At some point in March of this year, I took it upon myself to practice my fiction writing. I ended up with a jumble of materials, most of which had little or no connection to the rest. In an effort to make use of the things I’d written, I’ve collected what I think to be the valuable character-focused pieces of the bunch. Skip to the bottom for the tl;dr.
I wrote Christina a poem about sourdough bread but she didn’t understand it. “It tastes good,” I told her. My voice vibrated through her hair, or maybe that was the music.
“Is this some kind of metaphor?” Her perfume smelled like lilacs and her ear-rings looked like begonias; she said they matched but I don’t think I agree. Either way, Christina is the brightest girl I know and she looks really good with lipstick on.
“No.” I said. It wasn’t a metaphor, I literally wrote her a poem about bread. I worked hard on it too, there’s no reason to half-ass writing — especially if you’re giving it to someone you like. Tonight, however, she isn’t the girl I like. A new woman has erupted from behind that red lip-stick and semi-see through shirt I helped her pick out. This isn’t really a suitable place to give her a poem either, that was stupid of me, but I suppose I’d rather listen to her confusion than my knuckles rapping against the table to a 90s song I’d forgotten about. “I’ll read it again tomorrow.” She puts the poem in her bra — I think girls have a pocket in there, I always see them putting things there — grabs her Asian friend’s hand and pulls her away from the table. I call her the ‘Asian friend’ because I don’t know her name and she’s not approachable enough for me to ask. I watch them stumble to the dance floor laughing. I’m cool with it, I can watch the jackets.
Watching jackets isn’t that bad of a job anyways, it’s half-interesting observer participation. I barely consider the club a proper place to meet a companion. I’m here because Christina asked me to come, and I like her. My cell-phone is almost out of batteries. I can feel it vibrating against my thigh. Deep pockets are a necessary evil for someone without a hand bag, it’s uncomfortable though, this unorganized dungeon where keys make love to keys.
A text message: STP BEING A LOSER. COME SAY HI. I scan the room. My sister is sitting two booths over with her boyfriend and a few comrades, a pleasant surprise. I move to say hi, then I remember the jackets.
There’s barely enough room for me in the booth. They’ve all squished over to make room for our things, and someone has already claimed our table. I should be mad, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. My sister’s boyfriend is into intricate hand-shakes, I make them up as I go. “Why are you just sitting there?” My sister’s not mean, just blunt, it’s affectionate.
“I have to watch the coats.”
“You’re wearing your coat.”
“I have to watch their coats.”
“Fuck them, and fuck their coats.” My sister is probably drinking something strong. I haven’t even had time to hit the bar. I don’t think they have servers here. Pete’s getting up.
“Hey, Sam. Want me to get you a drink?”
“Sure. I’ll go for a Ginger Ale.”
“A rye and ginger?”
“Nope, just ginger ale. I’m driving.” Pete chuckles. I don’t know what’s so funny about me driving. I drove him to the gym that one time, and he didn’t seem to think it was funny then.
“So, wait,” my sister smells drunk, “you’re not drinking, and you’re not dancing, and you drove, and they left you. This is all correct, correct?” I nod my head, which makes her mad. “Sam, take this as some good sisterly advice. Ditch the coats, drink something that will get you drunk, and stop being a slave to these bimbos.” Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember she’s just being blunt.
Christina and her Asian friend are looking around, they don’t see me. They probably think I left. I wave my hand and they come over.
“Who are these people?” She says.
My sister gets that mean look, the really mean look that used to make me cry when we were kids. “Don’t worry about that. Also, fuck off.” I don’t know why she’s angry all of a sudden, but I know it would be a mistake to try and stop her.
“I don’t get it.” Christina turns to me. “Sam, what’s going on here? Me and Samara” — oooohhh, that’s her name — “want to go somewhere else.”
“Hey, bitch. I said back off.” I give the girls their jackets and things. I know they want me to drive them to their new place, but my sister is angry drunk, and it’s probably better if I drive her home instead.
“Are you coming, Sam?” Christina is ignoring my sister and it’s making her very mad, I’m glad Pete is here to hold her back.
“No, I think I’m going to stay here.”
“He said he wants to stay.” That was Pete.
“Okay, whatever.” She tears out a boob and thrusts my poem back at me before storming out. I know she’s just being mean because she’s drunk and I told her I would drive her around tonight, but I’ll just explain to her what happened and she’ll forgive me tomorrow.
“Oh, Jesus-Sam.” My sister says that a lot, but I’ve got nothing in common with Jesus so I don’t really get it. It must make sense to her though. “You wrote her a poem? And you gave it to her at a club? Oh, no no no no no. That’s not how to do it. And her friend’s name is Samara? That’s the worst name! This girl’s no good for you.” I can’t tell if she’s being blunt or being mean. She doesn’t like it when I have girlfriends because I don’t hang out with her as much. “Let me see that.” She snatches the poem from my hand. I don’t want Pete to read it, but she knows that too so when he tries to look over she pushes his head away.
“Sourdough bread tastes good,” she says. I’m really glad she gets it.
For Tom, murder was still a desire unexplored. In the shallowest recesses of his heart, there was no doubt that some creature, two-legged and linguistically conscious, would die one day by his hands. What makes a murderer? He remembered his Christian upbringing of remarkable fantasy, shattered when the conundrum of death escaped a comforting rationale. He’d lost his sense of safety when threatened on a marijuana-blurred expedition by three young black men, faceless, more malicious and younger than he. His journal read:
If I think, and therefore am, then a loss of imagination in death will surely mean that I am not, and, unknown at this tender age in the ephemeral history of life, have never been.
How would he do it? Would it be a premeditated or primal response that would elicit the annihilation of an individual like himself? Would it be by hand; throat to neck drowning, clouded eyes rolling to the back of their head, tense gargle soul-release from dirty fingernails? Knife dripping, palm wet from exhale muffled screams? Pillow blocked breaths amidst softly muttered I love yous through powerful defiance and shallow thought?
What muse would meet God in his eyes? Just one, for mass murder seemed more suited to a sloppy, unambitious fellow without direction, armed with more firepower than can be controlled; poor showmanship, nothing to admire. He dreamed of a single victim, one time, nothing easy. He hoped it would be a corporate CEO devoid of empathy or morals, disgusting, frolicking in riches too abundant to spend in two lifetimes, hidden in a box in a basement labyrinth. More likely, however, he imagined a man like himself, unknown, loved by few, unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
I have missed you in your absence, clawed at drywall and climbed through asbestos to get to you. Your lips tasted like lemon when we last kissed, and I dove with a syncopated heart into your tender grasp, feeling like there was nothing else worth living for. I’ve dreamt of you since our last paso doble, and practiced my footwork to match your unparalleled grace. I can still feel the distant thumps that shorten space between us.
I lost you, Love, in my darkest days, digging through bins in thrift shops in shifty parts of town for a quick fix of your scent. I terrorized dealers for indecent elixirs that tickled my tongue like your saliva. I sat on sidewalks in your neighbourhood, hoping you would walk by and remember that time you missed your train to wander through existential musings and attempt to understand the difference between Christianity and binary code. You have never been more beautiful.
I miss you,
She imagined pictures of a lemon scone sitting on a plate by a sea-shelled cove where coconuts fell like golden-brown leaves on the chill autumn days of her childhood, falling asleep between deliberate sketch-lines in a fashion learned from the numerous siestas spent with her father in those early years. The world was more poetic in her fantasies, where she could embrace her inner romantic in more ready a fashion than the cold and flavourless world would allow her upon awakening. The scone felt pretentious, fabricated within the artistic boundaries she’d absorbed over two years at an art school which she subsequently deserted, plagiarized from a world in Times New Roman. Still, it was more refreshing than the cosmopolitan socialites with whom she discussed the teachings of Cant and the perils of industrial factory farming. Whose insecurities turned, over time, into crusades for social justice, melted like snowflakes on her tongue, and tasted bitter. She tempered her reactions, remembering when she believed that she believed in fighting for just causes; a sentiment deserted upon learning that the lower-cased spelling of “e.e. cummings” was not a conscious rebellion against the grammatical strictures of the written word, but a ploy concocted by his publishers to sell books; before she married Alphonse because her artistic spirit needed a more economically viable approach to survival.
It was unlucky that Alphonse, four months into their marriage, grew to love Siva knowing that it would be foolish to expect something reciprocal. At first, Siva was but a trophy, an accessory that improved the quality of his red-carpet portraits. Soon, however, she revealed herself an impassioned fireball whose diminishing spirit he would secretly fight to preserve. So resolute was his protective impulse that he would wait until early mornings, when the rise and fall of her chest bore witness to her careless fantasy, to stumble into the passenger seat of his old Camaro and weep silently when, during her first pregnancy, Siva petitioned for the abortion of their progeny. He wept not for the life of their unborn, but for selfishly betraying her rebellious spirit. So, when he found her lying asleep on the beach, Alphonse allowed her to rest, hoping that they might be together in her dreams.
March 4, 2010
Preparing for Don’s funeral. He died last week, victim in an avoidable altercation. Makes you think though, losing a cousin, or someone close but not immediate. While a single life is miserable, the fact of life is miraculous. Life forms, carbon based and born between the most alluring and repulsive body parts are the greatest miracle in the universe. How lucky we are to be treated from star-dust by the random hands of fate into existentially conscious individuals with the capacity to conceive of the self. Only a drunken god could have believed that such creatures might find connection to the heavens, stretching across galaxies on a transparent galactic bridge of light and dark matter. How lucky am I who, in this infinite continuum, made it through the arduous task of biological conception, in an alcohol-soaked and drug-addled uterus, bursting into this blood-soaked world of Versace and Halliburton; to have won the lottery of the world, born into a society obsessed with material excess rather than the infinite past marked by poverty and oppression. How wonderful is this sad existence. Why would Don, my fondest companion from youth, surrender such a short-lived gift?
No matter how hard I try, I see him in everything. The vanity mirror by the toilet, a relic of my defunct marriage, was a gift he’d given us on our pointless honeymoon in the spirit of what he perceived to be our limitless vanity. Couple that with the fact that I gave him the exact mirror for his own failed marriage and it becomes a difficult artifact to ignore. On the table, a take-out menu to Yueh Tung, a Chinese restaurant owned by two brothers that, on one occasion, chased us down the street to return what they thought an egregious tip. An ashtray that has nothing to do with Don reminds me of him, if only for having been caught in my nostalgic crossfire. I really don’t think I can go to this.
She found a note under her laptop that read:
In another world, I feel like we could have fallen in love. I think you’re wonderful, but that’s not based off much. You just seem wonderful. Sorry for the weird eye-contact. Have a nice day.
Sitting in Salvatore’s Trattoria and Cafe, looking over the menu while sipping a Sam Adam’s Draft, the poet quietly contemplated suicide. Not that he would ever do it, the frightful coward, but if he ever chose to, he wondered what would be his method of choice. Some quick ideas flashed through his head. Auto-erotic asphyxiation always seemed a pleasurable process of self-annihilation, to ejaculate and hang until the world faded to black. He rejected this notion, however, for such a hedonistic act would undermine the poesy of death and create a satire of his art. The same went for bath-tub suicide, a representation of the abundant wealth so recklessly squandered in our post-modern society.
He filled his journal with such ramblings, afraid to engage anything but ‘serious’ art, for fear of insulting Hemmingway’s ghost. He grew angry with uneducated radio folk, who ignorantly bashed James Franco’s poetic elegy to Barack Obama during his second inauguration, angry with anyone who, in ignorance of art, critiqued it. It made him second-guess the process by which he might kill himself, debating its importance in the absence of general artistic awareness. But no, the universe is all connected, after all. Everything that has meaning has deeper meaning, and if not, meaning is devoid of it.
He re-energized his tangential mind with the nectar spritz of green-bottle fresh Steam Whistle ale and resumed the foreboding determination with which he approached the world. What difference was it really, to die here in this bar without the dramatic display of premeditated death? Gone are the days when it would be a profound event. If anything, such an act would be perceived as a result of the seemingly endless destitution with which he’d become accustomed. Suicidal artists have become cliché. Death, the only true irony, was lost on the world. So, once again, the poet decided it wasn’t his time.
I saw Tammy in the bottom of an empty wine glass with a plasticine daddy in her palms. She loved purple, hated green. We used to sit up and watch basketball, debating whether her Lakers would beat my Celtics. She’d inherited my husband’s team. If only Larry Bird had been around in her younger years, maybe then she could have appreciated my home town for what it was- hard-nosed, scrappy, and capable. Instead, she was always for the flare. She was like Rob, always smiling, like magic. I bet they’re mad about the Lakers’ current campaign, wherever they are.
John doesn’t know about Tammy yet. I keep thinking I should tell him, but I don’t want to come off as damaged goods. John has daughters too, both in college. They came around the apartment last week and talked about their mother for a few hours. I’ve never met her, and considering the damage done during the divorce, I don’t blame her for keeping away. He used to talk about her a lot, back before we were anything, but I do most of the talking these days. If Tammy were still around, it would probably be her burden. She wasn’t mine, leftovers from Rob’s first marriage, but she might as well have been. I cradled her in her infancy. I remember a purple bottle with Barney stickers on them. It was my job, when the crying started, to get up and place the mouth-piece gently in her trap, tilting it upwards to keep the invasive air at the top. She loved my rough hands and yelled at me whenever I would go for the Jergens, she loved grapes and hated broccoli, loved hearts and hated envy, the veins in my arms she would trace with the tips of her tiny fingers outside of Rob’s office when we would drive down and pick him up, not Christmas trees. What kind of sadistic God would remind me of her, sitting in the Hilton bar surrounded by businessmen? Broken cookie bits at the base of her milk glass, lip-stains from lip-gloss flavoured peach. She’d be old enough to smoke weed with me now, though that’ll never happen.
A bottle of Tanqueray in my coat pocket causes a slight imbalance as I call for the elevator, I only paid for the wine. Howard shoots a grin as he hovers through the hallway, eyes on the green-bottle bulge. “Don’t forget about our meeting tomorrow.” Fuck you, Howard. Howard Johnson at the Hilton, he made the same stupid joke every year. I need a sitcom, ice too.
It’s probably hilarious, watching me crush ice with the remote and shoving the mash down the neck of my bottle through a telescope in an apartment across the street. I used to take Tammy to the observatory. She would tell me she could see China. I told her I believed her, every time. She didn’t really like the earth, rather, she dreamed of finding a home somewhere in the purple gasses. For all I know, Rob took her there. I get very flush when I drink. My mirror has a terrible habit of ruining my day. Reality TV helps me feel at home in my iniquities.
John kisses my forehead before taking his shoes off. He recently grew a pencil moustache that makes me feel uneasy. This is why I love him. Rob would have freaked out if he found me drinking gin in the dark. John just pours himself a glass. We both wear our socks in bed, and it feels natural.
“Howard was being a dick just now.”
“Howard is always being a dick.”
I know he doesn’t like gin, he tells me all the time.
“How are the kids?” He shrugs whenever I ask.
“You’re lucky you don’t have any.”
I take the Tanqueray back. He was hogging it all, anyway. I chug it while he watches as if he thinks me mad. I’m very drunk. Tammy would’ve loved it. There she is at the bottom of the bottle with a plasticine daddy in her palms. I tell John about her. How I taught her to love everyone and everything, how Rob and I were poor but happy with her, how she laughed at Harold Lloyd, how she would proudly tell her friends about her two daddies that she loved very much, how she punched me and told my fortune with the bruises, how I found her bleeding out under blood-soaked rags with Rob beside her cold and stiff.
Ruben needed sun-glasses to look out the window, his backyard covered with the crystalline specks of fallen clouds. The attic window was just high enough to see over a row of snow-dressed trees blocking off the street, hardly discernible from the blanket of white. They said the winter would be a mild one, but the weather man was wrong as usual. There was a knock at the hatch. “Breakfast.” Ruben walked over, unlocking a small trap that flipped upwards and back down onto the attic floor. His father’s hand came through, holding up a tray of cereal, diced fruits, and a magazine the mail-man had delivered the day before. He snatched it up into the attic and his father’s face filled the void: round, drooping. Ruben locked onto his eyes, icy against a warm face; he swung the trap shut.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that, Ruben. I’m just trying to help.” Ruben listened as his father walked slowly away from his secluded room. The mail-man wasn’t coming today so he ate by his bed-side table, away from the window, studying the models in the magazine and cutting out their eyes.
“I find that, more often than not, I hate my friends.”
The bald man across from me smells like nail polish and cheap cologne, each breath is like swimming in gasoline. I hope I don’t smell too sweet. I probably do, to him.
“They’re supposed to be my friends, but sometimes just talking to them makes me want to rip their throats out and move to another country so I can’t be charged with the crime. The more I think about it, the harder it is to tell if I want to do it or if I’m going to do it.”
I like it when Allen opens up like that. I would turn and show some support but the bald man is much more interesting. He’s starting to sweat, one slow bead paving the way for an aura of synthetic musk, gravity tugging his emulsion to earth’s core. His quick hands like windshield wipers slap away the perspiration before resuming the perpetual wringing motion they’d interrupted.
“It mostly happens when I’m trying to quit smoking. Heh…” I wished I hadn’t taken Allen to the Olive Garden before our session, now everything around me is rotten garlic and gasoline. “I don’t think I’ll ever quit. I ride my bike often. It helps me feel like I’m working back those lost years, but then I try to stop smoking and everyone around me becomes a potential murder victim. It’s hard to figure out what’s really good for me. Heh…”
It drove me nuts, how he would punctuate every sentence with a slight ‘heh’ or a scratch of his chin, as if he was unsure of the validity of his answer. Granted, he was often off-topic. On most cases his recollections seemed chaotic at best, but that quick audible exhale at the end of every sentence made me feel like taking a syringe to his eyes. He also never took off his shoes.
Pan blinked himself awake, recovering from an unexpected nap in the stained-curtain theatre on Bloor, beside Christie. Fraudulent orgasms plastered the vinyl screen as a few men lingered outside of the bathroom, currently in use, that he’d only used once. The perpetually crusty toilet seat smelled of urine, and bathed in a cloudy residue like wasabi paste in white wine vinegar. He’d chosen a seat on the edge of the balcony, an aerial view of the seedy loners who’d paid $7.35 to watch thick bushed French women moan in the arms of shaved gorillas. The popcorn was cheaper here, but the air still. As the bathroom changed occupants, releasing the foul odor of an unventilated love den, Pan began to drift once more into lucidity.
He felt a tap on his shoulder, a touch that made him cringe upon reorienting himself in the quiet theatre. The grotesque projectionist stood above him with a reel in one hand, and a coffee in the other. “Show’s over, Bucko, come back in an hour.” He couldn’t tell if the orange lights were flickering, crawling up the walls for a moment before returning the hazelnut paint to an opaque black. Might have just been his eyes. “What’s showing? Busty college sluts?” The projectionist flinched, slightly. “If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong place. Now get out or I’ll call the cops.” Pan stretched, reaching up as if he’d just been pronounced heavyweight champion of the world. “You never answered my question. What’s on?” He stood up, now a good four inches taller than the man in front of him. “Get out.”
Pan shrugged and threw on his jacket. These visits had become a ritual, a cleansing journey through the dark side of singlehood made public, then stepping outside, into sunlight that melted snow but only turned it to ice. The projectionist led the way, but instead of turning left, towards the narrow staircase that led to the theatre’s larger body, he stopped, opening a door Pan hadn’t noticed until now. “Follow me.”
It seemed in his best interest to leave, but given that his afternoon was open, and this was likely a once in a lifetime offer, he couldn’t justify turning away. Through the threshold, Pan found a large room, lined with shelves carrying dozens of film reels. “What are these?” He asked, knowing what they were but hoping to appease the old man’s intentions.
“They’re films, pornographic chic from a time when this trade was still decent.” He put the reel on a desk in the corner, lit by a small table-lamp. “Take a look at this.” He passed over a thinly laminated photo, a girl, lying under a bubble blanket in a bathtub only half filled, her thigh breaking prominently through the liquid covers.
“Holy shit, who is this?” The old man chuckled. “Either you’re younger than I thought, or I’m a lot older. Have you ever seen the television show…” He removed his Blue-Jays baseball cap, carrying markings from the 1992 World Series, and scratched the round of his dome. “Gilligan’s Island, that’s the one.” Pan smiled and nodded, “I haven’t seen it, but I know what you’re talking about.” The old man grunted, “I should tell you to get out, but it’s best you learn something today. That woman in the picture is Tina Louise. She was Ginger Grant on the island. She was a respectable actress, and I know men who wouldn’t have made it out of Laos without her.”
Pan handed the picture back and began browsing the shelves. “You’ve got one hell of a collection. What is this one? ‘The Devil in Miss Jones…” He moved to pick it up.
“Hey, don’t touch that. That one’s valuable. That was the first film I ever bought, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let some no culture loser break it.” Pan snapped his hand back. At age 30, he still maintained a stark fear of displeasing his elders. “This is history, boy. You won’t find any of those Ladies Gone Loopy videos on these shelves. These women were actresses, this was a career. This was a tradition, an art. That’s all gone now, cheapened.”
The old man sat back down, revealing a diligently organized drawer of laminated pictures, similar to the one Pan held just moments before. “Watch this. I’m going to set up the next film.” The old man handed him an old VHS and rolled out the accommodating mechanisms. “You sit here and watch. You might think me an old pervert, but think of this as art, not a hedonistic tool. Think of this as an actress pleasing her audience, and a director doing the same. Maybe you’ll see what I mean.” The projectionist took a reel from the shelf and stepped out, shutting the green door behind him.
Twenty minutes later, Pan stepped out of the theatre into a sun that melted snow and turned it to ice and decided he didn’t need to come back.
TL:DR : Everyone is sad.