Chapter One

     It is the coldest day anyone could remember, and it is settling in to be the coldest night.  The air is bladelike, and it jimmies itself into the streetcar, which is rumbling up Spadina Avenue, and wedges in around the windows and doors.  The passengers are yawning in the cold, and their eyes are small and hard.  It’s eight-thirty.

     The frigid air tightens every sound and makes noises sharp and clear and close enough to be constantly surprising.  When you open your mouth, you end up talking too loud.  And so everybody’s keeping mum.  The streetcar creaks along through the freezing blackness.

     But there’s one young woman, unabashed by the silent cold, who breaks the ice with her I-phone: “I’m on the streetcar!” she yells at somebody in the device, her voice splintering the night.

     Having awakened her vocal chords and found them whole, she then begins to address the assembled passengers.  She is a big girl, heavy and physically eventful, like a fruit loaf, with a wide happy face and eyes like wet raisins.  And she has this dog on a leash, a rubbed little blur of a dog I had not noticed before.  The dog is blackish, greyish, dishwatery, and shaped like a bottle brush.

     This erasure of a dog sniffs petulantly at a woman sitting in a single seat across from the door—sniffs and clearly finds her wanting.  “He’s starved for attention”, the big girl explains happily, even pridefully. “See, I was unemployed, and I used to stay home with him all the time and I’d be with him, like ten hours a day!  But now”, she looks at the woman with something like a plea for understanding in her eyes, “I’ve got this job, and he’s alone all the time.”

     “Oh”, says the woman dully.

     “His name is Fish,” the big girl says.

     “Fish”, the woman repeats, trying to look out into the night and seeing only the big girl’s reflection sailing along over the dark houses.

     “Would you like to buy him?” The big girl asks.  “I’d want five hundred dollars for him”.  Then she turns to the rest us of us.  “I wanted to put this, like outrageous price on him”, she explains to us all, “so like nobody would buy him?  But I guess five hundred’s not really too harsh, right?” and she winks at us.