little physical exertion on my part. After the second umbrella, that was it. I found no more at that bus stop, or anywhere. I was a votary of the Dior umbrella though, after that. They were lasting, which was a good thing.
It was strange I never found another umbrella. And I’ve never owned a Dior umbrella other than those at the bus stop. So it doesn’t make sense. There must be a science to the finding of expensive umbrellas.
It’s a bit like the story of the ‘straggling spanakopita.’ Long past the days of the Dior umbrellas, I was in a Greek restaurant in White Rock a few years ago, with an ex. I had ordered some spanakopitas, and when the waitress brought them, there were five small triangles of spanakopita on a plate, which she set on the table at my place. She then said “There’s one on the way,” and walked off. “Oh, okay,” I said, trying to figure out what she meant. About three minutes later she brought out another spanakopita, all by itself on a separate plate. There was no explanation, and I didn’t ask, why this spanakopita was all on its own, straggling behind the others. It sat on a napkin on the plate, trying to be cheerful, when she had set it down, but I was suspicious. I picked up the plate and shifted the spanakopita onto the plate with the others. I wondered if maybe they had dropped one on the floor and had to discard it or forgotten to cook the last one, then realized at the last minute they needed another. If that was the case why didn’t they bring them all out at once. So after that when I referred to the restaurant, I mentioned the straggling spanakopita.
At that college I used to look out of the window in class, daydreaming, and I could see all of the rooftops of the houses leading up to the mountains. There were no big buildings around here, just neighborhoods and leafy trees in different colours, churches on corners and the roofs of families one house after another, the poetry of one street after another. If I ever lost my concentration, my gaze would be over the streets.
Before I reached the Dior umbrella bus-stop, I would have to transfer, and I waited for the bus to come right outside the college first. One day I was waiting there with the first Dior umbrella in my bag, and my philosophy instructor sat down, as he was waiting for the bus too. We were talking about reading, and that was the year I had read War and Peace. I told him I had just finished it. “War and Peace?” he said. “But that’s an enormous book,” he said. “I know,” I said. He was a thin balding man with a mustache and he looked at me with a puzzled look. I had recently handed in a philosophy essay, and got the mark back for it. The mark was mediocre, and that was probably what I had on my mind, when I first saw him, before we were talking about reading.
Maybe I should be studying something like astronomy. Learning about the planets and stars and all the things out in space that somehow people knew things about. I wonder what it was like hundreds of years ago when they didn’t know about these things, when the day and night alternated and you just saw the stars in the sky.
The rain made me think of sunshine, and summer, and the spare lot two addresses over on our street when I was growing up, the lot was full of tall blackberry canes, and from the canes all you could see was the tall evergreens and a blue piece of the bay and the islands in the distance. I would go in there, making trails between the bushes, and pick the berries, studying them first for over-ripe bits, filling icecream buckets with the berries, some of them so ripe their juices stained the side of the buckets.
When I had carried the buckets home, I had one of those bean bag frogs, full of rice, that I had bought at a craft sale my Mum had something to do with. The sun fading in the sky. It was of a purple and blue diamond design fabric, and I had set it on top of my chest of drawers, propped against the mirror.
The berries were a sure thing though. And in the days of bean bag frogs, I would never of dreamed of finding the Dior umbrellas. There was a science, for a while that I must have had the hang of, and then I lost it.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters and no names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story.