Cora walked down Dundas feeling fucked-up and like she didn’t have enough tattoos. It was only twelve-thirty, but she couldn’t be at the bar anymore, and she couldn’t talk to humans anymore. Her hair was wrong, and her clothes were wrong, and her limbs were too big, and everything she said made her sound desperate and like she was eleven-years-old. She didn’t know who Alain de Botton was, and she’d never listened to Patti Smith, and she didn’t have enough money for another $18 marmalade, black pepper, gin, rooibos, lobster claw, honey, tequila, grenadine, genocide cocktail at the pretend speakeasy under the palm reader sign her friend had taken her to.
When Cora was eleven, she felt she could never be good enough. Each night she said five Hail Mary’s, one Our Father and an elaborate prayer she’d made up asking God for protection from every disaster she could dream of, rape through to earthquakes, yet she still carried this feeling of badness in her like a hard cigarette butt in the centre of her soul.
The top layer of snow had melted and then frozen again, and there was a thick layer of ice over the city like Toronto was trying to keep Cora out. She slipped on the sidewalk and bruised her knee, and when she was eleven she could never be good enough, and now she was twenty-five and she could never be cool enough. She could never eat enough chickpeas to feel full, and Toronto hated her, and the successful artists she met tonight hated her, and if God existed he would have hated her too, and then an old woman at the streetcar stop shouted out to her: “You’re a very beautiful woman,” and Cora stopped.
The woman had a scarf around her head like Cora’s Polish great grandmother, who died long before Cora was born, might have worn. Her fake teeth slipped around inside her mouth, and her eyes were as shiny as the ice on the streets.
“Thanks,” said Cora. “So are you.” And she remembered the feeling of being in church, sending her sins through the stained glass windows and stepping onto the cold concrete Sunday morning parking lot, waiting with her brothers while her dad finished his post-Eucharist cigarette, the light on the icy snow banks on the drive home. And maybe beauty was her religion now, writing words that would make the world seem better, but Cora wasn’t eleven anymore, and the people she met tonight were not God. Being stylish wasn’t the same as being beautiful, and here was a woman with no teeth telling her this. Cora didn’t need to feel the same cigarette butt of anxiety, devotion without a man hole cover. She could see beauty and make beauty without reading every book and seeing every film. The city was slicked over with ice, but she used her treadles boots like skates to slide along the top of it. The streets sparkled and the trees bowed down to her after the heavy winter.