A Winter’s Tale: The Magician of St. James Park

 

There’s a man that appears late at night in St. James Park. When it’s quiet and no one’s around, he walks through, followed by a grey and white cross between a Portuguese water dog and an English sheepdog. I’ve caught glimpses of him from afar late at night when there’s snow on the ground. The first time was during a snowstorm.

Snow had blanketed the city and its inhabitants seemed to have decided to curl up cozily indoors. I walked east from Yonge Street down King Street, crossed up to the St, James Cathedral and admired the building covered in snow. The quiet usually found within had enveloped the church and muffled even the rattling of passing streetcars. It had started a few hours ago, but snow was still falling, filling in footprints, hiding the passing of hunched figures that hurried to warm, dryer places.

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St. James Park in winter

I walked past the church and into the park. A few meters in I stopped and looked at the clock on the church tower, and then turned and gazed at the black centerpiece of the fountain, a bath for the neighbourhood sparrows and pigeons in the summer. There was no sign of the rats that inhabit the park, often seen scurrying around in milder weather. I wondered if I might see a lone raccoon on its way to a dumpster. Other than the flakes that rushed to the ground, everything stood still.

I walked past the fountain and looked back at the clock. The two pairs of footsteps through the park were sightly scuffed by my own.I couldn’t tell the time. The hands, usually so clear were hard to make out. I stayed there, squinting up at the clock-face until a very slight chill started to creep through my winter boots and into into my toes. I ignored it till the clatter of a streetcar hurtling down the empty road broke my reverie.

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Toronto in a snowstorm

I crossed the street and stood under a lamp. Another ten minutes and I’d be home, but waiting for a streetcar gave me an excuse to linger in the area and look at the church and the lights of the buildings that seemed so soft, blurred by the falling snow. The busy metropolis had been transformed into a fantastical wonderland that existed only in wardrobes and the imaginations of children and hopeful, romantics.

The next streetcar was five minutes away. I sighed and blew a few snowflakes away from my face. Some shimmered on my scarf and I could see them sparkle on the faux fur trim of my hood. I admired them, turning my head slightly so the light from the lamp would make them dance. I smiled at their glitter.

A movement in the park caught my attention: a man and his English sheepdog emerged from the pillars of darkness the trees formed.

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Narnia?

The man seemed to be looking for something. He took slow, deliberate steps, careful not to disturb the snow more than he had to. The dog had no such concerns; he ambled along happily after  his human, nose in the snow as though following a scent, his tail fluttering in the breeze like the tail feathers of a pheasant in flight.

The ambling stopped; the dog lifted a paw and extended its snout. Did he think he was a pointer? His human turned and scuttled to where he stood, bent down and picked something up from the snow by the paw. The man raised his arm and looked something handing from a string. The pendant flared. I thought I saw the man smile. He felt my presence then. He turned his head towards me. The dog had all four paws in on the ground now. The three of us stood there for a minute, looking at each other.

Clanging made me turn my head. The streetcar was slowing down for me. I hurried up the steps, mechanically smiling at the driver, my eyes already looking out of the window. The man had already moved away, heading towards the gazeebo, hands in his coat. I turned my head as the streetcar pulled ahead. I thought I saw a glimmer of gold as he dissolved into the shadows.

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