Alex and Annie are from the same town. Well a city. A city of two million and growing people. Alex and Annie grew up a few blocks away from each other but went to two separate schools due to a dividing district city line. Alex went to Regent Park, and Annie Scarborough High.
Two different schools, two different classes, two different worlds, two different people. A guy and a girl who lived geographically only 500 metres, two stop lights, and two stop signs apart. As close as they were, Alex doesn’t remember Annie. Annie doesn’t remember Alex.
On a Sunday, Annie would go over to Ms. Olson’s flower shop and poke around for some inspiration. She loved seeing all the odd tropical, and flowering domestic plants. She loved all the different shades of green and almost every Sunday she would purchase some flowers for her mother and a couple for herself, a couple of her personal favorites, the daisy.
Daisies always smelled so sweet, delicate, and fresh. The daisy was light and friendly. It reminded her of the promise of new beginnings. The promise of spring in the dead of Toronto’s harshest 1990s winters.
On the same Sunday, Alex would go to next door to Mr. Olson’s antique bookshop and poke around for inspiration. He loved all the natural wood and dark corners. He also enjoyed the sweet, musky smell that lingered in the air. His favorite books were those of spies or of antique pottery. His ultimate find one day was a book of spies chasing thieves who stole priceless ceramic vases. Sitting hunched against a shelf, knees up to his chest, Alex read away the harshness of winter.
Nearby the book and flower shop was a coffee shop, Oasis Coffee. It had benches instead of seats, a long table, and a bar with stools. There was nothing individualistic here. Coffee became community. They served one kind. No lattes, half this, half that. It was just regular coffee, prepared with the utmost care; brewed one simple thoughtful way.
Mr. and Mrs. Glass owned the coffee shop. Besides the best regular coffee in town, they offered Jewish pastries, bagels, and mandelbread. The decor was also quite simple, natural wood, organic cottons, an Oasis full of plants. No art hung on the wall as all their possessions were stolen in the war. Mr. and Mrs. Glass came to Canada with nothing except love for each other their hearts. Even during years of separation, the Nazi’s could not destroy these two bonded souls.
Mr. and Mrs. Glass in their minimal yet warm space, would make sure your cup was always full. Refills were as random as the stories shared around the table. Friendships would develop with random strangers. Catholic or Jew. Everyone had the same place at the table. Dates would come and go. Lovers sometimes stayed. Family always remained.
Alex came for Mr. Glass’ personal history. He honoured his heroism, escape, and eventual refuge. Annie enjoyed conversations with Mrs. Glass about her great fifty year romance against all odds.
Although the two fated, Alex and Annie not as fortunate. They remained a calculation of near misses. Mr. Glass adored Alex, Mrs. Glass Annie, however not once did it ever come up that Alex was to meet Annie or Annie to meet Alex.
Spring would come, layers of scarves, hats, and mitts would be stripped. Faces revealed to the fresh feeling of subtlety warm air. Couples would walk, children would skip, and dogs could be seen tossing and kicking up mud in a nearby park. Annie loved this time of year. It was around her birthday and she would celebrate with it a new season of possibilities. Alex liked spring as he could bring out his bike and ride further out in search of new treasure at more remote unexplored books stores. He dreaded the summer to come.
Summers in Toronto were always too humid. The city was grey: grey buildings, grey sidewalks, grey pavement. Even the sky a polluted blue-grey and gold haze. The electricity wires would buzz and the birds gawked down, seeking out their desperate prey. The sweat in the air, the slow drone of engines still waiting for the red light to change. Stillness captivated a moving city. Summer still, nor did Alex and Annie meet. Two million people, yet two so close, connected, separate, struggling to find one.
It wasn’t until the winter of 2009. Alex had moved on. Married, and had three children. He read books to each one of them, tales of car chases and spies. He had dreamed of adventure and his kids became his next chapter. As with all good spies novels, having something to care for, something of value could become something the enemy could use against one so he never exposed this, even to his wife. He loved his children dearly, and told them so in secret, however he longed one day for much more. He longed for a similar partner to escape this new mystery, shrouding him.
Annie left the city and traveled. She went to London, Dublin, Germany, and France. Inspired by her travels, she took up writing and art. She was a romantic and dreamed one day of an adventurous life that would find her if she went out in the world and just tried. She met interesting people, and wore her heart on her sleeve. Sometimes putting her into tragic mental states on the grayest of Paris days. She got her heart broken three times and was determined the fourth would be alright.
Paris was not what she pictured in the Shakespeare and Company novels. She read and thought of Dorian Grey, Hemingway, and all the wild adventures authors had before her in this city of magic and light.
No matter how hard she tried, to put pen to paper Annie was hung up on Mr. Darcy. Leaving London for Paris was the only way she could escape her addiction for loving another narcissist. From one country to another, one city and another, Annie still cried herself to sleep looking for love. It never stepped into the same airport, let alone the same plane.
Years later, Annie flew back home. She unpacked her bags, in the same rose room she grew up in. Annie found herself back at the beginning. Her mom held her head, brushed her hair with a gentle hand while she got out her last cry. She was welcome to stay as long as she needed. Here, it remained, always, home.
Alex too returned home, but unlike Annie he returned to it empty, alone. His parents were gone and the kids with their mother. All he had left was his old neighbourhood and dreams. He had no one to hold. No one to talk to. Just an empty old cupboard, and some peanut butter on the counter. He grew a beard. Stayed inside for days on end. Mourned. He was tired, afraid. He was worried he had forgotten how to dream.
After some home self care and healing, Annie went back to the Oasis Cafe. She longed for Toronto’s best coffee and to see some familiar faces. However when she arrived the Oasis Cafe had changed. Inside a long white bar, with “baristas” mixing coffee cocktails catered to your individual choice. Annie was confused. The sign said Oasis but she truly felt like she walked into a mirage. Annie slid her finger across the bar and examined, It was made of a slick sterile smooth plastic, triggering no sensation. She turned and looked around at each individual white table and chair. She could see one couple chatting and a sea of glowing grey laptops. Faces peered into them, steady, concentrated, silent. The burst from the espresso machine made her jump. Annie grabbed her coffee and sat down closest to the couple in their chairs. She took off her coat and adjusted her hair. The couple stopped talking looked at her then brought out their smartphones.
Annie was depressed. This was her home, yet it felt so different and alone. She traveled the world to find the future was filled with emptiness, a complete black or white hole. Colour substituted by shade. Love was substituted by convenience. She hung her head, and glanced out the window. Where could she now go? Lost in her own city. Lost without a home.
The door opened. A slight clang. Spotted in the entrance was Alex. Struck like a deer at the bright white and powerful overhead lights. As a person pushed past, Alex scurried backward like a mouse running along the corner of the building out onto the street. Annie watched for a moment. Curious, unsure of this man who hurried into the street. His beard caught the wind, clinging his notebook a few papers pushed out. He huddled still, over the street. Annie threw on her coat, jumped out, and put an arm on his shoulder.
Alex looked up. Annie was holding onto a torn piece of paper. Scribbled on it a glowing red crayon heart. His eyes welled up, Annie reached out a hand before he began to cry. The piece was his daughter’s. He hasn’t seen her for months. It was Daddy’s heart; broken, scribbled, and chaotic. He thanked Annie and explained he doesn’t have much to cling onto and is afraid of losing even more. He rejects Annie’s proposal for some coffee. She understands as it was a nightmare for her too and suggests a walk home to hear more about the stories he carries with him. Alex agrees and leads her past the flower shop. She admires the pot of daisies. Alex admires her.
Annie lives close by, they realize they are neighbours. Alex points just down the street, a few blocks.
Alex tells her the bookstore is no longer, instead an empty, dark, internet cafe. Annie doesn’t understand the difference between a coffee shop with laptops and a pay per hour internet cafe. They both agree the two are one and the same. The past crept up rapidly into their present as the two found their way home.