Copyright is held by the author.
CINDY AND I are walking along Sherbrooke. We’re students — philosophy majors — and it happens we both live in NDG so we started this schedule of walking to and from McGill together because a) it saves bus fare; b) it’s an efficient way of getting in some aerobic exercise; c) it gives us a lot of the talk time that philosophy students have particular need of.
We’re walking on the north side of the street because a) that sidewalk is always less crowded; b) the November morning sun is not so blinding on that side; c) even on sidewalks it’s always safer to walk against the traffic.
At the corner of Atwater I catch sight of Elvis Presley walking down the hill. He’s wearing the iconic white jumpsuit with the wide, gem-studded belt and carrying a battered guitar case. “Hey look!” I interrupt Cindy’s musings on the ethical reverberations of string theory. “There’s Elvis.”
“Elvis is dead.” Cindy doesn’t even turn to look.
“An Elvis impersonator,” I explain with exasperation. I’m something of an Elvis fan. It’s like, he’s been popular for more than half a century. My gran really likes him; she had all his greatest hits on vinyl — LPs she called them. She and I used to dance to them. Now she’s in a seniors’ residence without a record player and not up for dancing, but I’ve downloaded our favourites to my phone and we listen to them whenever I visit.
I slow down to get a better look at this Elvis, but Cindy allows no lingering. To get the aerobic benefit of the walk, we have to maintain a nine-minute-per-kilometre pace, she says. So we power on, and then I see the hawk.
“Look! Look!” I interrupt string theory again. The hawk is sitting on a low, bare branch on one of those trees set into the sidewalk in front of the old seminary.
It’s sitting dead still. I’m wondering if it’s an impersonator too, a plastic hawk stuck there as a sort of whimsical joke. Or to keep the pigeons away.
A breeze stirs a feather. So then could it be a stuffed hawk? A taxidermist’s creepy joke? A high-end pigeon deterrent? It stares straight at me until, with a slight stirring of its claws on the branch, it changes position.
So. It’s a living bird. Real feathers. Piercing eyes. Disdainful beak. Dignified solemnity. This is an important phenomenon. I have to check it out.
Cindy is not interested. I wave her on. This is more important than Logic 302. “Email me your notes from class.”
What I’m seeing is not right. A hawk shouldn’t be perched so low, sitting so still, not minding the traffic, or my stare.
After a bit, I realize that someone’s standing beside me.
“Well lookee there, would you?” It’s Elvis, who’s caught up with me.
“I’m afraid that hawk is dying,” I whisper.
“Not much flying left in him,” Elvis agrees. “You reckon we ought to call the po-lice?” He has a fake country accent.
“No.” They’d put him in a cage, take him to a white-tiled lab. I think he’d rather die free.
On the other hand, he shouldn’t be here.
“If’n I had me a gun, I’d shoot the critter,” Elvis says. He aims his guitar case at the bird. “Clean and fast. Be kinder.”
“Not on Sherbrooke Street, you couldn’t.” What we should try to do is get him out of here. “I wonder if he could fly as far as the mountain?”
Elvis flaps his arms. Sequins flash in the morning sun and the rhinestones on his immense belt send off sparks of fire as he hollers, “Shoo, bird, shoo. Get on away out of here.”
“Go to the mountain. Flee. Flee.” I shout like the wise old stag in Bambi.
The hawk shifts his claws for a firmer grip on the branch and gets on with dying in his own way.
“Maybe if you played something?” I suggest. Elvis takes out his guitar and does Jailhouse Rock. A passerby tosses a loonie into the empty guitar case. Others follow. By the time he gets through Loving You and Hound Dog, he’s amassed a small pile of change, but the bird hasn’t budged.
Elvis, I’ve noticed, is not in much better shape than the bird. His reedy voice trembles at the end of each phrase. Wisps of grey hair straggle out from under an ill-fitting duck-ass wig. The jumpsuit is way too big for him. It flops over his cracked white patent boots, flaps around his scrawny frame, and falls back from his wrists to reveal grey wool underwear sleeves underneath. Still, he sings and sways his thin hips as provocatively as he can.
And the dying hawk stays put.
Logically, Cindy would tell me, it doesn’t matter where the bird dies, but I can’t help feeling that a small caged tree on a busy street is not the right place for this. Surely the hawk would be happier to let his spirit expire on the mountain, or even in the old seminary garden on the other side of the stone wall here.
“Do you know that song about flying far away on the wings of a dove?” I ask Elvis. “Could you sing him that?”
“That ain’t no Elvis number. Anyhow, you’ve got you a hawk here, not a dove.”
“I could try him on Blue Suede Shoes though, see if he’ll walk.” Elvis grins and launches into that one, gains a couple more quarters and loonies.
He scoops the change from his case. “Nothing’s going to move that bird. Let him be.”
“All right.” Before I move on, though, I put a bit of my lunch sandwich down on the sidewalk. I know it’s not suitable bird fodder, but it’s all I’ve got.
“Buy you a coffee, little girl?” Elvis offers. “You and that bird have brought me luck this morning.”
Why not? I appreciate his attempt to help. “Thanks.”
Over coffees at Timmy’s, I ask Elvis about his career.
It’s not going so well, apparently. “Busking is pretty competitive these days. You’ve gotta have something gives you an edge. The Elvis angle worked good for a long while. See, I had something the younger guys don’t have. I was there. I saw the King. In person. Back in 57, in Toronto, this was: Elvis singing to 20,000 screaming girls, and me. I listened to his phrasing. I watched his moves. I got it down pat. I was good. Problem is,” he says with a sigh, “you can’t be 80 and still be Elvis.”
He drinks the last of his black coffee.
I get to McGill in time for my eleven o’clock. I worry about the hawk, and about Elvis too.
When Cindy and I walk home at five, the hawk is gone.
“He must have felt better and flown away,” I say.
“On what evidence are you basing that surmise?” Cindy asks.
“a) He’s not here; b) his body is not on the ground; c) nor in that garbage bin. I’ve checked. And d) the garbage has not been cleared either.”
Next morning the hawk is still not there. But Elvis is. Cindy and I pass at our nine-minute-a-kilometre pace. I notice there’s a pile of change in the guitar case. Good.
“Lucky place, this,” Elvis calls to me. I wave.
“That hawk was definitely not dying, only resting,” I say with satisfaction. The evidence might not be entirely conclusive, but it’s the way we want it to be.