Looking down at the blood-smeared counter; I was repelled by what dripped from Skinigin’s tobacco-stained fingers. Was this really necessary? The old fisherman was too drunk to roll his mangled “makins” so I handed him a tailor-made and ushered him to the nearby bench. Thankfully, the tire bell’s call drew me out to the gas pumps where another intoxicated smoker was attempting to shorten his life by reaching for the self-serve nozzle with a lit smoke dangling from his lips. “No, no Malky; please don’t do that. Just go over and sit down-I’ll get it. How much do you need?”
This scripted formality was one of our little rituals because every three days; he obsessively purchased ten dollars worth of regular gas for his battered pickup. The last time this happened, he tripped over the hose and sent gas spraying into his car and all over his girlfriend and himself. I have no idea how the deadly fluid missed his lit cigarette.
As I stood pumping fuel into the dry tank of his vehicle, I suddenly remembered that today was a provincial election day. This work day would be a freak show but I secretly relished the lunacy because my job at Cyril’s Garage was the envy of my teen-aged peers. I think I owed my position more to religion than mechanical talent since Cyril and I were members of St. Belial’s Parish. I guess he figured a pure Catholic boy could be trusted but the situation later reminded me of the Biblical tale of the foolish man who hired a stranger passing by. While I was more interested in guitars than cars; I did appreciate the social utility of the automobile and acquired a driver’s license at the earliest opportunity. On the bumpy road to that accomplishment; I aged my Uncle Alec at least 10 years.
I finished pumping Malky’s gas and re-entered the station to ring up his purchase on the primitive cash register. I then turned my attention to Jerry Weeden’s muddy truck. My co-worker John McNeil and I had recently faced a major shit-storm for forgetting to wash another muddy truck so I was determined to avoid a repeat. Besides that, Jerry was a little crazy and while generally genial; was also capricious. I turned on the hose and directed the warm jets over the crusted length of the truck prior to soaping and scrubbing the filthy thing. “At the car wash, yeah-you can pay the fool!” That stupid song entered my head as I applied the soapy sponge to the entire surface of the vehicle. At least Jerry didn’t smoke. The local native Chief, Donald H. Goo-goo; smoked so much in his big Dodge that we had to use a whole can of Windex on the interior windows; caked as they were with a thick layer of tobacco tar. Donald was a good guy, though; and not a bad goalie. Finally I was done, and without interruptions. I was known to turn the hose on kids who overstayed their welcome in the grimy old edifice. Not very nice; I know, but I had suffered the same fate.
Now to move the clean rig outside to the parking area. Climbing into the cab; I gunned the engine and waited for John to raise the rolling door. He had just arrived for the second shift and I anticipated an evening of merriment in his company. Unfortunately, John directed a jet of hose water at my closed window just as I was passing through the door. Distracted, I winced at the sickening sound of the oversized rearview mirror ripping out of its door moorings with a metallic shriek. “Oh man, he’ll kill us! I hope he’s drunk today.” John was doubled over in laughter, obviously ferociously stoned on the killer weed we found under the seat of the freshly-washed RCMP cruiser drying in the parking lot. RCMP “carwash salvage” was one of the secret fringe benefits of working at Cyril’s. Frightened arrestees were forever shoving their dope under the rear seats of the police cars. I had performed this subtle maneuver at least once and always wondered why the cops never searched their own cars. We regularly harvested high quality weed and hash but said nothing lest the original owners attempt repossession of their abandoned stashes. We were always bemused when a gracious Mountie offered us a modest tip for our services. We felt like that guy in the country song who had his marijuana fields burned by the police. He sang, “But I didn’t mind and waved goodbye; sitting on my sack of seeds.”
John and I loved election days since; as Cyril’s pump jockeys, we enjoyed front row seats for the day’s inevitable shenanigans. The event was really just a huge drunk fest, since the incumbent Tory Sangster Swann was almost guaranteed re-election for all the wrong reasons. He more or less owned the riding and was a consummate master of palm-greasing and glad-handing. Swann had once attempted to help one of his friends cheat my uncle Felix in a land deal. That little episode destroyed my youthful faith in politicians and inspired my habitual cynicism.
Sangster’s flunky, Danny MacPhee; was kept busy all day distributing quarts and pints of liquid persuasion from the trunk of his car. If the Liquor Store manager was aware of this ugliness; he said nothing as he was in no position to protest. He, like most provincial employees; owed his job security to the whims of the province’s ruling party. These people and their minions were known to execute blatant acts of retaliation against the disobedient.
As an illustration of the Maritime patronage game; I offer this anecdote for the reader’s amusement. Upon turning 19, I approached Buddy Bartlett; the local Liquor Store manager to request a job application for part-time work. I had ambitions of securing employment at the county’s most profitable retail establishment but realpolitik intervened when Buddy said, “Happy birthday, Joel. You can’t have the application until I know you have the job. You’ll have to go see Danny.” Being naïve I initially protested but then the situation became clear. Sangster Swann was the real manager of the Liquor Store. Buddy just counted the bottles. Since my parents were on the wrong side of politics; knew I was sunk so I bought a symbolic pint of rum and exited the store to drown my sorrows. It was OK though; I would work at the garage until next July and then take a summer job as a lifeguard at the beach down the coast. Now there were some real socializing possibilities.
As mentioned before, I think Cyril l had hired me mainly for my trusty Catholicism and the supposed moral uprightness of our shared faith. Already a seasoned traveler on debauchery road; at Cyril’s I embraced a higher level of personal corruption and dissolution. We were permitted to drink and read Penthouse at work although Cyril didn’t approve of marijuana. As well, the premises were open for late night socializing
and certain initiation rituals. Surrounded by older men of the world; John and I served our bad boy apprenticeships with gleeful enthusiasm. Beyond the fun, we actually did our jobs fairly well and enjoyed interacting with the public.
John and I dreaded the return of Jerry Weeden; he of the squeaky clean but mangled rearview mirror. However, Jerry; an old friend of my father, arrived drunk on Tory rum and casually excused my crime with a boozy laugh and a wave of his huge lumberjack paw. I later worked for this man and was constantly amazed that any human being could consume as much rum as he did without rapidly losing all control of their personal affairs. His crew of Black Pointers and imported Newfie woodsman were kept in line by Jerry’s trollish girlfriend and her frying pan.
Upon Jerry’s departure we returned to our duties. Just then, the Madman entered the reception area wearing the huge black sunglasses that hid the massive shiner he had recently received from our avuncular but very tough mechanic Bryce Mackenzie.
When the Madman approached and asked us for a drink; we told him to vote Tory. The ill-tempered tool mumbled an epithet and shuffled back to his work in the mechanic’s pit.
Davis Acker had earned the Madman sobriquet after being arrested for wildly circumnavigating the RCMP detachment in his hotrod. Two days ago; Acker had made the drunken mistake of leaving his car on the hoist after he passed out. When Bryce tried to remove it for his work, Acker swung wildly at him and received a richly-deserved shot in the head.
“I have an idea, John. Let’s steal the rum from Danny’s car and spike the bottles with laxative. That’ll get them stinking as well as stinking drunk! What do you think?”
MacNeil was always game for mischief and readily agreed to the scheme. “Yeah, Sangster will blame the sabotage on the other candidates. I just saw Danny go by so we’ll have to wait until he goes to the Liquor Store for another supply, I’ll call Ray. He lives up there and I’ll have him watch for Danny’s car and call us here when he sees it. Ray is good. He’ll want to know but that’s OK. I’d love to put the gears to Sangster and I’m not the only one. God knows what he’s secretly done over the years. I bet we’ll get away with this.”
Since Cyril’s closed at five that day; we stood a good chance of catching the bagman with a trunk full of hooch. It being three o’clock; we still had two hours to plan our little scheme. The tire bell rang to interrupt us and an old truck pulled up to the bay doors beeping its tired horn. Two ragged “back to the landers” emerged and the older one said, “Hey man, can I borrow a blow torch? My gas cap is rusted in place.” Controlling our mirth, we told the stoner we would lend him the torch if he parked his truck out at the end of the government wharf before he lit the propane. Sudden realization dawned on his vacant features and the fellow declared, “Oh, right man. Ha Ha. I guess I’m pretty messed up to think that.” We fixed the problem with Liquid Wrench and sent “Cheech and Chong” on their way.
“Let’s call Danny with a request that he visit to some Tory-heavy location and we’ll do our thing while he’s inside. One of the many skills we had developed at Cyril’s was a method of opening locked vehicles with a set of smooth hacksaw blades much like those employed by car thieves. This technique had saved us much embarrassment since we suffered from the distracted habit of locking customer’s key’s inside their cars. “We will steal the rum and replace it with our special blend. The only complication will be knowing how many bottles he has and whether they’re pints or quarts. That’s where Ray will come in. He’ll scoot over to the Liquor Store and spy out Danny’s purchases. Then he’ll call us here. We’ll have to buy a case of quarts and a case of pints immediately and that means you going to East Sydley. If you leave now in that guy’s Porsche you can be back in 90 minutes. He’s won’t be back for a week and I’ll cover for you here. I’ll say you had to take the Porsche for a test drive before we give it back. Cyril will be drinking today and the story just might work. Anyway, we have little choice. You go now.”
John gleefully jumped in the sleek sports car as I opened the big sliding door and he proceeded to the highway by the back streets of Giscook wearing a ball cap and oversize sunglasses. The game was afoot and we could temporarily stash the booze in one of the myriad hidey holes that often contained a variety of contraband.
We chose a perfect hiding place for the rum in one of the coffins upstairs. Our body man; Sonny Ross used the shop to repaired used coffins for his father’s funeral home. I was always disturbed by the concept of used coffins especially when I remember the time Cyril tried to have me induce his funeral-phobic sister to pass through the darkened, coffin-filled body shop on her way to the garage office. The idea was that I turn on the lights and give her a scare. I couldn’t be a party to this macabre Halloween prank and excused myself. It was bad enough that she had caught us watching porno on an old 8 mm screen the month before. My luck had already been pushed to the breaking point.
Next, I put in a call to the local drug store and asked for Waldo Christmas. Waldo was our school mate and a real character. His worked in his brother’s drug store and would likely give me what I needed to complete the scheme. Waldo was no fan of politicos and was an ardent devotee of juvenile mischief. Thankfully, the man himself answered, sparing me the bother of subterfuge and I said, “Waldo, bring me a bottle of hospital-grade laxative and a package of hypodermic needles. Exlax won’t suffice.” Over-riding his sputtering questions, I continued. “No, don’t ask. You’ll have to steal them. Yes, steal them and bring them to Cyril’s as soon as you can. I’ll explain later and I’ll make it worth your while. I’m sure you understand.”
Fifteen minutes later Waldo entered the garage and handed me a brown paper bag. While shaking his hand I slipped him a foil packet containing a certain leafy substance and I told him he would have to wait for answers and that future events might negate the necessity of questions. “Don’t worry, Waldo, you’re doing a good thing,” I assured him as our co-conspirator exited the garage and meandered up the street to the drug store. Waldo was a past master of the five finger discount; owing little allegiance to the unpleasantness that was his older brother Jimmy.
We decided that voice disguise was required for the success of our venture and I began practicing my Charlie MacGoogal accent. I was certain I could lure Danny to the old apartment building above the Co-op store where many “Rum Tories”, Charlie MacGoogal chief among them; would eagerly trade their votes for free liquor.
The hallways and staircases of this rambling old structure would detain Danny long enough for us to open his trunk and do the switch. Since the polls would close soon after Ray called us; we hoped that Danny’s final liquor run would include plenty of extra bottles for the inevitable victory party. Thankfully, the old blowhard was one of the few locals to have a car phone and we knew the number; having washed recently washed his vehicle.
I picked up the jangling garage phone rang and found Ray on the other end with news that Danny had just pulled into the liquor store. It was now or never. “Stay on the line, Ray and listen to this,” I said. Picking up the other phone, I dialed Danny’s car phone and shouted into the receiver like the deaf old man I was imitating. “Danny boy, is dat you? Bring some over to the apartment, quick. We did right. OK, boy. We’ll wait; you’ll have to go to all the doors on the first floor, two on the second and tree at the top. You know who, right? Dat’s great, boy. See you soon. Oh, yeah. Bring some pop,” I said as MacGoogal. “Pretty good, aye, Ray? Thanks, man!” I said before putting down the second telephone. Just then, John pulled into the station and jumped out of the Porsche with a grin. ”I got it all; are we in business?” He asked breathlessly. “My conspiratorial look told all and we quickly took the cases to the back of the garage where I injected each bottle with a good dose of the clear, tasteless laxative and gave them all a good shake. After secretly loading our truck inside the bay doors; we locked the garage and roared off to the assignation.
After a brief drive we spotted Danny’s Ford parked behind the old apartments in the sheltered spot we had hoped for. Pulling in behind him; we checked the upper story windows for watchers and proceed to jimmy open the trunk of his big car. A few tense moment’s work rewarded our efforts and we quickly effected the switch; actually adding 10 extra pints to the collection. Danny, half-drunk himself by now; would never know the difference. With the trunk quietly closed; we hopped back in our truck with Danny’s clean rum in the box.
“The polls close soon and then its party time for the local Tories. Well, party time for everyone, really. Us too, but not until we see the fruits of our labor.” I said to John.
“I think that stuff takes about an hour to work and I put a triple dose in each bottle. I hope no one gets hurt.” MacNeil said, “Don’t worry about that.” I said.” Most of these people have been constipated for most of their lives anyway. We’re doing them a big favor.”
Another hour found us on the roof of the local fire hall; passing a joint back and forth and cooling our throats with shots of straight rum as we peered through the dirty window and waited for the festivities to begin. John suppressed a giggle as he looked over at me and his look said everything. We were about to score a major coup against the pompous bozos who had been treating the county as their private fiefdom for as long as we could remember. While tonight’s doings wouldn’t change that; what passed for Tory dignity was about to take a pasting. Putting cardboard sheeting on the gravel surface under the windows; we knelt close for a better view and suddenly noticed the shiny red faces of the celebrants begin to exhibit signs of ill-ease which were soon replaced by panic and the comedic gyrations of people badly in need of “the facilities.”
John clicked on the camcorder and we were in business. Unfortunately for the celebrants; there were only two bathrooms in the place and we had barred all the doors from the outside. By the time they were forced open all would be over.
John opened the titling window for sound effects and we actually heard a loud intestinal gurgle from twenty feet below as defeated candidate Duane Holly emitted an agonized moan and ran for the men’s room; shoving drunk Tories aside in his mad rush to avoid embarrassment. He never made it and a huge, stinking mess poured out of his pant leg and coated the floor with putrid filth. Mortified, but too drunk to be coordinated; he lurched for the exit but tripped and rolled in his own foulness.
At this point; the great man himself, Sangster Swann, mounted the stage in a vain attempt to restore order; instead simultaneously puked and shit his pants. Pandemonium erupted; with some men and women darting for the overloaded bathrooms while others pounded and pulled at the locked doors. Others were tearing at the small windows and attempting to shove their bulk through the openings. One fat lady in particular remained stuck in the window as a liquid mess soaked the back of her white dress while her friend pulled on her feet to free her.
Other celebrants were squatting in corners and under tables in a scatological bacchanal of repulsive proportions. Danny MacPhee himself suffered a severe loss of personal dignity while engaging in a heroic attempt to tear open the back door. Instead, a hot jet of filth erupted from his nether regions, soaking his trousers and shoes as he stood helplessly cursing his unknown tormentors, “Those fucking Socialists did this or the God Damn Communists. This is war. I’ll kill every one of those bastards!!”
It sickens me to continue so I’ll leave the rest of the sordid details to the reader’s imagination. We were never caught and we subsequently sold the footage to a number of interested parties. Of course, the legend of that night’s event continues to evolve; as legends do. I know it’s been said before; but, isn’t politics a shitty business?
Morgan Duchesney is an Ottawa writer and martial arts instructor. His work on politics, war and martial arts has appeared in Humanist Perspectives, the Peace and Environment News, Budo Journal, Tone, Adbusters, Canadian Charger and the Ottawa Citizen. This is his first work of fiction. www.honeybadgerpress.ca
Noah is shaking coffee beans in a tin cup and singing the blues. Nina is chopping a skinned carrot next to the sink and trying to figure out how they make it look so easy on cooking shows. The coffee beans go into the grinder and Noah’s hands go to her hips. He cups her belly exactly where it is escaping from the waistband of her jeans, presses his back into her curves, pretends that the baby is growing inside of him, instead.
“Baby, baby, baby, oh!” Noah sings, Justin Bieber, the youtube sensation. “Let us name it Bieber,” he says. She takes a carrot button and feeds it to him over her shoulder. Crunch, crunch, crunch. “And ruin her life forever.”
“Famous kids are messed up,” she says.
“True enough, fair enough,” he says. “Our kid will not be.”
Before Nina knew she was pregnant, she walked around for two weeks feeling like her head had been dipped in olive oil. Every day, she needed a subway sandwich at lunchtime. She bought a jar of jumbo pimento stuffed olives that she hid in her desk drawer at work and ate on the sly. She cried on the subway while reading some Poetry on the Way about a blue dog.
And then the puking, the lateness. She bought three pregnancy tests, found it too difficult to pee on the stick, so she peed in a cup and dipped the ends.
Positive, positive, positive. Noah was hopping outside the bathroom door like an elf, slapping his knees.
“What is it?” he asked. “What is it?”
“It’s a baby,” she said, failing at joy, finding a smile in his, instead of what was in her belly.
Noah did the shouting. He waltzed her around the room. He punched the air. He celebrated. His happy was enough, for a minute.
“I think we have a duty to name him something great,” Noah says, talking through the sandwich in his mouth. “Something that rhymes. With good reason.”
Nina knows one thing. She never intended to change her name. This was something that she’d been pledging since she was six and knew about bra burning and understood her mother, in varying degrees. But when she met Noah and found out his last name was Black, she realized how great it would be to sign her name, Nina Black-Plunder, and that’s when she knew that it was right.
“What about Thunder Black-Plunder,” Noah says, swallowing so huge she can see the marble of chewed up bread forcing its way down his throat. She is glad for a second, that Noah isn’t a woman, isn’t pregnant, that she is the one looking after this. Just for a second. Glad that she is handling the responsibility of this.
This is something she thinks of often, changing shoes, stepping into the different place. Being the man. It could be nice, if they could trade off for a little while, if he could hold the weight in his belly, and the feelings in his fists.
“That’s pretty fearless,” Nina says.
“”I like this idea that names are phrases, that they’re more than just a label. That names are holistic. I like that idea.” Noah holds up a carrot the size of a loonie in the curl of his thumb and pokes it out with his tongue. It falls flat on the ground. “Oops,” he says.
At the doctor, Nina cried and cried. Dr. Hung patted her on the shoulder with four fingers pressed together, like a blade. “It happens sometimes,” Dr. Hung said. “If you miss a dose, if you don’t take it at the right time. It’s not supposed to. But it does.”
“I did everything right,” Nina said, inhaling in little gulps. This was a lie, and Nina knew it. It just wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It wasn’t supposed to appear without being invited. Nina thought she did her best.
“I’m very sorry that this happened to you,” Dr. Hung said, clutching her clipboard to her chest. There was a pamphlet peeking out of the top corner. Nina knew what it was. “Have you thought about your options?”
“Yes,” Nina said, but she hadn’t really. That was what women were supposed to say. They were supposed to be composed. They were supposed to think about what they were supposed to want to do.
Nina could feel it, even though the internet claimed it was just a tiny bundle of cells. The parasite, the scary little bug, poking her in the uterus.
“What have you decided? It’s listed here that you’re married,” Dr. Hung said. “Have you discussed things with your partner?”
Nina nodded. “I’m not sure,” she said. “About what I want to do.”
Dr. Hung handed her the pamphlet.
She took it.
“Are you ready to go?” Noah asks, taking Nina’s plate from her, a few sandwich crusts, still waiting to be eaten. Noah has a way about him, always asking questions instead of making demands. She isn’t ready, no, he knows this, but he suggests it with the question instead. It’s one of the things that’s getting on her nerves.
She stands, a hand on her belly. It’s not even that big yet, but there’s enough of it be in the way. She hates the way her hand always goes there, like there’s some kind of biological magnet holding it in place. “Are you ready?” he asks again, entering the room with her jacket in hand. Nina isn’t ready, no. She isn’t. She wants to make a snarky comment about how he’s holding her coat, so clearly, no she isn’t ready. Instead she just holds her arms out like a baby and lets him dress her.
Nina stood in the subway station, near the edge of the platform, and let the train pass her by. She stared at the subway tracks. No one ever spoke about the fear. Women are always happy about being pregnant, or they fearlessly stomp to their abortions, like it’s not big deal. You never meet a woman with a swollen belly who is afraid.
Nina stared at the subway tracks. It could be over really quickly.
She could pretend to have a miscarriage at work. She could pay off some doctors to lie about it. She could do it, she could live with that lie forever, she could.
A train rolled into the station. She got on it.
Nina notices now, how slow he drives, how deliberate. Like she is noble, and delicate. A vessel. He doesn’t let her drive anymore. She is realizing all of this at once. The way he shelters her as they move through spaces, through doorways and shopping aisles, through intersections. If only he knew how much she is jostled on the subway. Her coat, it doesn’t show enough of the bump to make men give up their seats for her yet.
She hopes it doesn’t.
She doesn’t want to become one of those women who has the baby, who misses the life she never got to have. She doesn’t want to chase Noah away and become the woman who stumbles around drunk on weeknights, cigarette in one hand. The kind of woman who sleeps with truck drivers and pilots when they’re in town. She doesn’t want to take it out on the parasite inside of her. She doesn’t want that to happen.
She rode the subway to Downsview and back. She got off the subway at Wilson and sat at the kiss and ride, watching people come and go. A couple made out for a good twenty minutes. The woman looked like a flight attendant. He had a shaved head. She could tell they were really in love.
Nina googled it on her phone, how to do it.
There are pills.
The ultrasound technician farts the goo out of the bottle and onto her belly. Nina hates this feeling, the wand slurping over her body like she’s the lamp holding a genie. This baby will grant them three wishes. Noah has a hand on her shoulder. Nina watches her eyes, the technician. Her eyebrows raise. “Oh my,” she says.
Nina is pregnant. She walks around feeling like her head has been dipped in olive oil. Every day, she needs a subway sandwich at lunchtime. She buys jars of jumbo pimento stuffed olives that she hides in her desk drawer at work and eats them on the sly. She cries on the subway while reading posters about political campaigns.
“So big, for twelve weeks. Would you like to know the gender?” the technician asks.
“Yes,” Noah says, so fast, and then, “I mean, do we?” He squeezes her shoulder. “Yes, I mean…” Noah looks at her.
“It’s a boy,” Nina says. She knows. She is a divine vessel, after all.
“Yes, exactly!” The technician says.
“We have to name him Justin,” Noah says, as the technician wipes the goo away. “It’s fate.” There are tears in his eyes.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Nina says, trying her best to sit up, trying her best to summon tears from her stomach, trying her best.
Meredith Hambrock is a writer living in Vancouver.
She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and her fiction has
appeared, or is forthcoming, in Little Fiction, Dragnet Magazine, The
Canadian Fiction Podcast, and Descant. She currently works for a kids
television show and spends a lot of time thinking about ghosts.
This fall can be blamed on the fact I was raised to believe I was the second coming of Christ, that I could do no wrong. One thing was sure, some day I'd end up on a cross. Just like Jesus, this all could have been avoided if not for my inability to keep my mouth shut, to maintain a low profile. I fear leaving this bed today for what I'll hear from my friends as they begin to fill in the blanks I've drawn on last night's transgressions.
You always feel this way when you drink, I tell myself, and it's never as bad as you think. I mean, sure I probably acted out a lot, said some silly things but it's not likely I grabbed that poor girl's breasts, screamed all those racial slurs as my guilty conscience would have me believe. If only I knew for sure, if only I could remember last night with the same clarity as you appeared to me in the dream I'd been having before waking, paranoid.
Not that I've ever forgotten you Paige. I can still see you, see us, walking across the bridge as you spoke proudly of that, your city's thriving music scene but as usual I just couldn't give it to you. “Nothing but boring white hip-hop and thrift store troubadours butchering the blues. And don't even get me started on the coffee shops with terrible puns for names.” Despite a clear resentment, it had actually been in one such place, Bean There, known for its selection of world coffees, that you entered my life a year and a half earlier, when I was dragged to a concert there by my friend Samantha.
She had hopes of bagging the undeserving headliner, Levon Sugabush, whose four song EP we had listened to on repeat the entire forty-five minute drive to the show. It was in that audible agony that I wondered if Samantha felt the same sexual tension I did every time we hung out and if she'd ever allow me another drunken chance with her. Any possibility of that happening the night of the concert quickly crumbled as I was promptly ditched upon arriving at the coffee shop, which had already began filling up for the show.
It was typical of Samantha to desert me when someone she deemed more interesting or useful came along, like her local friends that night. She would never go about it in a rude way, just pleasantly state “Listen, Lily has been sleeping with Levon's bass player and I honestly think he's my way in. I'll check in on you in a little bit. Promise.”
I had been through this same scenario too many times before to know it wasn't true and I probably wouldn't see her again for the rest of the night. You once asked me why, if she so commonly treated me this way, did I remain friends with her for as long as I did? Due to my romantic commitment to you at the time, I simply said I wasn't sure when in truth it was the way she made me feel when I was that person. To her then, I was always hilarious and everything I said would be greeted with warm affection. That and of course her fantastic breasts, not that I want to resort to petty blows.
Shortly after Samantha took off I ordered a coffee as it was still before 8 p.m. and Bean There had not yet transformed into The Pot, the name it gave itself at night when functioning as concert venue serving alcohol. Before you even took to the stage I knew what you looked like and figured the kind of music you likely played. An album cover with your picture caught my eye on the merchandise table I'd been silently ridiculing, finding it unnecessary given the low caliber of performers I was expecting to see. In it you appeared in a grey alley, under a red umbrella in the driving rain. Despite the bleak surroundings, a smile graced your face, which seemed fitting for the melancholic pop I believed you played. In the bottom right hand corner was your name, Paige Meadows, written as a signature, the album assumed self titled.
Though I never admitted this to you, I was planning to leave for a burrito before you performed, returning only when Samantha deemed it time to go home. However, on my way to the door I saw you modestly step onto the stage and decided you were beautiful, by way of your blue eyes and exposed thighs above a well worn pair of cowboy boots. Furthermore, I was enticed to stay when I first heard your voice or rather your adorable, nervous laugh as you introduced yourself to the crowd, strumming the guitar, ensuring it was in tune. Only when you belted out the first song, your version of the traditional ballad Corrine, Corrina, did I order a drink and make myself comfortable. Settling in, I watched as you tapped into original material, seemingly bearing your last cross for all to see in a sprawling ten minute epic which, in its climax, hopelessly entranced me with nothing more than a stomp of your boot heel and the shrill of your raspy, haunting voice.
As the night wore on you won me over again and again, to the point where I was envious, almost resentful, of the fiddle player you invited to join in on a number. I had been so caught up in your show I neglected to check on Samantha, who anxiously drank too much, too quickly, and repeatedly embarrassed herself in front Levon. Last I saw she was following him out for a cigarette as you finished your set and can only guess she left sometime shortly after as Levon soon returned with another girl who led him to stage, sending him on with a kiss.
Not only did she abandon her plan but Samantha also left me stranded there alone. Perhaps because of this I was not too concerned she was now extremely drunk and emotionally distraught, driving down winding country roads in the dark. I also had local friends and knew it wouldn't be a problem spending the night at their place. With this in mind, I ordered one more drink as I'd been enjoying myself and didn't want to be disappointed once again on account of Samantha.
Noticing you then standing at the bar, I discreetly began admiring, with quick, probing glances, your graceful mannerisms while chatting with fans and friends. Rendered red were your cheeks as one by one they congratulated you on the performance. I could tell by the way you interacted, communicating through embrace, that you were sensitive though at times it was difficult to watch other men approach you, offering compliments or themselves as paranoia had me convinced. None of them, however, seemed to be able to hold your attention for very long which came as a relief, not that I intended on trying for you myself. No, I was content simply soaking you in from a distance. Only when I had come to terms with this and attempted a swift glance did my eyes lock with yours in a mutual gaze, a connection made.
Initially upon seeing you stare, I figured you thought me a creep, gawking from the perverted shadows of desperation, which you later confessed was at least a little true. The first response that came was to finish my drink and leave immediately to avoid causing you any more discomfort with my intrusive eyes, which I instead fixed on the stage, only to see Levon Sugabush blatantly screw up for the fourth time in as many songs. This didn't seem to deter the legion of girls swooning at the foot of the stage and I wondered how they could swallow such mediocre bullshit? He was much worse live than in his recordings, irritating me to the point I considered leaving my beer unfinished and calling it a terrible night. It was then you tapped my shoulder and asked me to join you for a drink.
After our formal meeting we got to know each other, you focusing on me and me focusing on your music. We discussed your influences, Joni, Joan and Janis, and informing me of upcoming gigs, you expressed excitement for a lucrative spot you'd earned at Shelter Valley for the second year in a row. Gravely, you spoke of your experiences the previous year, how your guitar was stolen from the back of a car. After the performance you had given, I was surprised to learn you only recently had begun performing again following an emotional hiatus brought on by the loss of your instrument, a part of yourself as you described it. Briefly, I considered relating feelings of my own failed artistic aspirations but thought better as mentioning them could do nothing but jeopardize the good thing we had going.
When you asked about me, I explained Samantha's plan and how it was aborted, leaving me here alone. I couldn't stay at your house due to an overprotective mother but you said, quite assertively, you knew a place we could spend the night. Before I could process what was said, we were at the merchandise table, talking to the punky girl who manned it. She gave you a box containing your wares and a $20 bill, four C.Ds sold. The air was thick and stale as we loaded the box and guitar into the trunk of your car and took off, a storm fast approaching.
That city, which I always thought dull, seemed so exciting that night, so alive, as we drove through the four block downtown core, passing the places, then unknown, which would soon become familiar and eventually haunted by memories of our relationship. Fifteen minutes outside of town, you pulled off the road and into a secluded grove. As the thunder began to roll, I found myself in the back seat with you, sporadic lightning revealing another detail of your naked body with every strike but how I begged you to leave those boots on.
The next morning you drove me home, offering a copy of your C.D as a keepsake from our night together. Now regretfully, I declined, coyly saying I planned on seeing you in person, preferably every day. Ironically, when we bagen dating you banned me from seeing you perform live as my presence made you feel nervous and incredibly self-conscious. This did not stop me, however, from stowing myself away in the shit-stained bathroom of a seedy club the night I knew you were debuting new material. Listening to those muffled songs through the graffiti coated walls I couldn't help but worry our relationship was influencing your writing as your music was clearly moving in a more sombre direction.
“You're the greatest musical export this town has to offer,” I told you that night on the bridge, trying hard to convince you to move to a bigger city for more exposure. But you were a patriot and the discussion ended abruptly as we approached the home of your mother, who had come to terms with the idea of me. There we made love to the Evangelical screams of an a preacher on late night television. After, holding you close, I stared out the frost framed window at the brightly light tower of a distant factory, sensing importance or perhaps simply searching for some sort of significance in it. Now, as I lay alone this morning, hungover in my big city with its creative credibility, I can think of nothing but that factory tower, the bridge and what I wouldn't give just to hear you sing again.
Brian Clarke is 23 and living in Toronto. He is currently in the process
of publishing a collection of short stories and trying really hard to