In the first early days of my death, I could easily rise above the earth, past the massive, crenulated tops of the elm trees, over the scent of honeysuckle, into the summer sky that was thick and soft as a dark bolt of cloth, stars pushing themselves through like bright needles.
I could see the narrow, muddy Seine trickling north and the wide, muddy Assiniboine flowing east, both of them emptying into the Red River. I could see the whole length of the Red, its gleaming black surface with the wake of the moon upon it like a curved path I could trace to the horizon. I saw every house I'd ever lived in and the orange cross above the hospital where I'd been born and where I now lay. I peered into the windows of buildings and learned to part the glass like curtains so that I could pass right through.
If I wanted to, I could reach anywhere, feel the whole world at once, full of water and white sand and polar ice, fish in the oceans, red peppers and basil and lilies with their folded petals closed, unbearably lush and delicate and quiet in the darkness. I could hear everything, each exhalation of the humid air breathing through the branches far below, each muted puncture of the sky as another star poked through.
Some nights, if I let the wind blow through me, I could hear the dead begin to speak.
Their voices, low and insistent, rustled past me like the wings of flying birds, and sometimes they sang.
But I was not interested in them.
Maybe my life would have ended differently if I'd accepted Mrs. Kowalski's invitation to join her at that protest rally at City Hall. Mrs. Kowalski was a determined woman, the most persuasive of my mothers, but I'd said no. I had to clean the house that day. I had to prune the oregano before it encroached any further on the lettuce patch. And I definitely had to phone a locksmith. Besides, Mrs. Kowalski was always protesting something. The year I was thirteen, it was pesticides. The year I was fourteen, it was pornography. By the time I was fifteen, I'd gone to live on Langside Street with old Mrs. Lamb, who was far beyond the mothering age and certainly past protesting anything. But Mrs. Kowalski never gave up. That summer, she was against gambling. Or at least gambling downtown.
The City of Winnipeg had changed a lot of bylaws so that All-Am Development could tear down four square blocks of Winnipeg's remaining core and erect a luxury casino complex, complete with gourmet restaurants, fountains, and skylights, and a glass tower with a green spire that would be the tallest structure ever built in the city. This plan angered a lot of people because of the historic buildings that would be destroyed, including the Walker Theatre, where Nellie McClung had staged the famous mock parliament in 1914 which debated the issue of granting the vote to men. It enraged others simply because the mayor pushed through the bylaws without consulting the public. And it incensed people like Mrs. Kowalski, who didn't believe in games of chance. She grounded me once for playing poker with the boy next door, although we were only playing for pennies. She was the strictest mother I ever had, and wouldn't listen to excuses. "Don't push your luck," she always said. Maybe she was right, considering the way everything turned out.