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 that not the cliche? What was it you wanted to be all those years 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.


-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?


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.


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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fragment 38: Confetti & Fireworks

Wistful rain. Rhythmic and drumming down upon the roof of the thirty year old Datsun I bought.

Pulling up along Madison, the lights of the house faint still in the twilight of the early evening. Blinds down, the front yard and white picket fence sacrosanct, the pretensions clear.

Samantha is leaning at the door edge. Coquettish, a wry look and an almost aggressive curve to the lip. Only when Darryl is not around. As if asking, wondering, we had a child together didn't we?

Darwin, gym bag hoisted over shoulder runs out, smile wide, happy to see me. It has been a few weeks.

Dad...have you heard about this show where...

You know, honestly, when I think back to meeting her, Canada Day '96, I see not Samantha but a much younger and different man. Skinny, no grey hair, chain smoking Marlboros bought off the Kingston black market.

Paul and I were doing shots on the patio of the 129. It was so fucking hot almost all had retreated to the air conditioned sanctuary that was the split room of the Charles St inside.

Sam and Val pulled up in Val's VW, parking half drunk, wheel on the curb, stumbling out. She sat down, PHD student, curves to make a Victorian happy, yelling for the waiter to bring a Rum and Coke...hold the Coke.

I was in love.

Down on the beach that night, corporate sponsored fireworks skyside, idiotic classical music blaring from the loudspeakers for drama, Sam telling me that her Marxist analysis did not preclude the sex we were going to have, and I was so happy.

You know what I mean? When you are just happy?

Well not for long. Never really lasts. Pass me the cigarettes I stopped smoking ten years ago.

The road, winding and very dark, Darwin snoring in the back, Rice Lake and the cottage only a few minutes away.

Passing empty side houses and abandoned farmsteads. Forked lightning illuminating overgrown trees.

I carry Darwin into the cabin. Lay him down in the room I remember from childhood. Sky so black that there are almost no lake lights to imply others. The landscape of Canada. A large and magnificent place with not that much going for it.

The shadows you find here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fragment 37: Ottoman Empire

I am just fucking drunk. No kidding.

I sit in one of those blurs that can only come through a bottle of Jim Beam and a boycott of water. Cindy slides over, top a little too low, running her finger down the side of my face. Its kind of a come on I guess!

-So what the fuck?

She laughs.

Touching forehead to table, angry, drinks, more drinks.

Hard for me to believe, cause I knew her once. Lovers once. Cindy was a dream I had, when sober, a few years back.

And here we are, parkside, patio lights too dim, old men looking down on the pits with bottles of Fifty and shots of Jack, or so it would seem. Trees now impressionist by hour sixty-one of a sixty-two hour bender.

I see Cindy as through a carnival glass. Pushing over, detached, rings touching..."I love you".

What was it then, 1994, Cindy dancing down Walnut Ave, driven in a van by her Dad, residence bound.

I met her because I said I would carry that table up the stairs. I met her because I came a day too early. So it goes.

Cindy has a screwdriver. Leaning with that beautiful face over this empty battlefield of failed emotion. Jonathon, really what can you...

Cigarettes out, smoke streams across the table.

The bar patio blessed with the left-overs of a generation I would love to forget.

She puts her index finger under the chin, drawing me a moth to the flame.

And there I am again, these mornings before it all, snug against her, oblivion another brilliant sunset away.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fragment 36: Socialism

Fragment 36: Socialism

I met Denver at an antique market.

He was flipping through some old prints, the kind I like, and he looked up at me. I was anxious to have a glance...aggressive as always I was probably pushing in on him.

“Sweetheart, I promise. If I find anything you like I'll give you first chance...”

And he smiled.

He had me, apologies to Jerry Maguire, at Sweetheart.

Denver was the perfect man. Handsome, but old enough to not use it anymore. Tough as nails, but never towards anyone. Generous. There was no but. He was just generous...of heart and spirit.

We had Sally two years after first contact.

She was so perfect. Ugly as a baby beyond all reasoning. But not to us, of course. To us she was stunning.

She was our daughter.

Denver was quite the fella. He bought into all that “hewers of wood” bullshit and somehow...due to his marvellous good looks, he persuaded me to move to Burke's Falls with him and our baby. My parents, for once, were so thrilled. Bad girl gone good. We had never gotten along much, but now I was their Florence Nightingale.

What a time.



Denver and I had this little thing we would do. We lived in the Falls, but we often would drive down to campsites across Muskoka. One of us would pilot the RV and the other would drive ahead with Sally in the SUV. We always brought both, so we didn't have to pack up shop to go buy groceries or go to the movies.

That particular July trip I was in the RV.

About ten minutes out of the Falls we hit a foggy patch on the highway. I remember thinking Denver should slow down, just seconds before...

I don't know...have you ever had those moments where it seemed the awful, tight fist in your stomach would never go away? That it would linger with you, sometimes more, sometimes less, but forever? That it would haunt you, as a ghost, inexorable? Reminding you daily of that which you had lost. The family that you had been denied.

I don't know what happened after that.

I really don't.

I moved back to Toronto. To an apartment on Jarvis. Nice place, save the cockroaches, mice, loud neighbours and the fact I no longer cared.

I just didn't care.

I would walk down to Balfour's and slide into the stool every night around six. I would start with a couple of beers, then a Jim Beam or three, then...well then I would drink whatever struck my fancy until they would, finally, ask me to leave.

The days blended. I was running through the insurance policy and the money we had saved

Like it no longer mattered.

It no longer mattered.

There is this weird moment when you know you are trying to die. Not suicide. Just suicide.

There were nights I would polish off a bottle of Walker and go home to snort coke with some asshole I didn't even know. I'd meet gals at the Bradshaw and do tequila shots. I would do anything I could.

Anything I could to not think about anything at all.

Its odd, you know, the years, and....

Angry. The rain angry. You can barely see out the windows of the bus, weaving its way down the tiny road to Malaucen. The Vaucluse.

Rains exceptionally hard, but fortunately this was our stop.

Filing out like the tour driven fools we were, through empty town square to the Hotel Ventoux. Squat and small town, it was what you would expect.

Attentive old lady, rustic feel and decor, somehow depressing.

I slid into the hurt bed in the tiny room, alone with a skylight as the only single girl on the tour.

I was, at least, not in Toronto.

Funny, next day in the breakfast room I was pleased to hear that the bridges to the south had been washed out. We wouldn't be going anywhere.

Croissants and coffee. Couples laughing at the delay. The guide all apologetic.

Coming out of the hotel, mist settling on the mountain, looking both ways down empty small town streets.

Malaucen had the central plaza that all French towns do. Lined with tree shaded areas for Boules. This day the old men had all stayed at home.

Seeing the Cafe de la Republique open I left hive and spread across.

Bemused but tolerant locals. Me, straight up to the small bar, sitting down and ordering a glass of wine and a double of whatever they had.

With a wry look, the proprietor probably guessed the rest.

Toronto, New York, Malaucen...

Drowning, dying...the town is not important. The landscape is always the same.

I suppose a relatively young Canadian girl was a bit of an event.

To their credit, the event was smiles and laughs, free espresso and Poire William.

By mid-afternoon...well I was very drunk. I was not feeling particularly mademoiselle.

Looking out I knew it was time to go.

And I would have, but for Lloyd.

Lloyd strode in, late afternoon, grizzled with a faded leather jacket that made him look like some delicious WWII fly-boy. Without hesitation, and with nary an acknowledgement, he slid onto the bar stool beside me and ordered a drink.

Lighting an unfiltered cigarette, he tossed me a half-glance...

“What is your issue?”

I laughed and and tapped my glass on the bar...time for another.

Four blurs to five and fades to six and lingers to seven and....

Lloyd, it turns out, left Hastings four years ago and moved to the south. He lived in small stone farm house, with no farm of course, and painted. I supposed for a living.

Now dark outside, pools of light illuminating small dots of the main drag, Lloyd turns, wry smile...

“Want to see my studio?”

Why not?

For Provence it was bracingly cold. Up the winding and very narrow roads of the hillside. Heavy rain beginning again.

His studio is this vast, vault like room above the main part of the house. Who knows what its original purpose was? Lloyd had paintings all over the walls and stacked on the floors. Mostly bizzare. Blurred, disturbing blends of colours. Disconnected images. Eyes isolated, mouths, wilted trees, sounds derivative, but it was really good.

“Do you sell much?” I asked, flipping through the canvasses flirtatiously.

“I sell nothing” he said with a sideways look, “I do this for me alone”.

Awkward pause.

“Would you like a drink?”

Very much...

Lloyd leaves the studio, off to find what he promises will be the best single-malt I have ever had...

At the bottom of one of his most abstract piles I find them. A strikingly clear painting. A young looking, very beautiful woman, lying on a bright beach, a small boy bouncing above her. Both laughing. Seeming a memory of a perfect moment.

Faces tilted, smiling, smiling at me...

I feel him behind, breath gentle on my neck, saying nothing.

A stillness. The child and the woman. So clearly lost to us now. So clearly...past.

“Who are they?”


“You know who they are.”