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.


Silence. I was going to hang up.


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


-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?


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.


-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 not Oklahoma? At least former co-workers will think it a memorable death. Almost out of a sad western song. Maybe by Emmylou Harris. You can almost hear her..."And alone he died...down Oklahoma one there to say 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?
-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
-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...
-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 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.
-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.