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How Many Streets?
Paths and Their Crossing and Recrossing
How many streets do you think there are in this city? I asked my boss. We were standing in a vacant building, second floor, considering it for our new office home. One of the associates had found it a few weeks earlier. There’s a place up on C- Street, she’d said, A modern building in an older neighborhood. She suggested we check it out. Could be just the thing, she said. I knew the street, knew it well, recalled seeing the building, but it was early days and we were reliably slow movers. I didn’t need to worry just yet. We hadn’t even looked at it.
A short time later I got a message. It was time to start worrying. We were going to look at it. We’re meeting at C- Street on Friday, the message said. A viewing, go figure. Apparently, the place was about to be listed and we needed to act quickly if we wanted a good deal. So much for being reliably slow, we’d just achieved Mach speed, a regular cruise missile. Be quiet, Cindy, I said to myself, your feelings about the street are secondary. The business comes first.
It was a lovely building; well-constructed and appointed, conscientiously designed. What wasn’t to like? It was the right size, the right feel, a residential neighbourhood with a ruff of commercial around the edges. Big enough to accommodate the daily post-pandemic expanding and contracting of onsite staff numbers without feeling too tight or too loose. A happy, hard-to-find medium. It would do nicely.
What do you think, asked the boss. We were now standing in the upper office, the rest of the group kicking others of the building’s tires. It’s lovely, I said, Probably perfect, and then I asked my question: How many streets do you think there are in this city? Thousands, he said without hesitation. I nodded. And what do you think the odds are that both my ex-partners live on this one?
We loved until we didn’t, me and each of those exes, pushed there by early relationship frosts, our leaves turning prematurely brown and falling. But there’d been lush green times before that. I had three kids with one, one with the other. There was an air of inevitability to the possibly of ending up on the same street together, chickens and coming home and roosting and all that. Unfinished business? Or was it just a ridiculous, insignificant, odds-defying coincidence? The answer mattered not. The whole thing chafed. Like going commando. More inevitability. One of the exes had been a fan of that mode of dress. Too constricting, he said of underwear. You don’t say. Will the chafing never cease? As it turns out I’ll have to get used to the feeling. We’re moving in. It’s decided.
The street is neither short nor long; it has a few blocks. The exes are spaced out, so to speak; not clumped together. It’s not like we’ll trip over one another or be in one another’s way. But it’s the principle of the thing. The idea. All that history jammed up together in a single stretch. I used to think it was funny that the two of them lived on the same street. Poetic. Poetic justice even. But that poem had just turned mock-epic: two being company, three a joke, me the punchline.
The exes and I are friendly on demand. It used to be otherwise. We used to try harder. A phase? An aspiration? We’re over it now. The kids are grown. No need to strain. We remain civil. Until recently the two exes were quite close with one another, back to the friendship they’d enjoyed before I’d upset the apple cart, the three of us originally all friends, me leaving one to be with the other. Maybe they were the ones meant to be together all along.
Did I see you in that new building down the street, ex number two asks a few months after my company moves in. At my youngest daughter’s suggestion I’ve invited him for Christmas dinner. As a matter of fact we have, I said. I was walking by one night, he said, there was a party going on, I was across the street, I could see you inside. Note to self: Pull the blinds. Yes, I said, that’s us, you’d love the construction, and I veered off into building methods and materials, a nod to his chosen career and a handy topic change.
A few more months passed and the other ex said, Has your office moved up from downtown? What makes you ask, I said. I saw it in the magazine, he said referring to one of our publications, It says you’re on C- Street. That’s my street, he apparently said to himself at the time. That’s us, I said, nonchalant, Good eye. The jig was up. I was officially a neighbour.
I hadn’t planned to leave them in the dark, it felt mean spirited, childish, but neither could I bring myself to flick the light on voluntarily. I’d spent so much time trying to flick the lights on. They probably felt the same about me. I no longer had any light to shed in their direction. The time between those relationships and the present now measured itself in decades. Practically speaking there was no expectation of light. But here we were, cheek by jowlish, sprinkled along this stretch of street, the intervals almost big enough to be able to go about our lives undetected, me the interloper, just like in the beginning when I disrupted one and then the other idyll: their respective bachelorhoods.
At a milestone birthday for ex number one I toasted him. I will always be grateful to you, I said, for saving my life. This was not hyperbole, it was fact. He’d done it. Owing to him my mental well-being was intact. Credit where credit was due; I was happy to give it. But so as to preserve the lightness and cheer of the occasion I carried on to say that, for those who didn’t know me, I was ex-wife number one and that standing next to me was ex-wife number two, and, to her far right, ex-wife, ex-partner, number three, the ex-in-waiting so to speak and all of us laughed our asses off, him included.
About my other ex I still scratch my head. I thought we had something; a shot. He came to believe, however, that I was taking advantage of him for personal material gain, unfortunate given that I was not. I’m too transparent for that. If I’m going to take advantage of you I tell you. He’d have known.
Thousands of streets, said my boss. And a whole wide world, I thought, And yet here we are, me and my exes, all tucked in together. I'm left wondering if there’s something I’m meant to make of it, some meaning I’m supposed to derive, the causes and conditions for contemplation so forcefully presenting themselves, or whether I’m just to let circumstances continue to conspire in their own blindly cheeky way, indifferent to my consternation.
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