Maria hasn’t arrived. I refuse to panic myself by checking my watch but I know it’s after 7pm, and I’m supposed to read at Pages at 7:30. I peer out at the glitter of passing traffic; nothing even slows down, and finally I cave in and call her.
“Hi, Maria, how are you?”
“Kathy, I have a problem.” Her voice is subdued, unnaturally even. “The restaurant I was in threw away my glasses! I can’t see very much. I’m a bit flustered, but it’ll be all right. Can you tell me again where you are?” I repeat the address; all I know is that it’s somewhere in the southwest of the city, not far from downtown… Graham, the proprietor, steps in. I notice his forehead pucker as she explains to him about the glasses.
“Get on to Second. You’ll see a large crematorium on your left, with yellow and gold neon signage. Turn left. Left again. All our lights are on. There’s a big sign. Some flags. We’re the only low-rise in the street. You can’t miss it.”
Let’s say time passes. A vehicle pulls up.
“That’s definitely a single woman driver,” Graham calls out. He’s right – a woman applying lipstick in the glow of the streetlamp turns, startled, as I approach. It’s not Maria. I decide to stay outside. Another vehicle pulls up, also a single woman, also not Maria. It must be at least 7:20 (though I still won’t look) when an ancient Honda drifts to a halt a hundred meters up from where I stand. It simply has to be her, and even if it isn’t, by now I’m ready to do my best to get whoever is driving it to take me where I need to go,
I almost don’t recognise Maria. Her hair is up and without her glasses, her eyes seem huge and very dark, like a seal’s eyes; they glisten in the glow of the street lamps.
“I’m so sorry –”we blurt at each other.
“I really am very nearsighted. And I don’t know this bit of the city. You’ll have to tell me the street names. I’ll steer.” For some reason neither of us thinks of me driving. She pulls out and progresses, at a fast walking pace, to the first set of lights. She leans forward in her seat. Her face is tight with concentration, her lower lip sucked in. The glasses, she explains, must have been on her tray at the restaurant. She was reading – my book as it happened – and didn’t notice when the server removed the tray… We limp towards another set of lights. “At least in the dark like this, the lights do stand out a bit, but I can’t read the signs at all,” she tells me. “God, what’s all that flashing over there – is it the police?”
“No, an ambulance. It’s stopped.’’
“Is it on this side?”
A tense silence ensures while we make a slow left turn onto a busy section of highway.
“I told them,” Maria continues once we are in the clear, ” ‘My glasses must be in the trash!’ I said. ‘Give me a pair of gloves and I’ll go through it.’ But they said – ” At this point Maria interrupts herself to deal with her a cell phone. She takes both hands from the wheel, reaches for her purse, extracts the burbling phone, flips it open, presses buttons, and tells whoever it is about losing her glasses. Perhaps she can’t see it but there is a large truck two meters away from our rear end and dense traffic lurching past on both sides… I grip the sides of my seat and admit that this may no longer be a simple matter of being late to give a reading; it could be a question of whether or not we arrive at all. Maria and I may never make it to Pages bookstore and actually I wish I had never written a novel, because if I hadn’t done that stupid, perverse thing, sitting at my desk immersed in an alternative reality for months on end, then I would not be here in this vehicle in Calgary driven by someone who cannot see, risking at least two people’s lives in order to promote the damn thing. I want to go home. I want to see my kids –
And Maria wants her glasses, which, smeared with ketchup, lie buried deep in a pile of half-eaten burgers and left-over fries.