Every few minutes a car passed by the front window of Emilee’s darkened apartment, their headlamps lighting up the space despite being obscured by the falling rain. And every few minutes, Emilee feels a dull wave of pain in her lower abdomen, as if a single giant fist is slowing squeezing and releasing, squeezing and releasing. With a grimace, Emilee stands up with a hand on her stomach, and slowly makes her way from the window to pillage the medicine cabinet recessed in to the wall of her bathroom.
At 4am on a Saturday morning, Emilee would much prefer to be cocooned in her bed, with her cat, Monsieur Meow – also known more casually as MonMon. Instead, he was sitting at her feet; tail curled around his toes, his large golden eyes patiently watching her every move. Emilee rifled through the cabinet, swearing under her breath, before sighing deeply and taking a seat on the nearby toilet.
“Well, MonMon – your mom’s an idiot.” Emilee muttered, as she grinds both her palms against her forehead. She takes another scan of the cabinet and confirms that she does not possess a single pain pill, tablet, or powdered pouch. As a woman who meticulously tracks her menstrual cycle, she was immensely frustrated with her own oversight regarding her present stock of Ibuprofen.
MonMon didn’t respond, instead turning to gently head-butt her calf before sauntering off back to the bedroom - having lost interest in the surprise early morning rousing of his caretaker. With more cursing under her breathe, Emilee closes the medicine cabinet with more force than intended and shuffles her way back to the shadowy living room in search of her phone. She was sure there was at least one 24-hour pharmacy within walking distance, and the waves of pain in her abdomen meant she had no choice but to venture out in to the rainy darkness. Another night with disrupted sleep wasn’t anything new to her these days – at least it was a weekend, allowing her a reprieve from trying to look attentive on a zoom call.
Snatching a face mask from her coat rack hard enough to make the whole structure wobble momentarily, Emilee buries it deep in the front pocket of her rain jacket and makes her way out of her apartment. With a slight shiver and more colourful cursing, she opens her umbrella and steps out on to the sidewalk. The moon escapes from behind a cloud and casts a dull glow on the street in front of her, enough to illuminate her hunched, shambling figure.
As she turns westward and falls in to a consistent walking rhyme in tune with the rain drops plopping on her umbrella, Emilee’s thoughts fall in a familiar pattern of lamenting her miserable status in life. Like some sort of cruel joke, only a week after she moved out to Vancouver from her small prairie town, the pandemic hit. She didn’t even have a chance to visit her new office before remote work was initialized, and had no choice but to build the entirety of her new apartment furniture by herself, which she did over the course of a few days. For weeks she had recurring nightmares of traveling to Stockholm, only to discover that every hotel and AirBnB required guests to assemble their own furniture upon check-in. Even a quick glance of a hex key could raise her blood pressure instantly.
The unmistakable panting of a heavy-set dog manages to break through her stream of self-pitying thoughts. Sure enough, she glances behind herself to find a greying English bulldog trotting along, trying to catch up with her. She stops, turns, and crouches down - the dog, seemingly relieved that she’s stopped moving, slows to a leisurely pace. He plods up to her and rapidly exhales his hot breathe in her face, with a big dopey grin. Emilee can’t help but crack a small smile of her own as she scratches the top of his head and admires his slightly ridiculous yellow raincoat. As she scratches under his chin – with the dog displaying his approval with a rapidly tapping back leg - she hears a man’s voice call out, “Wilfred? What are you up to, you little scoundrel”.
“He’s here, I’ve got him”, Emilee calls back in to the night, as she sees the outline of a slow-moving man approach. As he steps under the nearest street lamp, Emilee is a bit taken aback at how much he reminds her of her own father – with a thick bristly moustache, twinkling blue eyes, and wrinkles that speak to a good 60 years' worth of laughter and sorrow. She found herself thinking back to the last time she saw her dad, over a year ago – and couldn’t remember the last time they had chatted after her move.
“Ah, I see why he ran off – as well as he can at his age. You look about the same height and age as my niece, his owner.” The man stops, roughly six feet away from Emilee – it’s so strange how we automatically know to do that now – Emilee thinks, as the man clicks his tongue to bring Wilfred to heel.
“She’s working the graveyard shift as a security guard – best pay she could find while being able to keep her distance from others – after losing her waitressing job because, well, you know. I try to help her out by walking this old grump a few hours before she gets home – tucker him out, as it were.” The man pulls a leash from his pocket and clips it on to Wilfred’s collar, who is now sitting dutifully on the sidewalk, a few globs of drool making their escape to the pavement below.
“Wow, I can’t imagine working those hours.” Emilee says. As she stands up to eye level with the man, she can see some tears welling up.
“Well, she’s a tough cookie, and twice as smart.” He chuckles. “This is the least I can do. Now, you, young lady - I won’t ask your business of why you’re out here at this hour, but promise this old man you’ll be safe and get home soon.”
“Will do” Emilee smiles back at him, as she turns to continue her trek to the drug store. With only the echoes of her footsteps methodically landing on the sidewalk, she finds herself sinking back in to her own psyche, reflecting on everything that had gone sideways for her since her arrival on the west coast. With no friends or family in Vancouver, she had hoped new work friendships would help her adjust to the move. Needless to say, the few awkward virtual happy hours she did with her new colleagues didn’t go very far in forging those relationships. Not knowing her co-workers well enough to joke or spark casual conversations in virtual chat channels, Emilee found herself in the perpetual discomfort of being a new employee – a year in to her tenure.
A sudden movement to her left startles Emilee back in to the present. As she stops and allows her eyes to adjust, she realizes the movement was a small cat jumping up under a set of curtains, who now had its sparkling black eyes fixated suspiciously on her. “Hello little friend” she says softly, in the direction of the cat, who soundlessly meows back at her from behind the glass.
Emilee continues to watch the small grey cat in the window, until it seems satisfied that she isn’t very interesting and begins to lick its paw with vigour. She can’t help but think of MonMon, and realizes she’s smiling as she thinks of the silly way he flops on the floor when unsatisfied with his meal. Her most loyal companion, she couldn’t image making it through the past year without him by her side. A gentle pang of pain in her gut rouses her from her thoughts, and she turns from the window and begins to walk again.
Soon enough, she rounds a corner and finds herself on West Broadway, with the drug store in her sights. As she carefully looks both ways on the deserted streets and jogs across the main roadway, she spots the slightest hint of sun starting to rise over the mountains. With it, the clouds begin to break and the rain slows to a light misting. She shakes out her umbrella, before folding it neatly under her arm.
Once safely inside the store, she lingers over the pain relief section and grabs a bottle of Ibuprofen. As she heads towards the cashier, something fuzzy in the pet supply aisle catches her attention. A neon coloured green and blue octopus with googly eyes seems to be staring at her - or at least, staring at her with one of its eyes. Walking towards it, she realizes it's filled with catnip and crinkle paper - two things MonMon has a proven obsession with. She snags it with a small smirk hidden beneath her mask and heads to the cashier.
Even though she had only been inside for a few minutes, the sun had made solid headway on its journey towards daybreak. She steps out from the drug store to find the entire street coated in a golden glow. With the absence of cars and the gentle singsong of a few chickadees, Emilee feels as if she’s wandered in to some enchanted new city. As she makes her way back in to the grid of her neighbourhood, she breathes in deeply, enjoying the grounding earthy scent of the fresh rainfall. As the sun shines gently on the foliage of the houses around her, she feels as if she’s seeing the lush temporal gardens and vegetation on display for the first time. Beautiful flowers in every colour patiently seem to be waiting for admiration. As she walks slowly, Emilee snaps a few photos of the most striking flowers she comes across.
So engrossed in the seemingly new neighbourhood around her, Emilee nearly passes her own apartment building without realizing it. Typically when she ventures outdoors it's to take out the garbage, drop by the corner grocery store or meet her delivery driver. She rarely even looked at the exterior of her building when she did leave, often keeping her gaze fixated on the ground. With a final look around at the buildings bathed in morning sunlight, she stands tall and breathes deeply, making her way up the front steps of her building.
Stepping in to her apartment, she hears a few gentle meows of greeting from MonMon, as he trots out of the bedroom to say hello. Stooping to pick him up, Emilee cradles him in her arms and showers him with kisses – which he dutifully tolerates. She places him on the floor, sheds her rain jacket and boots, and starts digging through her desk drawers. She’s relieved to find the sketchbook she was looking for buried beneath several used notebooks. She strides purposefully to her front window, and opens it widely – allowing the fresh morning air in to invigorate her apartment.
Emilee turns to find a comfortable spot on the floor next to her front window, easing in to a corner with her shoulders resting on the wall behind her. Pulling out her phone to find the images from her walk to use as a reference, her finger lingers over the photo album icon. After a few moments, she gently taps on the phone icon instead. She’s surprised to realize she knows her parents number by heart, still, and even more surprised to hear the phone being picked up on the second ring.
“What on earth are you doing up at this ungodly hour?” her dad says, with a touch of worry in his voice – which quickly gives way to a gentle chuckle. “It must be nearly 5am out on the west coast.” Emilee isn't sure if her new number is already programmed in to her parent's landline phone, or if her dad just knows it by heart. Either way, she feels a sense of ease washing over her body. She wasn't even aware of the tension she was holding in.
“Ah, you know. Couldn’t sleep and went for a walk to the store. Now that the sun is coming up, it seems I’m up for good as well.” She signs as her gaze naturally settles on the street outside her window. Just then, Emilee hears an aggressive rustling sound nearby. She turns from her sun-swept street view to find the source of the commotion, and fails to prevent a fit of cascading giggles.
“What’s so funny, kiddo?” her dad asked.
“It seems MonMon has found the catnip toy I bought him.” She takes a few candid photos of MonMon attacking the doomed octopus, its googly eyes rolling in every direction as if in its final death throes, and texts them to her dad. A moment later, he was chuckling alongside her.
Softly setting the phone down while swapping the call to speaker mode, she taps through her photo album until she finds am image of a vibrant pink flower from her early morning stroll. She soundlessly picks up the sketchbook, and begins to draw an outline of the azalea. Her pen moves in confident fluid strokes, while enjoying the warmth emanating from both the morning sun and her dad’s voice on the floor beside her. She didn’t even notice that the throbbing pain in her stomach had subsided completely.