Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fragment 45: Daffodil

Parking the car on Peter St. I see Frank and Alice down by the entrance to The Jeremy.

Alice is annoyed. Why I don't know. Frank is dressed up, nice blue blazer, tasteful slacks, good shoes. Alice keeps looking away, seeming to not want to go into the bar. She sees me and smiles.

There are people all over the sidewalk. Straining to get in. The two doormen are meticulously looking through the lists. A little too meticulously. They want the bottleneck. The line up. It adds to the effect.

If everyone wants to be there, then the upcoming election is in the bag.

It is nonsense, of course. But in politics, above all else, appearances matter. They really matter.

I turn down the alley. Pulling out a pack of unfiltered Camels from a carton I picked up at a truck stop in Georgia two weeks ago, I light one and drag in the pure smoke deeply. The small spotlights of the door fixtures lead me to the kitchen access.

The fellas in the white kitchen outfits seem surprised to see me, but I have found that if you are in a suit, are confident, and just act like you should be doing what you are doing, people will simply assume that it is true.

They did.

The main room is still only half full. I see Errol over getting food at the cold buffet. Andrew is at the bar getting drinks.

I like Errol but I like Andrew more.

Touching Andrew's shoulder I reach over and take the bourbon on the rocks that he ordered. He laughs.

-Fucker

-What have you been up to?

-Nothing more than usual. Just got back from Georgia

Alice slides up between us, turns her back to me and looks at Andrew

-How did he get in here? You know he probably never even bought a ticket.

Probably? Of course not. Why the fuck would you pay to attend an event like this?

All the tables are basically already taken. Andrew finds a spot at one of the walls. No chairs. But at least you can put your drink down. We are just about to talk when Nick slimes his way over.

A party favourite that one. Kisses ass for a living. Most of the people here do. He was big in the move to get the new leader installed. No scruples. I would probably like him for his total sleaziness were it not for the fact that he hated me.

Your enemy who is your enemy who has always made it clear that he is your enemy is your enemy.

I think Machiavelli wrote that somewhere.

Anyway, Nick turns to me, looking all inside baseball or something.

-Did you hear the news?

-No

He is about to say something when someone behind me catches his eye. His mood shifts abruptly and, without even the slightest attempt at an "excuse me" he slithers off.

I look over my shoulder.

David, of course. Of course, David.

David was the new Chosen One. He had been hired to inner party staff after we had all those new members elected and he knew his way around. David and I used to do community work together. Back when we thought that mattered. We were good friends then.

Not so much now.

-How have you been?

-Well... I have been.Yourself?

David paused, sipping his drink slowly and almost for effect, trying to spread those peacock feathers.

-You know I got a job at the Leader's office?

-No shit. Really? I don't think I had heard.

-I would have brought you along, but you know how it is. Only so many spots and all.

-Of course.

-What have you been up to?

I was about to tell that after failing at my ventures south of the border I had taken up a short term position as a serial killer of asshole political types when the music started.

Tracy Chapman. Talkin' Bout a Revolution. What else. Why not the song as totally detached from the party reality as possible?

Parker is coming down the stairs now. Waving. Bridgette is at his side smiling. Some asshole is throwing multicolored confetti over their heads and everyone is clapping hysterically.

Well I'm not, needless to say. Neither, I see, is Alice. The rest of them are.

I really want a fucking cigarette, but unfortunately we are opposed to them. Cancer and the common good and whatever.

In a few minutes it will be the speeches. Puke.

I feel a touch on my shoulder.

Sally. I haven't seen her in a several years. Married a guy she met on the campaign trail. We used to be at college together. Handed out leaflets, swore we would remake the world and all that shit. I remember she told me that even if the times changed we wouldn't. I was sure she was right.

We were wrong.

The times changed and so did we.

-It is good to see you

-You too

-How is Marie?

-We are divorced Sally. Couple of years. She moved to Montreal with Wayne.

-Oh...shit...sorry. I had no idea. I thought you and Wayne were close.

-Well, apparently we were even closer than I thought.

Sally looks uncomfortable. I can hardly blame her, I feel uncomfortable as well.

-How is Aamir?

-Good. He is with the kids in the country. My mother's place. Remember it?

Remember it? How could I forget? We spent weeks there back in our college years. Long days of doing nothing under the hot  July and August sun. Yahtzee, beer and possibly unrequited sexual attraction.

Putting my hand on her arm I lean forward to say something when the sound system kicks in. David is on stage, a gigantic picture of Parker right behind him. He is calling for attention.

Parker is starting up to the podium.

The chants start. "Parker...Parker...Parker". He turns before the podium and waves. Lovely face. Looks always a handsome thirty-eight even ten years later. Has the small party pin on the lapel. Dapper. Robert Redford kind of cool.

Retreating to the now largely empty bar, I ask for, and receive a martini. A real martini. None of this vodka shit.

A gin martini. Just like it says in the Bible.

Two sips in.

-Hello....

Turn to see Alice. Hand on my back.

-Hello Jonathon.

I want to say something. Nothing really fits. She slips into the seat beside me.

We sit looking at each other.

David bellows.

-Sisters and Brothers, it is my honour to present to you a tireless advocate for what matters to the people of this great nation, the next Prime Minister of Canada, Matthew Parker.

The room, now ridiculously cramped, goes completely crazy. Multiple ovations.

Parker steps up. Smiles.

-Friends. Friends. You have no idea how happy I am to see you here tonight. To see you on the very eve of taking back our country, this great country...

It all fades. I have heard the speech so many times. We all have. It is the same speech, different day. Insert issue and insert ideology. Right, left, centre, whatever....

-I tried to call you.

-No you didn't.

-I did. Honest.

She smiles.

-Why?

Parker has said something "important". The noise level gets too high. I take it as an opportunity to leave and start to.

She grabs my shoulder from behind. Hard.

Getting right up, face-to-face, she looks at me intently.

-Look. Sorry OK? Fuck, don't be so sensitive. Anyway, did you hear the news?

What is this all important fucking news?

As Alice is about to speak, Frank appears beside her, giving me an awkward look of barely concealed malice. She stops herself and, after a pause where no one moves or says anything, slides her arm through his and guides him slowly away with her towards another cluster of people enraptured by the leader's grand speech. She does not even glance back in my direction.

Good. I really need a cigarette.

Back into the kitchen. Again they look up at me.

-Don't worry guys. Just checking the back alley. We have to make sure, you know?

They all look like they clearly do not know, and some of them may even think I am full of shit, but they are busy and no one stops me.

Tap the unfiltered cigarette on the back of my hand, roll the end on my lower lip, and light up.

The alley is empty, save for two guys a little farther down. I can hear they are having words. It seems things are getting more heated and I strain to see what is happening when I sense that someone is behind me. Close behind me.

I can feel their presence, and it is a familiar presence.

Shifting around slowly I see her. Marie.

I am, for the first time in a long time, at a loss for words.

-I guess you didn't expect to see me.

She is dressed very formally. Different than I have almost ever seen her. Different than I remember her.

-Where is Wayne?

It was all I could think to say.

-Not here.

She shifts slightly.

-Why are you then?

-I work for Parker now. I am his Press Secretary. Didn't you know?

No I didn't fucking know.

-That's great. It is an exciting time.

-You don't really think that. Do you?

She turns back towards the door and pulling it open hesitates for just a moment.

-You should quit you know. You will live longer.

I light another cigarette. Why not?

Not going to go through the kitchen again. Why bother? No one is at the main door now anyway.

Heading down the stairs and the first person I see is David.

-Jonathon...great event don't you...

I cut him off.

-Stop the shit. It was the same as every event. They are all the same.

He tilts his head. Looks almost philosophical.

-Cynicism suits you. But that also makes it very predictable.

I laugh. He is right of course. Cynicism is easy. But then so is idealism. It is kind of a no win situation. It was an effortless transition between the two.

-So, I might note, is being an ass kisser when paid to do so.

David smiles broadly. He is a beautiful man when he smiles. He knows it.

-True enough. So what led us both to still being here then? Do you even remember why we got involved in the first place?

-Of course I remember. I remember exactly why. That was a long time ago David. I remember why. I just don't remember feeling it. At all. It must have felt great. Believing in something. Now it is an unpleasant numbness.

-Bullshit. I still believe in something.

-Of course you do. Narcissism. You believe in yourself.

Silence. For a moment I think I have actually gotten under that granite fa├žade. But he grins instead.

-Well then why are you here?

Behind David the staff are taking down the posters of  Parker. I see Andrew reaching behind the bar to grab a glass. Sally is talking to Nick. The folks who don't need a job or who have nothing to gain are starting to stream out. I can't see Marie anywhere.

-There is nowhere else for me to go.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fragment 44: Labour Day

Her call had come entirely unexpectedly. Day before last. Sometime around 10 p.m.

I had been lying in bed already. I had the small TV in my bedroom on for company. Since she had left two years past, I had done this more often than not. I didn't really care what was on. The voices were comforting.

Leaning across to my night stand I had picked up the phone feeling tense. No one called me. No one really had any reason to call me.

-Hello?

Silence. I was going to hang up.

-Trevor?

It had been so long, I did not recognize her voice. 

-Yes?

-It is Alice.

My mind took a moment to grasp it.

-Alice. How are you Alice? Is everything OK?

-Yes. Yes. Everything is fine. How are you?

I really had no way to answer that.

-I am good I guess. Doing fine. You know. The usual.

I felt like an idiot. A total idiot. "The usual". What the fuck did that even mean? She said nothing for a minute or two.

-Look, would you like to meet?

-Of course. Of course I would. Are you sure everything is OK?

-Look, shut up about that. Are you free on Labour Day?

-Yes.

I was lying. I had plans Labour Day. I was supposed to meet Bill and Jan for beers after the parade.

-Good. Good. Look, meet me at Imperial. You know, where we used to always meet. Around 4 p.m. ok.?

-You know I live in Hamilton now right?

-Look, do you want to meet, or not?

Her voice was taut. Holding anger in so tightly.  Had the sense it was just waiting. Waiting.

-Alice, I'll be there. You know I will be there.

Staring at the screen then. Not sure what was on. A black and white movie of some kind. A man and a woman were talking. Intensely. It looked like Robert Mitchum I think. They seemed to be in Mexico. I can't remember why, but I knew that whatever was going on, they were doomed somehow.

Suppose it oddly fit my mood.

Back when I was much younger I had done a stint as a security guard. I was a big guy, scared of nothing, so why not? Pay was shit, but I had no real expenses then. If it wasn't spent on food or rent, it went to booze and coke.

One of the gigs they sent me on was watching over a factory that had been closed. They were tearing the thing down. Five hundred poor fuckers had lost their jobs. Moving the whole operation to Alabama. I used to have to patrol the place every couple of hours all night long.

I suppose it all should have bothered me. Huge factory and me the only person in it. But I liked the quiet. I liked the emptiness. The echoes of my footsteps.

There was one part of my patrol I just couldn't get my mind around, though. I had to walk down the dark indoor platform that had been where the freight trains came in to drop off or to pick up. It was about 200 meters long. I would have skipped it to be honest, but the fuckers gave you this device that you had to put a key in at each stop on your patrol to prove you had been there.

Walking down that platform would always fill me with a terrible sense of dread. I faithfully did it every single time. But the dread never got any better.

It was not that I ever thought that anything would really happen. It was just that the place was somehow wrong and sad. As if the emotional subsoil of all the people who had worked and made lives out of the entire damn factory had settled there. In that desolate adjunct to the whole.

Alice. How could it now be that I could dread to see Alice? Was it the certainty that I had been so very wrong? Was it the lingering question of why she would ever want to see me again at all? Was it the fact that I so desperately wanted to see her?

For me a first bourbon is always close on followed by a second. A first Lucky Strike by a second. But it is the hollow feelings left by the scars of the past that draw us to the third and more.

Labour Day Monday I woke up early. Unconscionably early for a holiday. I had not slept well. It was now rare for me to linger up drinking well after moonrise and to then see the sunrise. It was not that I have kids or anything. I thought I would but it never happened.

I listened to the radio for awhile. Fed the cat. When Carl's Diner opened up at 8 a.m. I went and had some eggs and bacon. My doctor has told me to cut that out, but fuck him.

At some point I thought I should just go. Take the bus into Toronto. Why wait?

Watching the highway, the subdivisions, the urban sprawl blur by, improved only by the relatively scant traffic.

The Imperial is a short walk from the bus depot. Even on a holiday Toronto is mindlessly busy as Toronto always is. People shopping because they can. They likely have nothing to really buy, but they have to buy something.

Two hours early I make my way into the pub and sit at the bar. I used to love watching the fish in the huge central tank, but that was a lifetime ago. There are maybe six people here other than me.  A couple of  guys watching baseball. A young woman at a table with a twit who already seems passed out.

The bartender, possibly twenty-one, covered in tattoos and sporting a nose ring slides over. Surprisingly personable. Tells me her name is Sara. I get a pint and a Jack on the rocks. The fish carry on, happily oblivious.

The young woman from the table gets up. She sits in the stool one removed and signals for Sara. Sara approaches in a way both weary and wary. They begin to talk in hushed tones, but I can hear it all. In the end, Sara loudly says no.

Sara makes her way over for my second round.

-What is that all about?

-It's the usual. He is a terrible drunk. She can't remember why she is with him. She stays anyway.

-Does he abuse her?

Sara loses the server face and stares straight at me.

-Why the fuck are you here?

-I am waiting for someone.

-Why?

-I knew her many years ago. We lived together.

-That's not what I asked. Why?

I glanced up at the clock. Ten minutes before four.

I put forty dollars down on the sixteen dollar tab and I walked out the side exit into the street.





Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fragment 43: Barbarossa

- I remember that! That was hilarious. Martin came strutting in like some sad peacock, in that fucking yellow suit that looked like an outtake from some live action Curious George movie or something. That was too fucking funny.
- I know. Martin always had a way about him. He let his freak flag fly as they say. No problem letting it all hang out.
-Whatever happened to him?
Waitress moves the dishes to put down the beers. New drinks requested. Older guy at the bar seems drunk, head down. TV says the game starts just after the next ad, which makes no sense... it is past 1 a.m..
- Martin? Well he died. It was kind of messed up. He was in Oklahoma. Pulled over to the side of the road to fix a tire. Some drunk guy clipped him. Going 60 miles an hour. Ripped him in half.
-Fuck. I had no idea, when was this?
-I don't know...years ago now. You had left the company already. I don't even remember what he was doing there. I mean...Oklahoma? What are the fucking odds? He was from Brampton. No one from Brampton ever dies in Oklahoma!
-Yeah...well...everyone dies somewhere as we all know. Cliche right? We all die somewhere, we all die alone, death haunts us, the unknown country and all that shit. But true anyway, right? I mean we really all do die alone and we really all do die somewhere...so...why not Oklahoma? At least former co-workers will think it a memorable death. Almost exotic...like out of a sad western song. Maybe by Emmylou Harris. You can almost hear her..."And alone he died...down Oklahoma way...no one there to say goodbye...as the State Trooper took his life away".
-Except there was no State Trooper!
-That is a minor detail. It sounds more romantic that way. 
Strange couple outside the window. Kissing and then seeming to fight. Repeat. Garbage trucks are trolling now. It is past midnight. A police cruiser is pulled up across the street. Cop seems to be watching the couple, but he is smiling. A loud crash in the kitchen. Someone at another table says they really wish they could still smoke inside.
-Have you ever thought you were going to die?
-Yes. Absolutely. Once I was certain I was going to die. It was terrifying. Have you?
-Yes. Twice actually. The first was rather simple. I had had too much to drink and thought it was a good idea to go out in a canoe at 3 a.m. No life jacket. Was on a small lake. About 30 feet out, when for no good reason I tried to lean over the side and dip my hand in the water. Maybe I was going to be one with nature or some stupid shit. I went in head first. I remember sinking, and I turned and I could see the stars through the water, all blurred, but there never-the-less. And the moon. Incredibly bright. I saw my arm shoot up, raised, like in some fucking movie, and I recall thinking holy shit I am going to die. This is the last thing I will ever see. And then there was something that came to mind that I had wanted to do...and I suddenly snapped out of it. I just shot up to the surface.
-What was it?
-What?
-That you wanted to do?
-Fuck. I don't even know. It was 20 years ago. Maybe I just had to see the Phantom Menace or something.
Women's voices laughing. Someone is angry at a different table. The waitress is back. Last call in 30 minutes. The young fella across orders a Boilermaker.
-What about the second time?
-Well the second time was actually the first time. It was when I was a kid. Nine years old. I was in bed, middle of the night, and I woke up with smoke all around me. I used to force my parents to keep the door open. You know...scared of the boogeyman and all that. I always saw him as some old pervert like fucker in my closet who hadn't bathed or something. Good thing, because that open door probably saved my life. Anyway, the smoke and smell woke me up, and I was, of course, terrified. I started screaming for my mom, but no one was answering. I snatched my baseball glove off the night stand beside me, which was a weird thing to do, I think I just wanted to take something with me, and I crawled under the bed. The smoke kept coming in. I know I was screaming the whole time, but it seemed like the screams were from someone else. But I am still here...so...
-Come on, don't fuck around, how did you get out?
-Well. I didn't. But a few moments later our neighbour came charging in and dragged me out. He carried me down the stairs over his head, right past the living room on fire, and right out the front door. My dad was already out there. Lying on the front lawn. In later years he would say it was because he had succumbed to the smoke. Fact is he was just fucking drunk. He was always drunk.
Two dudes arguing. About a girl it seems. Bartender tells them to keep it down. They keep going. Old guy stirs, looks over. Tells them to shut the fuck up. Thank you old guy.
-That is the worst I think. The terror of children. Don't care what anyone says, kids have never done anything to deserve their fates. And they often cannot understand what is happening, except that absolutely everything is coming down around them. It never ceases to amaze me when people hurt children. Reading about the Nazis and stuff like that. Lining up terrified people to be killed. Not just kids, either. The terror of anyone about to be killed. Take the murders by Stalin. Having old friends dragged down to be shot in the neck in prison basements. Keeping their notes to him to read later as trophies. It is like the Son of Sam ran a country.
-Well all those types are cowards. Those who make excuses for murder because of ideas. Great ideas, perfect ideas, certainty, have killed more people than anything else. Once you can convince some people that other people are an abstraction, then the path to evil is a short one.
-It is odd, isn't it? Often these folks portray themselves as somehow tough, courageous. As if being willing to do the inhuman things others are not is a kind of badge of honour or is revolutionary. As if the wallowing in human death is something new that will create something new.
- Or all those bombings in the various wars. Or all those drones now from Obama. "Sorry we killed that family" and all that.They all say that. Like apologizing for killing innocent people will bring them back to life.
-Never worry, if the days of purges ever come again it is always the intellectual apologists, the ones who made it happen and sought to justify it, who will die first. The ideas always fall victim to their outcome in the guillotine. 
-Fuck, this is too philosophical and depressing for me. I didn't do that Liberal Arts shit remember?
-What are you talking about? We went to college together!
-No, listen, I was there for International Studies. Not the same at all.
-Fuck off. Well as the intellectual here then...let me tell you...
-Yes?
-I think I have forgotten my point.
-In the unlikely event that you had one.
-...
Last drinks. Double Jack on the racks. Caesar and a beer. The old guy is leaving. The cop has come in, looking around. Bartender seems apprehensive. Outside couple are gone. A taxi driver is yelling over the cop's shoulder...looking for whoever called the cab.
-Anyway, you still haven't told me?
-Told you what?
-About when you were certain you were going to die.
-Ok. I suppose I didn't. I was in my early twenties. My family had this house out in New Brunswick. Right by the ocean. I used to go there every summer with them. This one year I decided to stay an extra week. The place was huge...it just seemed that it would be the fun thing to do. All alone in some ancestral manor.
-I get it. I would have found it creepy, but I was never into that isolation shit.
-I don't know. Neither am I. Maybe I thought I would write great poetry. The first two days and nights were just boring. Staring at the ocean, watching TV. I was going to leave. I should have.
Cop has sat down at the bar. Have never seen that. Bartender leans in towards him. They seem to be talking.
-And?
-Well, third day it was raining heavily. All day. Spent it looking out at the Atlantic and listening to Rush. Around three in the afternoon there was a knock at the door. I went there to find two guys in an Oldsmobile, a third at the stairs. He was smiling, but in an unfriendly way. He tells me that they are from Nova Scotia and they are lost. That they need to come in to use the phone. I asked him where they were trying to go, but he said that that was not important. His  buddy would give him directions when he called him. He just began climbing the stairs without waiting and he started to thank me for letting him in. The other two were getting out of the car at this point. One of them was a really young guy. Turned out he was eighteen. I stepped inside and locked the door.
-Shit. Did you go for the phone?
-I assume that was what I was going to do, but they were already kicking at the front door. I mean it was a door. They were going to get through it in no time. The only thing I could think was to get out the side door and head for the barn across the yard. I suppose I thought it would take them a few minutes to figure out I was gone and there was an attic there. I am not sure that I even recalled at that moment that my grandfather kept a shotgun in it, but I can still distinctly feel the rain soaking through my clothes as I ran the open yard and I know I was praying to God, even though I was not religious, that I would get across. And I did.
-Did they follow you?
-Yes. But not all of them. I had scrambled up the ladder to the attic and went to the small oval side window. The young one was running towards the barn. He happened to glance up and he saw me, or at least I think he did as he seemed to pause for a moment and smile. I know at this second it occurred to me to get the shotgun and I pulled it out of the wall cabinet. I lay down on the floor and aimed right at the open hatch where the ladder ended. I heard him climbing. It seemed like an eternity. Then, his head just popped up and he was looking right at me, realizing I had a gun, with this mixture of confusion and fear. I almost feel bad for him.
-What did you do?
-I shot him. I shot him right in the face.
 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fragment 42: Alexander

Bright light.

My mother is leaning towards me, smiling, running her fingers down the side of my face, twirling the stray pieces of my hair...whispering...

Anthony...Anthony....

Except my name is not Anthony.

Waking up there is a pure and perfect point of pain.  An intense searing violence that seems to be right in the middle of my brain. I feel for a moment, like I could just sit up and vomit all over the bed.

But, the feeling passes.

Looking out of the twenty-second story condo window, still very dark, a January 4:30 a.m. Toronto appears sterile and empty, as it does every morning, and reaching for the Camels I bought on the last junket I light the cigarette in a successful attempt to stave off the desire of my stomach to empty last night's contents.

Out of bed, naked, my chest hair itchy,  my arms and legs sore and my vision dizzy, stumbling to the shower. Ice cold water for a moment, then hot. The water feels like shit. It is like the shower is fucking attacking me. Why the fuck am I awake at all?

Somehow, seemingly seconds later, though that can't be right, right (?), I am in the condo gym, alone, happy it is open the full twenty-four. I am on that machine, the running one, running. And running. The gym windows are fogged by the cold and you could think that the city was a Impressionist painting looking through them. Almost beautiful instead of the dump that the daybreak will reaffirm it as.

An empty financial center full of empty financial people.

My watch says it is six. Six a.m. Too fucking early to go in. Too late to go back to bed.

Kicking open the main suite bar sized second fridge freezer  there is a little of the vodka left. I figure I have an hour to finish it.

Office open, 7:30 a.m. I am there a few minutes later, obligatory black coffee in hand. Receptionist barely registers me as I pass. I have come in before everyone almost everyday I have been in town lately.

Computer on, and I am at it. Activity slowly begins around me, volume level gradually increasing, hellos said, people filing past.

I don't care about any of it. At all. Of course, I say hello, you have to. But I can't wait again until they send me to Paris, Milan or fucking Topeka for that matter. If I never saw any of these people before the day I die, it would be too soon.

Except Alice. But she hasn't been by yet.

Alice, looking at me, eyes wide, "You know this can't go on..." Holding the back of my head as the cell phone bleats out a melody...her husband calling yet again. What was that book that you gave me Alice? That one by Graham Greene?

I walk out into the fierce January cold. Negative twenty today. Just sucks the air right out of your lungs. Going to eat shit knock off Indian food from some Yonge St. take out dump. Won't be there in a few weeks. They all come and go with interchangeably bland fare. People shuffling in line in front and behind me, all dreary looking. The young man behind the counter, handsome. But defeated, I think. He takes my order and he looks just so perfectly bored. Like he must count the seconds of every long and pointless day of relaying these orders to cooks who equally are doing time.

So many people, so many lives, spent doing this totally superfluous shit. When the vast improbability that is the universe decided to grant you the gift of this tiny instance of life, you ended up spending it doing this. Or that. Or what I am doing, also irrelevant.

Ask not if anyone will remember us 100 years from now. No one will care to remember us fifteen minutes after we are gone. Our pictures may be on the mantlepiece for a few years, but nothing we did will linger on. Because, we did nothing.

Up the elevator. The negativeness of this space. I hate the fucking elevator. Caged with people you don't know. All looking ahead. Or forced to listen to tiny fragments of conversations that you are not a part of.

At the desk again, more painkiller.

In the taxi, everything blurring by, down from Bloor to the condo. He is shaking me. Stay awake, buddy. We've been into the whiskeys. The good ones...every drink a bit of liquid gold. Two hundred twenty seven dollars later. Give me one of your obscure words....ok...we have had a jeroboam of whisky my fine asshole of a friend. How is that for obscure. He laughs.

It is noon now. Cell phone buzzes. My lawyer in Montreal. I ignore it.

Anxiety compels me to the bathroom. Lock the door and a few minutes later it feels numb again. My pills can do that to you. Numb but alert. The anxiety gone for now. There is no point in worrying about things that you cannot change or undo.

Jonathon comes down the hall. Ass kisser that one. But Jonathon has a soft spot for me.  He wants to see me at two. Jonathon, tell him I left at one.

He smiles.

It is a Thursday. I might have had somewhere to go.

The bottom of the Scotia Plaza. Small underground bar. Not underground in some revolutionary sense, but literally. No one drinking here at two in the afternoon is making less than $75K. But it is dark all day long. You can pretend it is always nighttime. My kind of place.

Bar is mostly empty. I get a Glenfiddich. Then another. Two tables over are two suits. Assholes you can tell. But that is easy. They are all assholes around here. The biliousness with which the one spouts his puerile reactionary nonsense is nauseating. One of these business know-it-all types. But he doesn't know a fucking thing. I contemplate walking over to his table and punching him right in the face when fortune intervenes on his, (or my?) behalf and I feel a slight touch to my shoulder.

I don't need to look. Its Alice.

She sits down. He's looking for you you know. I know. Why did you leave? What difference? He can find me tomorrow. 

She smiles. I don't get you. But you don't need to get me do you? No, I guess not. Detente then. I won't try to understand your motives, and you won't try to understand mine.

A terrible feeling. Like something is bursting out of my chest. I am trying to slow down, but inevitably I will get there, no matter how slow I walk. Long institutional hallways. I am finally at the door. Opening it and the first thing I see is the bed.

A few more drinks. I already have a headache. It will get worse, but then better. This is what always happens.

Let's go for dinner. Where? John and Mohammed are at Rodney's. Why not?

We walk down the stairs, Rodney's is packed. After work crowd now.

I order two dozen oysters and a very expensive Chablis.

Mohammed looks great in his blue double breasted. John is a picture of junior executive perfection. Fancy watch, lovely shirt and tie. Expensive cufflinks. I want to kiss them both.

Mohammed is circumspect. We missed you at the meeting today. Had to see a client. Silence. They know I am lying, of course. How did it go? It went as it always goes.

What do you think of Sandra's proposal? I laugh. Guys, do we really care right now?

What did you study? Was it hematology after all? Why did I see you there...that distance I traveled to be away from you? Looking out from the Via car window, you there on the platform awaiting another train to a separate place, and despite wanting to get off and to run back to you, all I could do was to look down at your overshoe.

Then it is just Alice and I again. Walking so slowly almost to spite the bitter 10 p.m. air.

Why do you do it? What do you mean? Why don't you just quit? Everyone knows you don't want to be here anymore. They only keep you because you produce. But, Alice, where would I go? And why? Wouldn't anywhere else be just the same? If you have to chose between two identical places to wither, why not chose the one that you are already at?

She kisses me and hails the taxi approaching us. I must leave you my dear. He has become something of a martinet, my husband.

With Cassandra at the bar. She has seen many of my night's ends. The usual crowd is around. A few unknown faces. Cass serves me the draft and the double bourbon. She shouldn't really but she does anyway.

Trying to push through the crowd at the accident site. Coming back to see it. The rope has cordoned off the area around the parking lot and the curious strain to see the remains of what what once a young man. As I turn around, knowing now that what I feared was true, rushing to the stairs of the station, she pushes the Jesus Saves handbill into my chest.

Jesus Saves what?

It is near 2 a.m. Cassandra hands me my last drink. There is no one here now, save her and I. Cassandra, I love you. Now...now...you know I don't sleep with the customers. I know. But even if you did, I would never try. I don't sleep with people I like. What about Alice? Well, I tell you too much Cassandra, I suppose I do like Alice. Well, then maybe you are not so bad after all, I like her too. You only met her once. It was enough. She is married. We are all married to something. I'll call you a taxi.

I wanted normalcy. I wanted to dream the same dream you did. I wanted to be where you were. But we can't always help ourselves. I failed you. I failed you the moment we met. I could never be the person I told you I could be. You understood this long before I could.

Bright light.

My mother is leaning towards me, smiling, running her fingers down the side of my face, twirling the stray pieces of my hair...whispering...

Alexander...Alexander....

Except my name is not Alexander.



Friday, October 21, 2011

Fragment 41: James Joyce

As the cab pulls up, taxi sign a rooftop beacon cutting as a lighthouse the sheets of sideways rain, wind hard and cold, October dismal, I flick the cigarette butt over it to be crushed by the heavy Friday night westbound traffic of Richmond St.

Sean, also dropping his DuMaurier pre-entry, laughs, running quickly around to use the rear door, driver side.

Soaked through, faces glistening as if long distance runners at marathon's end, horns blaring as the cabbie accelerates straight in.

We are wet rats. Trench coats hardly useful at all. Suits freshly pressed this morning now wrinkling fast.

But who cares?

It is week's end.

Sean smiles sarcastically.

-Think she'll be there?

I hope not. Or do I?

A very short six dollars later, pulling up to the oddity of the doors of the Beverly wide open despite the season. Despite the thunder. A CCR cover is wafting out as I hand a ten dollar bill into the front with a dismissive "keep the change".

Striding fast through the main room, past tables of barely legal University of Toronto boys and girls getting drunker now that it is after ten.

But not I. No not I. Sober still six double Jacks later.

At the table unwrapping a crisp new pack of illegal Lucky Strikes, Sean extending a hand for one as he takes a seat shotgun, a skinny, pale and humourless waitress coming up to not jot down orders she will likely get wrong.

Swooning amorously as she departs...

-I am in love...Sean says.

-With what, a corpse?

He feigns a glare.

I let my eyes wander the backroom. Many clusters of lovely young women, but they were all that. Young. Not for me.

I am thirty-four and they are, possibly, pushing twenty.

Not my style. I have always sort of thought thirty-somethings who bang borderline teenagers are sexual bullies who didn't get any in high school.

Sean, as if knowing what I am thinking...

-Who are you to judge?

-We all judge. I have as much right to my judgements as anyone else.

He snorts.

Now eleven, set drawing to a close, doors shut so the room filling with a carcinogenic fog of pack-upon-pack of whatever brands we are collectively killing ourselves with. Last song an Oasis tune.

And there she is, goddammit, there she is.

Lithe yet curvy, a black on white polka dot dress beneath a bright red raincoat. Dark brown eyes and dark brown short hair. Alone and just so...alluring. And so dangerously beautiful.

Sitting suddenly across from me, lighting a menthol slim, leaning back. Almost contemplative.

Sean gets up.

-I'll be off then.

Gazing up at him.

-So soon. But I just got here.

-Indeed. Alas, I am working tomorrow.

She laughs flirtatiously.

-Tomorrow is a Saturday.

-And my boss is a right bastard.

A short turn to me...

-Adieu my old friend...and may God indeed help you.

We sit, eyes locked, divided by a dirty and decrepit table.

Some little shit beside me pronounces loudly about Y2K and his coterie of wide-eyed lasses giggle and gape in seeming awe. It is odd how rumours of impending doom worry me not at all.

She blinks first.

-How have you been?

-You know, busy.

-With what?

-Nothing much really.

-Don't be like that.

-I'm not. I have been busy. Really busy. But not with anything worth being busy with.

-So is it like that then? Drifting aimlessly from me to middle age.

-I am not sure I would have put it quite like that.

She leans forward.

-That is not like you. Regret was never really your style.

Regret. Is it regret? Or is it acceptance?

She grinds out the cigarette into the chipped glass ashtray, slips another out from her pack and looks away as she lights it and inhales the smoke deeply.

-So what? You were going to be someone? A contender...is that not the cliche? What was it you wanted to be all those years ago...an astronaut? A fire fighter?

-Well what did you want to be?

-I asked you first.

-I never wanted to be anything. I got what I wanted.

The band starts tuning up. Second set coming. I suddenly feel cruel.

-I can imagine what you wanted. I bet you were one of those oh so precious in pink girls. Daddy's favourite. Dance lessons and dreams of ballet school and Prince Charming.

-Fuck you.

She spits it out. Blood boiling. For a moment I think she is going to leave.

The waitress brings more drinks. I have a whisky and she has ordered what must be a truly terrible martini.

She speaks softly...

-A teacher. I wanted to be a teacher.

Behind us they launch into a cover of Van Morrison. Into the Mystic.

But it is like the musical equivalent of a child's stick figure art next to a Jackson Pollock.

I reach over and touch her hand.

-Why don't we go?

Walking slowly, side-by-side up McCaul. The storm has subsided and the moon shines brightly overhead. No people, only the occasional car or two.

A striking quiet, our footsteps seeming to echo, as on the stage set for a movie.

Across Baldwin. Not a word.

Up Spadina. Not a word.

Sometimes it is better not to ask the questions that we will not like the answers to.

On the street where she lives a very light night mist broken only by the spotlights of the street lamps. At the foot of the stairs that lead to her door she takes my arm and turns me to her, faces almost touching.

-Do you want to come in?

Do I want to come in? I have never wanted anything more. A painfully physical longing. A longing to feel her heartbeat on my chest, to feel her touch and to touch her. To lie as one as we once did, exhausted, spent and together.

Letting go of her. Stepping back.

-Best not.

For the briefest of moments she seems shocked, but then that calm facade of composure that she is blessed with returns.

An intent, almost intense pause, and she is gone.

Watching her slowly ascend to her door, no last turning back, key out...

-I lied.

I say it loudly. She swirls about, close to smirking at me. Expectantly.

-James Joyce.

-What?

-When I said I never wanted to be anything I lied. I wanted to be James Joyce.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fragment 40: Paradox

Funny thing that. How many cigarettes did it take?

Unfiltered. We used to go to the market. $20 for the filtered and $15 for the Lucky Strikes.

I always went for the Lucky's.

Teresa had this weird thing. Two tattoos, and an attitude. She could never stand that I was her man.

I can hardly blame her. I had little to offer.

I got drunk in 1990, pretended to be a poet and the rest is...

Teresa always thought she could have done better. And she could have.

But isn't that true of all of us? Can't we all do better and haven't we somewhere?

Strange how it all can come into focus. Rain driving hard on the roof of the car, street lights bright as he leans into me. Grabbing the back of my head kissing me hard.

So when do I see you again?

The Chevy vibrating, purring beneath us, my one hand tugging at his belt, my other touching his face.

And then that night...

The Flat Iron. He had come in a cab. Did he really think that it could go any further? Did he really think we could move past this moment?

Licking at my ear, sad, angry...

I can't see you again....

So, years later. Two kids now growing older. All of us at the pool. My wife dowdy in her one piece and Jonah and Sally being eight and ten. A young teenage Adonis of a lifeguard that I can't help but look at...

And here you are, head lazy lying on his chest. Looking at me through second hand two hundred dollar sunglasses. Pausing slightly to recognize I am there...

A certain smirk.

But I had loved you. It had been my hands touching you. I ran my hands down that back and I rubbed myself across that chest. And I knew that you would not be mine.

I never had that kind of courage, that tender fortitude.

Leaving the daylight frivolities with Terri and the little ones.

Glancing back to see you lift up your hands to grasp his face.

Going down to the Canadianna. Me and the "boys". A bunch of angry and lonely middle aged men. Not the one of us honest at all.

The usual bullshit about how great the wives and kids are...never regret. Never any regret. How you can regret these tiny perfect lives?

Ordering the late night doubles on ice. I take it back, we all regret choices at last call.

Don pushing me..."your shot"

But I see her, through the front restaurant window, past the cheesy slogans, past the blur of pick up trucks and SUVs. Arthur dropping coins into a beat up jukebox, Springsteen and Mellencamp. Late night street worker looking right back at me. Haggard and angry, as if to say who the fuck are you John.

And how to answer this accusation other than to say I am not who you may think.

And I too thought it would all be different.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fragment 39: Clemency

I get to the club about 7 p.m. A few minutes early.

Serge and I are tight, but you never really wanted to be late.

Walking in, front room loud, tables of Portuguese and Italian kids hollering and playing pool. Makes me laugh. As all the wall photos and menu items made clear, he had wanted this to be an East European hangout.

I don't know...maybe Ukrainians don't shoot stick.

Not that Serge was Ukrainian. Who knows what the fuck he was? But he did hang out with them.

I went straight through to the back "private" room. Darker, not only because it was ill lit, but because of its colours. Whore house colours to be crass, but interior design is not my thing. Maybe they were just fanciful or Moulin Rouge.

Drago was in the rear right corner. I made sure to mark him. We had long hated each other. He glared briefly at me over the racing forms before getting back to working out whatever it was he could garnish from today's fix.

There were a couple other of Serge's men about. One aimlessly shooting darts, the other smiling up at the altogether too young waitress sitting on his lap.

Serge was dapper to a fault. Perfect style as always. Tonight a double breasted dark blue Hugo Boss, striped, with an olive shirt beneath and a striking neon tie. He barely looked from his cigarette to greet me.

I sat down to the panorama of delightful looking smoked salmon, accompanied by a Swedish plate of toasts and sides, and a bottle of Stoli in a bucket of ice. I would have killed for this dish. But it was Serge's...not mine.

When Andre, his waiter and maybe his sole friend, came over Serge awoke for a moment.

"Rib Eye rare. Side Waldorf salad and a glass of our second Shiraz. The Australian one."

That was my order. He didn't ask. I didn't object. On the whole, it seemed a good meal.

Several minutes pass. Small talk. Serge, as always, asks after the kids and Betty. I eat the steak, delicious, with Provencal butter melting atop, pools of blood forming on the plate to be soaked up by terrific fresh bread. He never serves this to his "customers". Only associates.

Andre is back. An Aperol with sparkling wine perhaps?

The reddish drinks arrive, over ice, and Serge smiles wryly.

-We should do this without a reason sometime...

Now it is time for business. Andre moves away, but still looks on from behind the bar. Serge tells the others to get out.

-So...remember Gregor?

That was who was to die then. Of course I remembered. Gregor had stood over me, scarred face, after I had taken the shot meant for him. Laughing. Looking down as I tried to hold the blood in (funny how the brain thinks it can stave off the inevitable).

-Fuck, I am sure you are a dead man...

And he grunted...walking away as the sirens started to come into focus.


-Clean or messy?

-Messy.

So he wanted them all killed.

-I don't do kids.

-His daughter is in Europe.

I am sitting at Gregor's years after the shooting and forced truce. Katherine, his daughter, plies through the crowd. Seventeen and beautiful. I guess the less enlightened would call her jail bait.

She takes my cigarette. Gregor, angry, stares from across his own house as she pulls my head down.

-Want to make my father mad...

I don't.


Serge smiles, bitterly.

-They are expecting you.

The Saab purrs sleekly along the highway out of Toronto. I placed the H&K silenced semi automatic on the seat beside me and the H&K silenced sub-machine gun model in the briefcase. The "plans" they were expecting.

Radio stations playing endless pop crap until I alight upon the ball game. Toronto winning for once. Brewers down by three. Listening to the ninth soothing as I cruise along the 410.

Pulling off as ordered, down Rural Route 6 past the farms, past the trailers, past it all to the cabin, darkness descending, sideroad harder to navigate than I recalled.

Idling in the car, looking at the light glowing from the safehouse, pausing to get my bearings. Turning the dial. Jazz music...maybe Glen Miller. I tuck the sidearm into the back of my pants.

We are in the middle of nowhere. Stones crunching under foot as I make my way to the front door. I hear inside music playing loudly. Good thing.

I knock gently. Roman answers.

Chiseled features. A huge man. Looks like an idealized Greek statue. He smiles.

I know Roman. We worked together. A few times. He thinks I am here for a reason.

Drake, before Serge, had asked us to do a mule train once. Normally a little low end. He had wanted some muscle for some reason. We had pulled into Sudbury and checking in to the hotel had seen the bargirls on the way up. When we came back down we left our wedding rings in the room.

-Good to see you!

Turning he makes it three strides before I shoot him in the back of the head.

Waiting. The music still playing. They know nothing.

I approach the door slowly down nondescript hall. Leaning against doorside...opening the briefcase, weapon out, pushing...

Funny part, so far as you can say that, is Gregor standing up, (smiling, stupid eh?) cigar in hand, mouth open...

I shot him twice in the face.

I saw a big guy to the left, bewildered, still with a stunned looked as the bullet drove into his brain, exploding whatever little was left there.

Looking out, exposed, where is number three?

-You are fucking dead you mother fuck...

He was leaping up like some kind of avenging Ninja, screaming comic book style. I shot him through the neck.

Holding it in futility, stumbling. Blood cascading out of his mouth. I shot him again only to shut him up. He deserved to suffer.

Funny how much shorter the hall seems on the way out.

The walk to the car. No rush now.

As I stride down the driveway I see her. Out of the corner of my eye. In the front seat of her father's car. Looking with terror over the steering wheel. Katherine.

I am still holding the H&K and I press upon the trigger. Gently. Our views connecting, tears streaming down her face.

I should kill her. But I can't. I can't.

Firing a bullet over her head, through the upper windshield, she ducks panicked as I get into the Saab.

-Get the fuck out of here kid!

I am fucked. Serge will never forgive me. Letting her live means the end for us. And he would not have let her live.

No going back. I can see Serge. An invitation to an event is how it would likely end. But, fumbling through the bags, seizing passport, how far is Mexico?

I can make it to Mexico I think.

Tap...Tap...Tap...

The hairs on my neck stand up. The slight touching right to the side of my face, the rattling of hardness upon the car window.

I don't want to, but I look over.

And there she is. Katherine. Sly and almost sadistic smile on her face. Eyes meeting. Shotgun barrel right up a foot away...

Well fuck me.