I was walking along Gerrard street last week on my way to work when a strange thought popped into my head.
Where in the world is Holly Parker?
So strange was this thought that I actually pulled up for a moment to ascertain the source of this foreign thought. I shook my head for a second and kept walking, though I was no longer listening to the music I habitually have on while on my way to work.
I hadn’t thought of Holly in ages. Not since I was a kid, actually. In fact, the last time I saw her was probably something like 27 years ago.
27 years! Man, time flies! I remember being stunned, that I couldn’t actually believe I could actually say that – that I hadn’t seen someone in that long. But it was true. I hadn’t seen her in more than a quarter of a century.
Holly was the younger sister of a childhood friend named Mark. I hadn’t seen him in a long time either. We had grown apart, like people do, when our school district was realigned. Mark and Holly stayed at Holy Trinity, while I was shunted off to the newer, sleeker St. Joseph’s. It was just as well. Mark wasn’t particularly interested in the things I was, and our companionship had already started to fade, in a friendly way, by then.
I trudged along while the sun rose behind me, casting long, low shadows from the brown and golden leaves that lined the sidewalk. It might have been a quarter century since I had thought of Holly before but I was making up for lost time now.
Holly, like her brother, had been a scrawny little kid with bright blue eyes an incredible head full of brown curls. I knew their house – even though it was on Mill street, which my mom had told me was a nice street, even at the west end where their house was – wasn’t as nice or big as ours, and I knew that their clothes weren’t as new or fashionable as mine, and that they didn’t even seem to have winter coats that fit properly. And they were the first kids I ever met who didn’t have a father. I guess deep down I knew that I was much better off than them. I always had new shoes, and more jackets than any one child should have. And I had two parents.
Mark used to hate when his mother would make us take Holly with us to the big park to the east of their house, but she always did. No matter what Mark and I were doing, his mother would insist that Holly go along with us. I didn’t mind. I had an older sister, but when you’re ten, a 14 year old sister is almost like an adult. I sort of liked having a sister around to play with, even if she was three years younger than me.
Maybe the dry cinnamon smell of the fall leaves, or the coolness of the breeze against my cheeks, or the smell of warm woollen mittens brought her to mind. Maybe it was the angle of the rising sun, or the colour of the sky, who knows, but walking along Gerrard street, a hundred miles from the places of my childhood, I recalled the last time I had seen Holly.
I had pushed her on the swings while Mark slid down the zipline that crossed the park, yodelling like Tarzan. Eventually he got bored, so we had wandered off to the creek that ran through Rotary Park to look for crayfish.
I wasn’t much interested, especially given the chill in the air that made me doubt we’d find anything at all, but Mark was insistent. Even though it was November, and we could see our breath, Mark wanted to look. Maybe we’d find some claws or something, he’d said. I hadn’t yet learned to express myself properly, so I went along with him. Even then, I knew that maybe he found some sort of peace in sitting beside that burbling creek.
Holly held my hand while Mark jumped along the stepping stones that crossed the stream. The bank was steep and I didn’t want her to slip and fall in. Once, near the middle of the stream, he nearly missed his landing. Holly’s little hand squeezed mine tightly through her red mittens and she inhaled sharply, but Mark was a naturally athletic, and he caught himself with grace. He flashed us both an easy smile and bent down to examine the creek bed for signs of his quarry.
I remember Holly looking up into my eyes for reassurance. Her eyes were so bright and so blue. And she was smiling under the amazing mop of curls that peaked out beneath her Montreal Canadien’s tuque. It’s funny, the things one remembers. A Canadien’s hat, complete with red pom-pom on top. She was so proud of that hat. And I remembered that she didn’t let go of my hand again until much later, when we got back to the small house on Mill street.
After that, Christmas came, and I didn’t go see mark so much. I think I was a bit ashamed of all the presents I had got. I guessed Mark and Holly probably hadn’t been as fortunate as I had been. Then summer came, and they realigned our school districts, and it all became history.
Memory is an interesting thing. I looked at my hands that had held the hand of a little girl who was worried about her brother one autumn last century. That little girl would be a woman now, likely with little kids of their own. Hopefully those kids had it better than Holly did. I bet they did.
I smiled, I remember. I smiled, then I looked down the sidewalk, at the fall leaves carpeting the sidewalk. And I walked on.