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.