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Services that are inspiring Sprites, Jets, and Elves

There are a few services out there that make me thing the weird technological nightmare future I'm writing about is going to actually happen in three months. I'll update this as I find more.

  • Invisible Boyfriend, which lets you send them money to have an anonymous person pretend to be the long-distance boyfriend you didn't know you needed.

  • PPLKPR lets you know how you (supposedly actually) feel when you interact with the people in your life.

  • Lives On: "When your heart stops beating, you'll keep tweeting." (Thanks Natalie!)

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Comments turned on

I've been writing about my novel, Sprites, Jets, and Elves, on here for the last few months, but I never had comments turned on. I actually would like feedback on my writing, so having them off was dumb.

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Naming E

My three main characters have been named S, J, and E so far. I've done this for two reasons. Those are the first letters of the three words in the title (Sprites, Jets, and Elves), but mainly because I didn't want a name to get in the way of the writing. Because this is a first draft, I'm consciously dodging aspects of the work that can bog me down as I figure out the overal structure. I've been meaning to come back to the names and fill them out, and I'm ready to do that with my main character, E.

In .2 releases of part 1's chapters (1.1.2, for example), E's name will be replaced with her full first name, Elumina. However, her name will shrink throughout the book to just E. I've chosen Elumina as a name because it drops letters and retains a "name" in almost each case. Elumin. Elumi. Elum. Elu. El. E. They're sci-fi flavoured, but they work.

This dropping of letters in her name will be emblamatic of the loss of her quantifiable identity. Her name is a structure that will get chipped away by the antagonist of the book, the already-named "Better" and the effects on her world that it produces.

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Thoughts on Sprites 1.6.1

I'm fairly happy with parts 1-5 so far, but 1.6.1 isn't what I was hoping to have as a first draft release. It's short and doesn't explain either of its parts very well.

The first part, where E effectively hacks her mother out of her life, needs further explanation and perhaps an actual scene where she explains it to someone else. This is foreshadowing for an argument later on in the book, but it's also a way to write out the mom character until I need her. In a .2 release I'll likely place this later in the story, and perhaps write something here that might lead to the script.

This scene is also here to show that E might be an unprofessional slacker, but she has enough computer skills to do something like this without sweating. This means two things: she has skills most people today still don't, but that these skills aren't necessarily advantageous. It's another way that I'm hinting at the fact that this story takes place in the future, where somewhat impressive computer skills have become rudimentary and dull.

I'm happier with the second part, where E is fired yet again. It echoes the beginning of the story, and is another moment where E fails at something. The boss' speech is important and will be one of three things that leads to the first-third climax (1.10). The next two crises will happen in .8 and .9. Still, two things I want to improve in the new version is her reaction and describing the scene around them. Unlike the first firing, I'd prefer to have this happen in a busy moment, where the restaurant is buzzing with activity around them.

This chapter also doesn't end with anything beyond a quick text, which is something I'll fix in a .2 release. Carly is be an important character (and she exists in A Record Year for Rainfall, for people making graphs at home), and I know I want to use her for something cool in part 2. But I'm not sure how best to utilize her as someone who helps the plot progress in part 1.

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You've got that couch issue covered

Continuing my work of writing down my thoughts about Back to Work, my favourite podcast. This week, episode 201, Never Enough Bathrooms

Yeah, it does appear that I'm going backwards, but Back to Work isn't necessarily a show you need to listen to in order, and the holidays were busy and I had a backlog. I'm also not at all interested in making a complete catalogue of posts about B2W episodes. There was a blog not that tried to do that (cleverly called "Back to Back to Work") that put up a few episode breakdowns and then disappeared, and I'm not at all promising I won't do the same. Mostly, this is for me to remember what I found interesting about the episode at hand. I have no idea if this kind of thing would be valuable to other people. 

  • Christmas is a quarter of the year now. And this is fatiguing.

  • Kids know the difference between the affordable version and the fancy version.

  • Used Lego is gross, even in theory. Like used headphones.

  • From "cyber-terrorism" to "cyber-bullying", the suffix is only ever placed there by people who really have no idea how the internet work. Whenever I hear "cyber" I picture an issue of Wired from 1995 that somehow found its way to your grandma's house in 2013.

  • "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - is the third of Clarke's Three Laws. The first two seem like TV Tropes. But anyways, networked technology advancements actually breaks the rule. An iPhone wouldn't look like magic so much as a piece of glass with most of the stuff not working in the middle ages. Where it would look great is in the 80s, when we could conceivably picture such a device, but just weren't there yet. 

  • USPS sounds bad.

  • That things that used to work fine sometimes don't now is incredibly infuriating, even if it's entirely a first world problem.

  • This made me think of two things. First, Fight Club, and the idea of never having to buy another couch "once that couch issue is covered." It's such a twenty-something guy idea that something like that is just settled forever after you've considered it once for like a minute. Secondly, Louis, and the scene where Pamela and Louis' kids just get rid of all his stuff out of nowhere (including his couch). 

  • A couch isn't a technology. But its still a thing that can, at any moment, become more complicated than you'd ever like by outside factors that love you and only want what's best for your life. 

  • I guess what I mean is that it would suck if my couch starting being something I had to worry about. And not just in a "my evil personality blew it up" and more "it wont let me sit on it if the wifi doesn't work." I'm somewhat afraid of "The Internet of Things," as it has been mutated by the desire to stick connected dingi into things that don't seemingly need it. 

  • A system that used to work and now doesn't is enough to make you pretty crazy, if not completely veer you into gaslighting territory. It's not even possible to be indifferent about something like that. You've tacitly agreed upon a construct, and it just falls apart and all you can do is be sad and reboot a router. 

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Multi-tasking is like driving and french-kissing

I've thought about writing my thoughts on Back to Work for a while now. Here's some stuff I gleaned from Back to Work 202. It isn't necessarily what Merlin or Dan said (if it is, it'll be in quotes), just my personal highlights.

  • "You shouldn't organize anything you don't want or need."
  • I also really love throwing stuff out. It feels incredibly cathartic, and I rarely miss things I actually toss.
  • I don't have any shoeboxes of stuff. Is this a thing people have?
  • I'm definitely cautious about putting stuff in plastic boxes. If I need to use something regularly, that systen puts it enough out of my mind that I don't remember it existing. If I don't want it in my life, it's taking up physical space I could use for other things. (Apartment living helps with this issue)
  • "You should not have anything in your life that is not contributing to the life you'd like to have." - Merlin quoting "It's All Too Much"
  • "I'm too sick to go to the doctor"
  • You're not really throwing away your childhood by throwing away stuff from your childhood
  • "If a time traveler hasn't come back to stop you, your decisions haven't been all that bad."
  • I'm fascinated by the idea that the more money people make, the less likely they are to do something that isn't making them more money.
  • Merlin's breakdown of how people think successful multitasking works is exactly how I work when I'm "multitasking": I'm not so much juggling as allowing things to slowly boil while I do other stuff. This used to be easier back when there were loading times on computers, when a file export could take long enough for a smoke break.
  • Essentially, multitasking is really just being pretty good about switching between two actions, not doing two things at the same time. The cooking metaphor works here.
  • High skill + Low Challenge = Relaxation
  • "Multi-tasking is like driving and french kissing. Before you say you're great at it, ask around."
  • I loved Dan's point about wanting to have had today's connectivity in the past. He doesn't wax nostalgic about a simpler time, which is something I completely get. Doing the things an iPhone is good at before smart phones just sucked.

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Sonder

The best blogs build on one another. While stories and links will appear in other articles, I want to set aside a space for those that left a particular impression on me. I'm calling this collection of posts Sonder

  1. A Blanket Statement on Pop Culture.
  2. "So let no one think that in order to be defended against censorship of any kind, let alone the terminal horrors of Wednesday 7th January, a work of art or a film or a novel or a cartoon need be ‘first rate’ (whatever that means)."
  3. My favourite new weather report: The Long John Index of Canada
  4. Ship Your Enemies Glitter. Evil! Evil!
  5. There's some great writing Advice in this productivity survey, like: "Sports bars are perfect because I don't care about sports, so it's easy to drown out all the background noise, and most people at sports bars are there to watch sports, so they won't come bug me when I'm trying to write alone in the corner, and also sports bars have the best beer and snacks."
  6. I keep putting Majora's Mask down, then picking it up months later. I've never beaten it, and I can't play it for very long. I've figured out why: it's nearly unbearably sad.
  7. "For virtually every indicator, it’s the same thing: Good news. The numbers are almost tediously positive. This is a Golden Age. For you, your family, everyone you know, and everyone else around the planet, there has never been a better time to be alive."

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We All Want To Get Our Hand Close to That Big, Toothy Mouth

The title of this post is a quote from Merlin Mann, an endlessly quotable guy I listen to almost every week. It's a great way of describing how people who make things want to be famous on their own terms, but almost never actually get to be.

I've thought about writing my thoughts on Back to Work for a while now, and while I don't think I'll do this with every episode, I'm at the very least noting my thoughts on this one.

Here's some stuff I gleaned from Back to Work 203. It isn't necessarily what Merlin or Dan said, just what I got out of it.

  • the fact that people (especially people with blogs) want to get noticed
  • but want to be noticed for their best things, which is out of their control are often noticed for their most sensationalist things, which isn't terribly surprising
  • how reading an author regularly gives you a very different perspective on their work than reading them once
  • it might be nice to think that your blog is something you can fly casual with, but it still counts like any other writing, and it can absolutely blow up regardless of what you do
  • this can be scary, but it shouldn't be so scary that you don't do it
  • how even talking about the same thing over and over doesn't make that one thing that makes you famous seem any less sensationalist
  • writing everything with the fear of heavy scrutinty can be creatively disasterous, but you still want things to count
  • perhaps blogs shouldn't be treated as immutable, permanent writing, but perhaps something more living and human. But that decision is only determined by the reader and never the writer
  • the entire concept of celebrity has really changed, to the point that it's both easier and more difficult to know how to treat people you know because of what they've done. On the one hand, celebrities have never been closer to us (and in many cases, are us) but this proximity means that you can actually affect them
  • it's incredibly easy to take other people's actions and words and twist them in a way they never intended, even if you don't mean to
  • one of the major ways we twist "celebrity" action is by assuming that there's so much more to it than the action itself
  • we simply don't believe that someone says something simply because they meant exactly that, and will inevitably dig to find out what it "really" means
  • but maybe if we took the time to get to know them a little, we might actually believe them
  • the closer celebrity culture gets to normal human culture, the less chance that there's any sort of agenda whatsoever to what they do (turns out they are just like us).

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How to talk about a book in 2015

I just received an advanced copy of a book. The author thought I might like it, and so the publisher sent it along. It's very possible that I will like it, but there's always the chance I might not. I'd like to write something about it, but I'm not entirely sure what the best approach would be these days.

Do I just write a single blog post with my thoughts, upon completing the book?

Do I write multiple posts talking about the book as I read it?

Do I try to pitch a review somewhere else, knowing that this book was probably sent to many places and lots of people will have thoughts about it shortly? (No NDA was listed. I'm fairly sure I can talk about it right now).

Do I just tweet about it? Live-tweet my reading, like it's a new show on Netflix? Would that be most effective?

I honestly have no idea. Is a series of negative tweets better than a somewhat positive review post? Is attention the most important thing? Praise? Poise? Social media has me very confused about what official entities want out of regular people.

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A thought on "Octothorpe"

I'm slowly catching up on a backlog of podcast episodes I'd planned on listening to during the holidays, and one I particularly enjoyed was 99% Invisible's episode on the Octothorpe. The podcast correctly pinpoints the moment in which the octothorpe (or pound sign, this fella right #) became a hashtag.

The hashtag, as we know it, was born one day in 2007. An early Twitter user named Chris Messina...

The episode goes on to describe why the octothorpe is a perfect subject heading, tracing it all the way back to its inclusion on touch tone phones (and how it got that weird name). What's interesting is that I actually thought of the octothorpe as a subject line before it was considered a hashtag, and that's because I do the majority of my writing (including this piece) in a syntax called Markdown.

In a sentence, Markdown is simply a way of writing formatted text without any complicated HTML or relying on app-specific formatting (If you want more than one sentence, Brett Terpstra explains it better). With Markdown, the writer puts an asterics on each side of a word to create italics, hyperlinks words with square and round brackets, and defines headers with an octothorpe. And people have been doing this since 2004.

From the Markdown Basics page:

To create an atx-style header, you put 1-6 hash marks (#) at the beginning of the line — the number of hashes equals the resulting HTML header level.

So essentially, one octothorpe (sorry, pound sign. Whatever, I just really love octothorpe as a name) next to a word becomes an H1, two is H2, and so on. It is, in HTML terms, a subject marker. As this is a point of view on a niche workflow, I completely understand Roman Mars not including it (that's assuming he even considered it, or has heard of Markdown), and it took me a week after hearing the episode to put it together. Still, I think its usage in Markdown is another cool way the symbol has evolved over time.

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Split up a text thread in InDesign

If for whatever reason you have a long text thread that you need to break up (so it'll no longer flow) but maintain its position on the page, there's a way to do it, albiet at a cost.

This is one of those nuclear-option moves in InDesign, and it's hidden deep in the scripts panel so you won't click it accidentally. The reason behind this is that it won't just seperate one area (so, say, pages 1-5 are still threaded, but 6 isn't). Every text box will become a standalone object.

Full credit goes to Michael Bud for these instructions:

Open your Scripts panel (Window> Utilities >Scripts)

Look down the folder tree until you find Split Story (Application > Samples > SplitStory.jsx)

Place your cursor in one frame of the linked story that you want to unlink Double-click the script name in the panel.

InDesign will run the script and all the frames of the story will be “unlinked” without disturbing the layout of the content.

I would only recommend doing this if you either a) don't have a whole ton of text frames, or b) have the time to re-thread the ones you need threaded. It will also possibly destroy your bookmark structure, so careful with this one.

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Weekly curated linked lists

Sonder, my weekly collection of links that left an impression, was influenced by Jessica Stanley. There are loads of daily link curations, but I don't know very many weekly ones, which I prefer mainly because they seem more considered. Of these, I would highly recommend:

Diana Moss' Mid-Weed Distraction

Tina Roth Eisenberg's Friday Link Pack

Chris Butler's Don't Think About the Future

Ana Kinsella's A Week's Clicks

and of course,

Jessica Stanley's Read Look Think.

Are there any you follow? I'd love to hear about more. I'll occassionally update this post with new additions as I find them.

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No Chinook, Chapter 10

No Chinook is my first book, oriiginally published in 2008.

Read No Chinook on your ebook reader or cell phone:

As I stood outside of Shawn’s place, I wondered just exactly how many people lived there. I didn’t know any of them. Maybe it was four or five, but it could have easily been twice that. The total number wasn’t important, however. The only thing that mattered right now was how many of them were inside right now. I wondered how many of them knew as much about Shawn as I did. It was a ludicrous idea, but I couldn’t help but feel that they were all probably going to hear what was about to happen.

I knocked. It took a minute, but then a girl answered the door. I recognized her, but it took a second of squinting to focus on the name. We said, “Alice,” at the same time. I was guessing and she was helping me out.

“Hi,” she said. “You were at that party.”

“Yeah. I remember you,” I said. “You were reading that Anne Sexton book.”

“Don’t remind me,” she said. I was still outside. “I failed the damn test. I really don’t know what you see in her.”

“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “If it’s any consolation, people don’t know what I see in my girlfriends, either. Is Shawn here?”

She let me in. Alice was wearing pyjama bottoms and slippers. I don’t think I woke her up. Her black hair was done nicely in a ponytail, and her makeup was done. She held her tea mug close, as if she was gathering comfort from its warmth.

I thanked her and went upstairs. I couldn’t wait for him to come to me. Thankfully Alice didn’t stop me.

I knocked on his door. I didn’t hesitate like I used to. I was always a little unsure about knocking on Shawn’s door. I think it was the thrill of it, but that was gone now. He opened it, and he looked the same. I didn’t know what I expected to be different, but nothing was. His face was clean, he’d clearly tidied up his room this morning, and he was dressed sharply, as if I caught him on his way to work.

“Hi,” I said, sounding unrehearsed. He didn’t really know what to do, but right then I felt good that I’d come. For once, he wasn’t in control.

He tried to speak, but I put my hand on his cheek. My thumb pressed against his lips, and he shut them. I didn’t look at him with love because there was no love, but it was a look of affection he didn’t question or fight. He might have been confused or angry, or maybe he’d been dreaming about this moment, but it didn’t matter to me. I closed his door.

My other hand pressed down on his other cheek and I held his head in my hands. I looked at him in a way he’d never seen, and his surprise would have been more apparent had I not been slowly moving him toward his bed. His hands were on my forearms now, letting me guide him to the edge, until the back of his legs bumped up against the mattress and his knees buckled as he sat down. I let go of his face and let his hands touch mine, and for a moment I thought of leaving him like this.

“I want you to know something,” I said, taking off my jacket. I didn’t have anything to say to him, so I didn’t say anything. I just took the back of his neck with my right hand and pulled his head up. I was right above him, and if there were something to say, it would have been right then.

Instead, I lowered him onto his back and crawled on top. Shawn looked confused, perhaps waiting for when I’d speak. I was fine with his unease. Without it, I might not have been able to kiss him like I did.

There are fast and hard kisses, and kisses so wide and messy that one can’t help but get dirty, but when I kissed Shawn on his bed then, it was one of those kisses that was going to last for several minutes. It lasted long, but there wasn’t much movement. It was as simple as having my lips on his lips with the kind of pressure that didn’t suffocate but certainly left no room for negotiation.

His hands emphasized his confusion. They didn’t know where to go, and he was shifting from my shoulders to the sides of my ribs to my hair and back. I finally let go of this kiss and he gasped for air. I could have left him here and a point would have been made, but it wasn’t the one I was going for. Simply kissing him wasn’t going to be enough.

He was tugging at the bottom of my shirt, and I took it off, showing him that he was definitely going to get lucky. I kissed him again, shorter this time, but harder. I kissed his neck and he moaned. I hated his stubble and was happy whenever I’d catch him within a few hours of shaving. His face was smooth this afternoon. I could feel his feet rub up against mine. His hands were on my back and when I kissed him again it was as if he’d woken up and was finally ready to accept that I was in his life and wanting what was going to happen.

I’d made love to Shawn enough to know how he worked, and with that template I was comfortable taking over and doing everything right. I knew he liked to have his nipples licked while his pants came off. I knew that kissing the side of his stomach made him crazy. And I knew what he hated, too, like when I used to go for his cock before his boxer briefs were all the way off. These are small things that only a few people in the world knew, and I took my time with them. I savoured Shawn. I did not want this to end quickly. It took me nearly twenty minutes to get us both naked. 

Sex wasn’t work with Shawn. He liked things done slowly, and for the most part, so did I. Still, even at the pace he enjoyed, Shawn didn’t play it by ear. He had a formula for sex. I knew this from the beginning, when he did things in the exact same order three nights in a row. It was as if he’d been taught in adolescence that there was only one way to fuck. I used to entertain the thought that he had a different way of doing things with everyone that he had been with; that at the beginning of every new sexual relationship, he would map out a game plan and stick to it. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that when Shawn took my finger in his mouth and massaged my inner thigh, then scooted down a bit so that pulling on my cock would be comfortable for his arm, that’s likely exactly what he did with Mark and everyone else he’d ever fucked.

For these reasons and others, Shawn never surprised me in bed. He got hard at the same time no matter what, and he always took pretty much the same amount of time to get off. This repetition never bothered me, though. It was a comfort to know that he was a sure deal, that in his routine I was just as much a focal point as he was, that everything happened in a way that felt natural and right, and that it would always end the same way.

He naturally went from stroking and sucking me to asking if I was ready. It was the first thing he’d said since I got here, and I knew it was more from habit than to actually say something about me being here. I turned over and put a pillow between my head and my hands, and Shawn found his way on top. Like he always did, he kissed the back of my neck as he moved his cock into me. He took it slow, taking the opportunity to move his hands around my back and around to my chest. I let out a few choice gasps, but for the most part, the two of us were either moaning or silent.

I didn’t think much while making love to Shawn, but what crept through were random thoughts of other times I’d made love. Flickers of memories of Kate, of Carly, and of a few one-night-stands in college flew in and out as Shawn thrust and moaned. I never really forgot about any of these experiences, and just about every time I had sex with him, they would appear. Shawn kissed my back and upped his pace a little. I reached back and gripped his thigh. I loved the feel of his legs.

It never takes Shawn long to come, but it doesn’t for me, either. Just from Shawn’s touch, I get close. I could feel it building since the moment he kissed me back, and I was on the verge when I could feel him start to buck. His right hand on my shoulder blade, and his left on my ass, holding me in place. My hands begin to dig into the mattress. It’s amazing, when he comes. It’s bested only by its consistency.

Trimmed, clean fingernails dug into my skin. I was right behind him.

We came pretty close together, and I collapsed under him. In the haze, I heard him cry out for a second, and it was nice. I tried to look back with my face in the sheets, but I only got a glimpse of his face. It was a great face.

Shawn laid on me for a minute or two, catching his breath and allowing his quickened heartbeat to sync with my own. After that, he fell to my side and we held each other and slowly kissed. It was as it had always been; as if it just might be something that would never end. Making love to Shawn felt like something I could see myself doing for a living.

He asked what I was thinking in his tiny whisper.

I said, “I feel like smoking.”

“I feel like this is perfect,” he replied.

“Why?”

“Because you came back. You’re here and this is all going to be okay.”

He sounded like a hopeless romantic, and it was a little sad to think that I might have said the same thing not too long ago. 

“It is, is it?” I asked, not really meaning it to be a question.

“For a while there I was afraid, because it seemed like you’d got over me and I had lost you to Kate, but that’s all over now and you’re here.”

“You think I’m here because Kate dumped me?”

“No, I’m sure you’re not, Scotty,” he said. “But Kate was just a reason for you to get away from me for a little while to think things through. Even if you don’t see it now, you’ll figure it out eventually. You were mad at me, but you got over it and you’re back.”

“I see.”

“And you know that I left Mark. I mean, Kate must have mentioned.”

“Sure,” I said. I didn’t want to get into how I actually found out.

“Am I missing something?”

I sat up and started looking around for my clothes.

He said, “I’m not really sure what I said just now. Weren’t we okay? I was okay.”

I didn’t answer him.

“Scott, I don’t get it. One minute you’re all over me, and it’s great, but the next you’re bolting for the door? Talk to me.”

I found my jeans, but Shawn grabbed my arm, so I had to look at him.

I said, “You don’t get it, and I don’t want to waste my time telling you.” I shrugged his grip off of me and put my jeans on. Sensing that this argument might leave his room, Shawn found his as well.

“So, what? That’s it? You’re leaving? This doesn’t make any sense, Scott.” 

“Shawn, I’d like this to have a little silent dignity about it.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“Nevermind,” I said. I began to walk, but he grabbed me again. I turned back to face with with a look of impatience. 

He asked, “Can you at least explain to me what I don’t get here? Because I thought I had everything figured out.”

“Jesus, Shawn. You’re as smart as you are and you still want me to spell it out?”

His face told me that he did.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll tell you what you’re missing. Yeah, I was pissed off when I gave you that ultimatum and you stayed silent. But really, I was just kind of confused as to why you wouldn’t pick me given all those pretty lines you used to feed me, but also because of what you said to Kate about us. Shawn, I’ve never been your boyfriend. I don’t get why you’d say that.”

“It was wishful thinking,” he said. “It was me fast-forwarding to now when you and I got back together.”

“There is no us, Shawn,” I said. I sighed, but this was true. “There never was.”

“What was that, then? What was coming to my place and making love? Tell me what that was.”

I put on my shirt. It felt crumpled, but warm. “It was what I needed.”

“It was what I needed too. I need you, Scott.”

“No,” I said, “You really don’t.”

“I love you.”

Even though he’d said it over the phone, I was still surprised. It stopped me and made me sit on his bed and look him dead in his pretty brown eyes. Here in this moment I felt I could do anything in the world.

“I’m not saying I don’t believe you,” I said. “I’m not saying that it isn’t a really sweet notion, and I’m not saying that I never wanted to be with you. I really did for a long time, and for most of that time I believed it could actually happen.”

“It can. It can happen now.”

“Fuck, Shawn. Just shut up, will you?” My head jerked. Before this moment, Shawn had never outright asked me to be with him. I can’t say it wasn’t flattering, and I can’t say I didn’t consider it.

“Shawn,” I held my ground, clenched my fists. This was harder thank I thought it would be. I took a breath, and I remembered that poem. My favourite.

“Shawn, let’s face it. I’ve been momentary.”

“What?”

I said, “This wasn’t an experiment.”

“I know that. Maybe it started that way but...”

I said, “I give you back your heart.”

“What?”

“Just let me say this, okay?”

He didn’t know what to do, or what I was doing, so I kept going. I sat down next to him. I said, “I give you permission. Shawn, listen. You loved Mark. You had this thing with me, and maybe it was a sort-of love, but it doesn’t matter. You loved him. He’s the sum of yourself and your dream.”

“Scott, all I wanted was...” I wouldn’t let him get a word in.

“He’s solid, Shawn. The fact is, I really don’t know how solid I am. I’ve got to figure that out, and I really can’t see myself figuring anything out if I’m with you.”

Shawn sat silent, finally getting what had been brewing inside me this whole time.

“I came over here tonight to try to get over you, because I’ve never been good at getting over anyone. I mean, I still think about that girl from high school I told you about. I don’t know if this’ll work, but it’s the best thing I could think of.”

Shawn was either holding back tears or fists. Neither would have surprised me at this point.

“Look, Shawn, I know this is hard right now. But I think you really loved Mark, and maybe you were looking at me as some kind of escape from commitment or being an adult, I don’t know. But Mark really loves you and...”

“How do you know?”

“What?”

“How do you know that Mark really loves me?”

“Can’t I just know?” I really wanted to hit him.

“It’s not like I don’t miss him,” Shawn said, and I let him keep going. “Parts of me wish that I’d never done it. I mean, yeah, there was something really strong there, and that’s what made me go quiet before. But after you left, I realized how much I couldn’t accept losing you, and if there was any chance of getting you back, well, that’s what I’d do.”

I began to close up. I said, “But what you’d realize Shawn, is that ultimately you would have grown tired of me and moved on. I was this idea in your head that isn’t really me, and that’s because you and I never got each other on my terms. I am lots of what you don’t know, Shawn.”

Flecks of Shawn got that. I could tell because I could see right through him.

“As for me,” I said, knowing what I wanted to finish. “I am watercolour.”

I hugged Shawn, and in the middle of this embrace I whispered in his ear, “I wash off.”

Shawn didn’t cry. He didn’t cry because he never did, and I never expected him to. In the end, we all become who we are, who we’ve been, and who we rarely say we want to be. Shawn, in all his handsome, selfish, and satisfying ways, whispered in my ear that he doesn’t want me to ever get over him. “Please,” he said, as if I were holding something tangible that belonged to him.

“That’s selfish of you,” I said, comforted by his one quality that would always likely be more charming than not. “But it’s all right. I probably won’t.”

I kissed him, not with thunder but with all the implications of goodbye I knew how to express, wrapped up in a hug and a kiss. I cried a little, but I tried not to let him notice.

He didn’t try to stop me as I left his room. I inched down the stairs, put my boots back on, and left his giant house.

It was just as freezing outside as it had been since the end of the Chinook, but it was the first time all winter that I’d really felt the chill. I didn’t feel happy, relieved, or even tired. I just felt cold.

I realized, and I realized, and I realized. In the end, I found that most of my epiphanies led to nothing. Much like my spectrum, each realization became less meaningful every time a new one came around. I thought that it might be nice to go a little while before I begin learning new things about myself again.

That’s why I walked the same route to the LRT as I always did after seeing Shawn. It occurred to me that I should find another route to set my mind off course, that I could erase sections of memory that always held me when I walked this street. I thought that if I found a path I’d never taken, I’d be able to clear my head of Shawn, Kate, Carly, Mark, everyone. Maybe if I travelled somewhere new. Maybe if I met some new people. Maybe if I reinvented myself somehow.

But I didn’t, because the path I took no longer signified anything. I kept straight down the same path I had taken every other time. I climbed the same steel staircase that seemed to lead straight up to the clear, wide Calgary sky.

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No Chinook, Chapter 9

No Chinook is my first book, oriiginally published in 2008.

Read No Chinook on your ebook reader or cell phone:


When I woke up in my own bed the next day, it didn’t feel like home. I missed Kate’s body; her slow breathing when she slept, her arm draped across my chest, her leg weighing down on mine. I missed her sheets, her ceiling, her bed. Walking around my apartment felt like purgatory. I’d been out so long I barely registered that my fridge was empty and all my clothes were dirty and my fish was dead.

Considering what happened the night before, I slept remarkably well. It wasn’t that I wanted to sleep alone or that I didn’t want to run down every street I could to look for Kate and Ray. It’s that I knew exactly what was and wasn’t hopeless. There were exactly two things that could have happened. Ray showed up drunk and looking to end his bereavement, or he showed up in and at his best. Kate either left so that she could formally reject him without the public drama, or they got back together. I wasn’t an idiot. It’s not like my mind hadn’t been on Shawn for most of the week. God knows how much she thought of Ray. It was hopeless to try to stop it. It wasn’t hopeless, however, to crash and dream.

Even though I could think about the two of them reconciling, and even though that seemed like the clearest reality, it still hurt just about all over. I still had her nail marks on my back, and I still had her voice in my head. When I poured my coffee, I could hear her voice, telling me to make it stronger. When I cooked my breakfast, she would suggest burning the bacon just a little more. I hated it. I wanted her to be beside me, tugging on my shoulder, leaning on the counter, kissing my cheek and grazing the back of my ass with her thigh. I wanted her there, at my place, telling me that she found my pictures fascinating and my bed snug. I wanted her to be with me, but she wasn’t, and more than likely, she never had been.

I sat back down on my bed and I cried into my hands. It was pathetic, but it’s the truth. I didn’t have to wonder how she could do this to me because it all came way too easily. She called me and said she needed me because I was fresh in her life, unaware of her recent drama. It had all been coincidence before that point, but she knew I wouldn’t reject her. 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Kate had copied something I’d seen back in high school almost to the letter. Josh Randle had dumped Amanda Winters a few times before she shaved her head, and during one of their breaks, we all saw her going around with Matthew Sharpton pretty much the next day. They were inseparable for about a week, and then she got back together with Josh as if nothing had ever happened. I remembered Amanda telling us that Matthew was like a week of beautiful weather in the middle of a deadly winter. We all wondered why she didn’t stay with the nice guy, but wondering never got any of us anywhere. People do what they do. They love who they love. Reason, as I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times, has just about nothing to do with it.

What this did was remind me of the night Kate threw her bracelet in the lake, and how unoriginal I found her sense of revenge and drama. I felt I’d lived through far more than Kate, and she was just now catching up to feeling things I’d experienced years before. And at that moment, finally, my spectrum crumbled. The last week’s worth of events had cracked the seams and tattered the edges of my theories, but sitting on my bed in my filthy, empty apartment confirmed its destruction.

Kate was probably the most interesting person I’d ever spent that much time with, but there was absolutely no pattern that defined her. And now that she’d vanished with her ex-boyfriend, there’s really no accounting for any kind of pattern. 

People are happy when things are good. They’re unhappy when it’s shit. Sometimes, they do something about it. Sometimes they go back to the asshole that caused all their problems to begin with. Their position in life has nothing to do with anything. It was unfair, but it was irrefutable.

What it came down to was perspective. Even though I couldn’t picture Kate right now, I could only imagine that she was happy with whatever choice she’d made. Shawn could be anywhere, and he was probably happy. 

My phone rang in the living room. It had to be work. I hadn’t even bothered calling in sick. I banged my shoulder against the door on the way out and looked at the phone. I saw Shawn’s number, and for the first time in over a week, I felt I could pick up and talk to this man. 

It wasn’t that I needed or even wanted him. It was that he couldn’t touch me in the state I was in. The one advantage to being freshly heartbroken is the shell surrounding one’s vulnerability.

“We’ve got to get together and talk,” he said, in that way he used to when he wanted to make it seem pleading but really knew I would give in eventually.

“I don’t know, Shawn,” I said. “I really don’t see any reason to see you. I mean, if you want to talk about things like closure and acceptance, then, well, I’m really not that guy. I’m not going to get over this no matter how much closure you create. No matter what happens, I’ll probably think about what happened between us and talk about it to new friends and girlfriends and boyfriends until they’re really damn sick of it.”

“Why do you say that?” he asked. It dawned on me that I hadn’t really been like that with Shawn. I hadn’t been neurotic in the way I was with other people. I hadn’t been as open, either. I was always putting on my best when he was around, and it was as if my fantasies happened in parallel relationships off in other regions of the universe.

This needed to be illuminated. There was something about the brunt descent into sadness that brought the release of truth. “I guess you never really got to see the part of me that does that,” I said. “I really don’t get over things. It doesn’t matter if they were good or bad. If I love someone, even if it’s ridiculous, it stays with me. That probably makes you happy, knowing that I’ll still be talking about you years after you’ve forgotten about me.”

“Who said anything about forgetting you?” he asked, which was sweet, but empty to me in the present circumstances.

“Whatever, Shawn. It’s not like any of this is important anymore.”

“What’s gotten into you?” he asked, even though I could tell he wasn’t actually asking me at all. “Right, of course. Kate.”

“What about Kate?” I asked. “She has nothing to do with you and me.”

“Yeah, she does,” he said. “She has just about everything to do with it.”

“How?”

“Do you know where she is right now?”

“What?”

“Well, she’s not with you, right?” he asked like he already knew. “So where is she?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “And why do I have a feeling that I didn’t need to tell you that?”

“What I’m saying here,” Shawn said, his voice firmer than usual, “You need to listen to.”

“What is it, Shawn?” I asked, remarkably smarmy. “You know where she is? Well, I know where she is. She’s with Ray. Am I right? Did they get back together? Did she fucking use me, Shawn? I figured it out. It took me exactly two seconds to piece it together. I’m not going to get hit with this drama. I’m not in suspense, and I’m not having fun. I’m fucking heartbroken. But that’s how it goes. Fuck the spectrum, you know? It was just naïve and childish justifications for my shit life. That’s it. That’s all it was for me, and that’s all I was for her, and that’s all I was for you, and I’m pretty fucking sick of it all and I’d like to be left alone.”

Shawn cleared his throat. I could hear him sitting down. I could hear the motion in his breath. He asked, “Are you done?”

“Are you going to make things worse?” I asked. “Because if what you have to say just makes things worse, then I don’t want to hear it. I think I’ve got things pretty fucking wrapped up here, and it makes a nice succinct little story to tell at the bars in Europe to strangers with backpacks, and I don’t want any more.” I don’t know what it is about telling someone off, but I felt fifteen feet tall. “So will it make it worse?”

Over the phone, miles away, wind, water, and a hundred thousand people between us, Shawn said, “I love you.”

“Well shit,” I said, and dropped the phone. I dropped the phone, and didn’t pick it up until I could take a few breaths and lean my head against the nearest of my boring, white walls. I heard him saying “Are you still there?” because there was no noise between us.

With my hand I clenched the phone so hard it felt like it could break in my hand. I said, shivering, wanting to slam my head through the wall, “Yeah, I’m still here.”

“Good,” he said.

“You know, Shawn,” I began. “There were so many times I wanted to hear you say that. Really, I’m serious; there were times I wanted nothing more. But even then, even those dark nights on your patio when you held me, even those mornings in your sheets, those days in the park and at the movies, you were never really with me. But what I really wanted was to escape everyone else’s cheap declarations of love.”

I thought of my last week with Kate.

Then, I thought, I’m finally seeing Shawn as a man. He wasn’t a cute boy for me anymore. He wasn’t something I wanted to hold. He was a man, and that kind of proclamation deserved attention, if only from my own epiphanies. I didn’t know what it meant, that I’d switched his station in my mind. I didn’t know why he was suddenly a “man.” But he was, and I wondered if maybe that meant I was over it. 

I said, “I wanted you to be mine, you idiot. I wanted nothing mucking up that great thing we had, for it to be that perfect kind of love. My greatest regret about all of this is that I probably loved you, too. But it really doesn’t matter now because there’s no going back to that nice idea of love with you. You’ve ruined that, and that’s all there is.”

I hung up the phone. It was probably the most dramatic thing I’d ever done to someone else.

For the next few minutes, I had trouble doing anything but soaking in the air around me. I felt paralyzed to the point where breathing drained energy. I couldn’t quite see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I focused on nothing. My mind was in a blanket of euphoria and I felt textures not altogether known to me. I felt way too solid, as if there weren’t actually moving parts inside of me. It was completely different from every other feeling I’d ever had. And after a few minutes, I got up and left my apartment to get some fresh air.

It was overcast, and I could feel it in my chest. Maybe it’s just Calgary with its messed up weather, but it’s always affected my mood. As I walked around fairly aimlessly, the low ceiling limited my thoughts of Kate and Shawn. I like to think that at some point, I would have found all of this to be pretty horrible. This feeling of responsibility washed down on me, bringing with it both the gravity of what I’d done and levied some greater control. It was my fault that Shawn ever had any sort of emotional conflict with Mark. It was my fault Kate didn’t fall hard on her own ass when Ray walked out with someone else. And it was my fault for believing their stories so blindly. I never really knew about Mark or Ray, but I went along with it anyway because of what I wanted.

Still, my spectrum was destroyed, and something new needed to take its place. What was left was a sky of opportunity, a blank page torn from a blank book. I finally understood that it wasn’t about what we get to have in life, or how happy we can be, or any of those fucked-up inhibitions people use as excuses for why they don’t think they’ll ever hook up with the people they have pathetic crushes on. It wasn’t about any of that anymore, because the last three weeks I bagged a hot art teacher who had a perfectly good boyfriend, and had amazing sex with a gorgeous blonde that even knew my lame past. 

None of this made me feel good, really. But it kept me from feeling bad, and that would have to be enough for now.

Good memories of Shawn and me flashed through my mind, and I liked that I could still focus on the fact that there were moments of happiness between us. For the most part, Kate’s brief foray into my life had been unbelievable, but I couldn’t help focusing on how well I’d performed. I made them both laugh and think and feel safe and satisfied. In so many ways here, I felt like I was coming out of this situation feeling better about who I was.

I sat down on a half-melted pile of snow at the corner of a stranger’s driveway and pulled out my phone and called Shawn, feeling better about everything.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out as quicky as he could. “I’m so glad you called back.”

“Shawn,” I began. “It’s fine. It’s all okay now.”

“Why?” he said, not sounding sure of anything. “I mean, what’s happened?”

I was calm. “Nothing, really. Listen, what are you doing this afternoon?”

He was suspicious, but hopeful. 

He said, “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” I laughed. “I just told you, everything’s fine now.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Shawn, my ass is getting numb from sitting on this pile of snow in front of a house I’ve never seen before. I would like to come over to your place, but if you don’t want me to I’m sure I could go find somewhere to bury myself for the evening.”

“Is it that you don’t want to be alone right now?”

Shawn didn’t get it, but that was fine. It was no longer his job to get anything about me. I said, “Sure, lets go with that.”

I got on the subway and listened to Kate’s voice in my head. My eyes were open this wide now because of Kate. I was feeling something powerful that I could not explain. Perhaps it was the feeling Carly had on her bike, leaving town. Perhaps it was the feeling of the dog left on the edge of town. I didn’t know exactly what form of freedom it entailed, but I knew I was at least in the right country.

I wondered if it was possible that I was going through the five stages of grief, and that I was planted in denial. At first I discounted it. I was ridiculous for analyzing myself as being in denial when I felt so clear, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured this might be the case. I hurt in so many places, but it had nothing to do with regret or bereavement. 

The thing was, I may have felt that I had been in love with Scott and Kate at different times, but I had never really been in love with either. I wasn’t lying to Shawn over the phone, but I certainly didn’t love him entirely. There wasn’t any moment where I was completely aware of what was happening. And while there was obviously a period where I thought I could trust Kate, that period of time wasn’t terribly long. It simply wasn’t long enough to warrant any sort of unexpected trust.

While the train sped by black walls and lamps, I looked at nothing and knew that I was probably over-thinking everything, just like I always did. Still, it was the process of seeing every angle and getting every idea that brought me to this strange place. Any self-respecting neurotic would be pissed at both of my lovers, but I sat here only disappointed in who these people turned out to be.

I climbed the stairs of the subway and felt my phone vibrate. While I was underground, Kate had tried to call. There was a message.

“Scott, I need to talk to you. I know it sounds stupid and I sound stupid and you probably won’t like it, but please, call me back when you get this so we can get together and talk, okay?”

She must not have been expecting me to have pieced everything together so quickly. I leaned up against a brick wall and called her. It was freezing, but I didn’t think the call would last very long.

“Hi,” I said, as cold as I could.

She sounded embarrassed already, as if she’d run over my dog. “Hi Scott. I have something to tell you.”

“I already know,” I said. “A guy at your party told me.”

Silence, then, “I guess that’s why you left, huh?”

“What good would staying have done?”

“I guess you’re right,” she said. “Scott, I’m so, so sorry.”

“So you’re back with him? He’s moved back in?”

“It’s...” she paused, searching for the right way to break it to me gently. “It’s going slowly. But I love him. I know that makes me sound weak. Look, most of the time I do a pretty good job of staying tough, but I love him.”

“I get it,” I said. “You don’t have to explain it to me.”

“You were amazing though, Scott. Please don’t take this as anything against you.”

“Kate, I’m not mad.”

She sounded bewildered. “No offence Scott, but I don’t really see how you wouldn’t be.”

I said, “I guess because I never figured it would work out to anything real anyway, you know? Knowing that you’re totally fine ditching me without an explanation just certified it. It’s not about me being in your league or anything like that. I just never saw us together. Frankly, I was never really all there, either.” I paused, deciding for once to let guilt dig in further than it had to. “I mean, I didn’t leave you at a party with your ex boyfriends’ ex boyfriend, but it’s not like I didn’t think about Shawn.”

“I know,” she said. “I could tell when you were. And when I brought him up, it was like I caught you or something.”

“I’m not forgiving you Kate,” I said, getting back to the short and the sweet. “It’s not going to be like that. We’re never going to be friends, and I don’t really want to ever see you again.”

“Scott,” she tried to say something, but I just kept going as if I’d rehearsed it.

“I’m not sorry I met you Kate, and I’m not sorry I met you again. I’m not sorry I went dancing with you and paid attention to the kind of beer you liked. I’m not sorry for giving up a whole week of my life so that you could try to get over a guy you’d just get back together with anyway. I’m not sorry I made you laugh and that we had fantastic sex and that I cooked you just about everything I know how to make. I’m not sorry about any of that, but really Kate, but I’m not sorry that it’s done, either.”

“Scott, I’m sorry,” she said, and I could tell she meant it because I could hear her voice quiver. “In so many ways you’re better than he is. I wish I could tell you all the reasons.”

“There aren’t any reasons, Kate. At least, there aren’t any reasons that matter. You made your choice, and that’s fine.”

“It’s that final, huh?”

“Yeah, it is,” I said, feeling like I’d just stuck myself in a state of denial. “Goodbye.”

“Wait,” she insisted. “I want to tell you my job.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said. “Because it means something to me to tell you.”

I wanted so badly to have the courage to say no, because doing that would show her that I would really be able to move on. But I knew I would never really be able to anyway, and what could be more temporarily final than fixing in this last little puzzle-piece?

“Sure,” I said, “Tell me.”

Kate told me what she did for a living. In my head, her image changed, parts of it becoming cemented. The words she said held incredible weight, but I had no cargo ship to hold it all. Some of it fell. Some of it crushed me. Some of it helped.

“I’m still sorry,” she said. “But that’s the best I can do to make you understand.”

“Kate, I want you to listen to me.” I thought of it all, and what it really was. “I’m not mad at you. There are worse things to be than a vacation from the storm.”

She didn’t really comprehend that, but it was okay. Just like her, after a while, everything I said I was saying for my own sake. She said goodbye, and I didn’t expect to ever hear from her until we met again.

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No Chinook, Chapter 8

No Chinook is my first book, oriiginally published in 2008.

Read No Chinook on your ebook reader or cell phone:

 

I met Mark for the second time at a party I didn’t want to attend. It had been a few months since I moved to Calgary, one city jump from a small suburban town a few hours away where my parents lived—the same town Kate was from. I spent most of my time this past week cooking, fucking, and beginning something that might turn into love someday. I wasn’t completely sure about that yet, but I was happy being in a relationship that wasn’t riddled with lies. It was everything I’d ever wanted. Kate had organized this party at her place, and there he was, all dressed up and ready.

I hadn’t yet spotted Shawn, but knew he had to be around somewhere. He had called Kate the night before to make sure I would not be here, or maybe to make sure I would. Mark must have come along. I was perfectly happy to be drinking in the kitchen with Kate’s friend Stephen, listening to him go on about his ex-girlfriend, but in the back of my mind, I knew that tonight something would happen between Shawn and myself. Whatever it was, I just hoped it that it would be for the best.

“The biggest problem with Stacy,” Stephen continued. He had been talking about his ex-girlfriend since the moment he saw me. “Was that she took me to the point where I had become so used to her high-maintenance issues that I began to miss the constant attention. I’d lie awake some nights wishing she’d call just so I could hear her bitch about her stupid job.”

Since I’d spotted Mark in the crowd, I had only been paying lip service to Stephen. I nodded in agreement, but kept minimally involved. Mark was talking to some girl, but I was too far away to hear him. It was fitting. Mark had always been on my mind first. I had always seen him first. But even if he did notice me, it wouldn’t mean anything. My name and my face meant nothing to him. For all I know, he’d seen me a hundred times more than I’d seen him, but it didn’t matter. We had no context between us; I disliked him for reasons I’d probably never have the chance to discuss with him. 

Stephen continued, “I tried to go out with this girl Marlene, because she was really easy going and that’s what I used to like. But Stacy ruined everything, man. She changed me. I couldn’t handle how relaxed Marlene was, because I’d fallen in love with a smotherer. That’s all I wanted. Marlene didn’t call me for three days, and I dumped her. It was probably the most pathetic thing I’d ever done.”

I realized I hadn’t been listening. “What?” I asked, hoping he would clarify.

It didn’t faze him. “She was a telemarketer. I was always telling her to find a new job, but she never did. I mean, she hates it, but she stuck with it for some reason. I don’t know. Maybe she thought she deserved it, like it was where she belonged in life.”

“Yeah,” I said, keeping one finger on the pulse of this conversation, which was just enough for Stephen to keep going. The rest of me zoned in on Mark. I noticed his wrinkled jeans and half-ironed dress shirt. He was trying to look easy, but he’d put effort into it. His shoes were squeaky clean and white, as if he’d brought them in a backpack and put them on when he came inside.

Stephen said, “There are people who move, man, and there are people who don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with being either one, but you can’t bring the two together, because motion will always come between them.”

“Motion,” I repeated as if in agreement, realizing that paying complete attention to Stephen would likely result in a headache.

Stephen took a swig of his beer and asked me if anyone had ever changed me. It was a simple enough drunk question, but I think I surprised him.

I thought about Carly. “To tell you the truth, I think everyone I’ve ever been with has changed what I want in some way.”

“Yeah?” he asked. “Well, what about your last girl?”

“My last girl?” I wanted to talk about Kate, but the current situation prohibited it. I didn’t want to bring up Shawn either, just in case he was right behind me. “Her name was Carly. She really ran me through exactly what you’re talking about.”

“She smothered you too?”

“Not really. More like she knew exactly the kind of guy she liked and I did my best to fit the mold. Eventually, I just didn’t fit her anymore and she left.”

Stephen put his hand on my shoulder. “I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes you want to be that dominant alpha-male who makes the decisions, but when it comes down to it, that’s just not who we are, you know?”

“So who are we?” I asked, realizing this particular brand of drunken talk had probably reached whatever depth it was going to.

Stephen, however, looked focused on what he was trying to say. “We’re like buildings torn apart by winds and storms. Women, they’re the wind, man. They come along and they blow by us and rip us from the foundations.”

Roughly half of his rant had been slurred past the point of recognition, so I said, “Motion eventually tears us apart, eh?”

Stephen shouted, “Fucking right man! That’s what I’m saying. Why don’t I get to be in control? Why can’t I be the storm, huh? Why do I have to be stuck waiting for someone to blow me down? That’s not how it’s supposed to work!” The people around us were giving him room, doing their best to be entertained by the spectacle. Stephen continued, “I’m so sick of letting other people control my life! Fuck you Stacy! Fuck you!” He pointed at all of us, and then we could all see him shut down. It was quite the sight, watching Stephen slowly crumble into himself.

I put my hand on his shoulder like he had done to me and I said, “Yeah man, fuck her.”

“Whatever,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. She’s gone and there’s no bringing them back once they’re gone. Not with guys like us. We just don’t have it in us to make them want to come back.”

I liked Stephen. He wasn’t afraid to show exactly what he felt, even if it was brash and came out around total strangers. Still, I didn’t want anything he’d just said to ever be right.

I took Stephen outside to get some air, and when he waved me off, I came back and was caught by Kate.

“Hey you!” she said, being flirtatious but not obvious. “I came to check up on you. How’s the night?”

Kate had done her hair up a little prettier than normal. She had curls coming out of her ponytail, and she was wearing a black dress and boots. This was probably the sexiest I’d ever seen her dressed.

“Can’t complain so far,” I said, “I just hope it stays its course.”

I felt the same about her now as I had when I’d first seen her at Shawn’s party. She kind of danced when she walked and she talked with her arms outstretched. And just like the last time, she wasn’t really paying any attention to me. She said, “That’s great, honey. If you need me, I’ll be around somewhere, okay?”

“You all right?” I asked, spinning her around to face me.

She put her hands on my face and said, “What a stupid question.”

I let her go, and I turned around and bumped right into Mark. He spilled part of his beer on the floor.

“It’s okay,” he exclaimed. “It’s only a little.” He tried to rub out the tiny spot with his shoes, and smiled at me with an idiotic toothy grin that told me that he wasn’t being himself.

In this moment, I couldn’t imagine that Shawn would have trouble choosing which one of us to love.

“There,” he said. “Nothing but spic.”

I hadn’t noticed this before because of the distance and people between us, but Mark appeared to be in bad shape. It wasn’t just his clothes. He had obviously drunk too much; he seemed to have tear tracks on his face and dark circles under his eyes. He backed up a bit to really look at me. “Do I know you? Have we met?”

I said, “Not really.”

“I swear I’ve seen you before,” he said, holding on tight to his beer with one hand and his hair with the other, as if this would help him from falling over.

I tried to escape, “I’m sorry, I’ve got someone to get a drink for.”

I tried to escape, “I’m sorry, I’ve got someone to get a drink for.”

“Did we go out that one time?” He asked. I stopped myself and counted to ten in my head.

“No,” I said, “We definitely did not go out that one time.”

He grabbed my shoulder, “I’m sorry. Really, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to insinuate anything. I was just...”

I said, “I get it.”

“Oh good,” he said, “I didn’t want it to come out like I was hitting on you or something.”

Suddenly, I wondered just how flirtatious Kate seemed when I met her at that party. Had she been hitting on me when she was with Ray?

I told Mark, “Trust me, I wasn’t thinking anything like that.”

“Well,” he said, “My mistake. I guess I’ll just keep looking around.”

“Looking around for what?” I asked him, genuinely curious. Was he looking for Shawn? Did he know Kate too? Everybody seemed to.

“Can I ask you something?”

“It’s a free country,” I said. I did not want to be caught having a heart to heart with Mark. This is just about the last awkward situation I was willing to encounter in my lifetime.

“Have you ever had your heart broken?”

“What?” I needed to leave this hallway. I didn’t want to know that anything had happened. For once in my life, I much preferred to be blind to the truth.

“You know,” he said. “Where you love somebody with everything you’ve got, and they take what you’ve built together and just smash it? Has that ever happened to you?”

He didn’t have to tell me anything more. I could picture everything that happened just by looking at his face. Something remarkable had occurred in the few days I’d been gone from my previous life. It was more than I wanted to hear. 

“My boyfriend,” he said. “He told me last weekend that he’s been seeing this other guy for, like, months now. He said he couldn’t live with lying to me all the time anymore. Can you believe that?”

I didn’t want to know any of this because I was fine with Mark being the stupid asshole that drove a minivan. This image sat well with me. But the moment he began speaking about Shawn, I knew I’d begin to think of Mark as a human being with feelings that could be bruised. These few words he’d just been saying transformed him from a dangerous, unwelcome roadblock to a defenseless kitten. 

“Come on,” I said, taking his beer. “Let’s get out of here. I think we both need some air.”

I took him outside and tried to sort out the particulars so that nobody would see us together. It was an hour away from new snow; I could smell it. I said, “So, what, you were trying to pick up in there?”

“Well,” he said, sniffling, “I called my friend up yesterday. I didn’t tell her what happened, but I told her that I needed a distraction for a while, so she invited me to her party.”

“That was you?” I asked out loud, fitting another puzzle piece together.

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” I said. I had no idea that he knew Kate, but wasn’t spectacularly surprised. “What happened?”

“Do you mind walking me to the subway?” he asked. “The fresh air’s killed my buzz, and it’s a dead room in there.”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s this way. Just don’t pull the moves on me.”

“I wouldn’t,” he said. “You’re nice.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Mark told me about Shawn. He started from the beginning, giving it some much-welcomed context. Shawn and Mark were together for two years until the cheating began, if you could call it that. He didn’t know anything about this other guy—only that Shawn had some pretty deep feelings for him that he couldn’t get over. Apparently they’d had some kind of falling out recently, and that had cut Shawn to the point where he couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. I knew all this already, but my version seemed skewed. Small pieces of me felt bad about hurting this guy. A very specific part of my gut began to feel terrible for coming inbetween two perfectly happy people.

“Shawn and I just fit, you know?” Mark stumbled a lot, but knew what he was trying to say. “I could be honest with him. I told him things about me I’d never told anyone before. God, we were together for so long. What did I do wrong? I must have done something. People cheat for a reason, right?”

“I suppose,” I said, feeling like a spy before an inevitable revelation of identity.

“Have you ever been cheated on?” he asked.

Just like with Stephen, I had to think back to Carly. “Yeah, once.”

“Why did he do it?”

“She,” I corrected him. “I wasn’t exciting enough for her, I think.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” he tried to reassure me. I felt awful. Mark seemed like a perfectly good guy, and it was clear that I was a shit who’d failed to consider the whole arrangement. At some point, I must have thought about Mark and what he could have been feeling. I felt terrible for dismissing him so quickly.

He told me that things weren’t settled with the two of them, and it wouldn’t be right to end it abruptly without letting the feelings settle. It made me feel pity towards Mark, though. I pictured him incapable of handling the end of a relationship, falling apart in his shitty apartment. I couldn’t  help but see Mark as a powerful figure in Shawn’s life, and how important it was to him to make sure things stayed straight, as it were.

Shawn was in love with me, but he didn’t want that kind of black mark on him without at least making some sort of attempt at atonement. He wanted to do it right, because he respected Mark, and while I half-hated the bastard, I admired Mark for being worthy of that kind of respect.

“Mark,” I said calmly. “I want you to listen to me.”

“Huh?” he asked. He looked like a lost puppy.

“You’re going to be fine, okay?” I always wanted someone to come out of nowhere and tell me these things. I thought, maybe I’d listen to me this time. “You’re going to meet some great guy and forget all about this Shawn character, okay?”

“But...” I don’t know if he was trying to interrupt because he didn’t want to hear it or if he had more to reveal. But I’d heard enough and needed to finish this.

“No buts,” I said, cutting him off. “I know he was great, and for a while it seemed like he might be the one, but it’s over. Things got fucked up and it’s probably just best to wipe the slate clean and start over.”

He said, slowly, “Look, I know you’re trying to help me, and this is really nice, but I can’t really believe any of that right now.”

“Fuck, I know that much,” I said. I was mostly talking to myself anyways. “But it’s still nice to hear, isn’t it?”

“It is,” he said. “Wait, how do you know my name? I never told you.”

I said, inches away from confessing, “Does the name Scott Clarkson mean anything to you?”

“No,” he said. “I’m sorry. Should it?”

I shook my head. There was no point in even telling the whole truth at this point, because the truth didn’t matter so much as the story. I’d met Mark under sad circumstances, and revealing my role in his misery at this point would only make it worse. I felt bad enough about being the invisible cancer marring his happiness. Nothing would become clear tonight concerning the two of us.

“We’re here,” I said. “You’ll be okay getting home?”

“I don’t know what I was doing at that party,” he muttered. “I don’t know what got into me.”

“You were looking for the same thing we all look for at those parties.”

“Happiness?”

I remembered what Kate had said. “No,” I replied. “Happiness has nothing to do with it.”

“I’m getting too old for this,” he said.

I shook his hand and watched him take the stairs. I said to myself, “Me too.”

On the way back, I envisioned the scene Mark had just described, where Shawn broke the news. It must have happened after the night at the club, after he called me three dozen times and for whatever reason referred to me as his boyfriend to Kate. Or did it happen before the club? I had seen him that afternoon. I had asked him to choose between Mark and myself. I had stormed out. Had Mark come over soon after? Had they fought about it? Did Mark see me leave? Did Shawn actually confess everything? Did he tell Mark that he wanted to be with me?

For Shawn to refer to me as his boyfriend, he must have chosen me. He must have cockily assumed that I’d still want to be with him at that point, but that’s irrelevant. Kate knew both Shawn and Mark, so Shawn would have told her about the break up—though maybe skimmed a few details—and Kate felt jealous. 

That’s why she wanted me all to herself for the week. She figured if Shawn saw me, he’d tell me about the break up and convince me to be with him. She wanted me to herself, so she didn’t tell me. It was all making sense.

But I was happy Kate lied to me. I don’t care what that makes me sound like. If it had been a week earlier, I don’t know which one of them I would have chosen. Now, there was no question. Kate had dug her claws into me, and their grip was strong enough to hold me. I felt like I’d do anything for her. This may not have been the healthiest of decisions, and I’m not sure if it was motivated by love or just crazy lust, but I was stuck with her until she retracted.

Stephen wasn’t on the porch when I got back. He must have found his way inside again. I hoped nobody gave him anything else to drink.

I weaved through the halls, unable to find any of the few people I knew. I checked the living room, the kitchen, and the backyard. I climbed the stairs, and finally found Stephen leaning against the railing, breathing steady.

“Hey man,” he said.

“Hey, have you seen Kate?” I asked.

“A little while ago,” he said, “But then she left.”

“Left?” I asked. “Left to go where?”

“I don’t know, dude. I just heard about it, but someone told me that Ray showed up and they left together.”

For a moment, I wanted to throw Stephen down the stairs. Instead, I ran out into the street, and nearly got run over by a van. Snow was falling. The street was dark and empty. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I couldn’t save her from anything even if she wanted to be saved.

I looked at the house. I’d spent seven straight days in that house. But at that moment, it was the last place I wanted to be. It was filled with strangers I could no longer introduce myself to. I couldn’t say I was Kate’s boyfriend because everyone probably saw her leave with Ray. I couldn’t say I was anyone’s friend, because I wasn’t. I knew Shawn, only I didn’t. I knew Mark, only he didn’t know me. And Mark was gone. And Shawn was gone. 

I was alone, and the only move I had left was to run as fast as I could all the way home.

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No Chinook, Chapter 7

No Chinook is my first book, oriiginally published in 2008.

Read No Chinook on your ebook reader or cell phone:

 

I cooked breakfast for Kate in the morning as she sat and read the same magazine. Pancake mix dripped off her tile counter. There was flour on my jeans, my sole item of clothing. Outside, a hard wind pressed against the house. It had gained momentum last night and had not let up since.

“I put bananas in them,” I said, bringing the plate to the table. I made twelve, thinking it might have to be lunch too.

“And chocolate chips?”

“Of course,” I said. “No healthy meal goes without chocolate.”

“We fucked four times last night,” she said, not mincing words much. “Does this mean I have to drive you off a bridge?”

I was in the middle of chewing. “I don’t get it.”

“You haven’t seen Vanilla Sky, huh?” She didn’t seem surprised.

“Can’t say,” I said. I had seen it; I just didn’t know what she was talking about.

In between bites she said, “Near the beginning, Cameron Diaz exclaims that she had sex with Tom Cruise four times the other night. Tom asks if that’s good. Ooh, these are really good,” she said, switching topics between Tom Cruise and pancakes.” She says that two times is good and kisses him. Wow, what did you put in these?” I hadn’t done anything special. In fact, I wasn’t a particularly good cook. All I’d done was follow the box-side instructions. “Then she says three is really good in this sultry little sex-kitten voice. She kisses him again. Tom asks her what four times means. Seriously, you’re cooking every morning this week.” At this point, I simply figured that Ray had been actively trying to poison her food before this, because these were really nothing-special pancakes. “She just kisses him, even though he keeps asking. All she says is ‘four is...’ and it’s driving him crazy.”

I’d remembered the scene and where she was headed by this point, but she was on a roll and hearing her go on about something while eating my cooking just sent me over the edge.

“Anyways, the next scene she plays him her music and drives off a bridge.”

I kissed her. “Way to ruin the ending.”

She said, “Whatever. That was like, what, twenty minutes into it? There’s a lot more than that.” Then she kissed me for the fourth time that morning. It was one of those kisses where we were both in awkward positions, but we held it just to prove that we could.

*

I had a new sense of focus like never before at work. With my article finished almost halfway through the day, I found myself helping out other columnists with their editing. I was doing anything I could to keep busy. It wasn’t that being bored would make me think too much. It was that I felt I had nothing to fret over. I felt free of neurotic worry for the first time in months.

Before the end of the day, the boss gave me something extra to write for the next issue. We were in the middle of a Chinook, he said, and it’d be interesting for the traveling businessmen to have something they could read and experience at the same time. The issue was going to be out in a few days, so I’d need to take this one home to finish.

*

I was down on the floor of Kate’s living room writing about Chinooks on her laptop when I heard the shower running. I stopped writing as a realization came to me: for at least the last day, Kate had smelled of me. I knew it was stupid to think this, but I didn’t want her to shower. I wanted whatever residue crawled between us to stick and become permanent. Other people would know that way. The people who smelled one another would know.

She came downstairs in a long t-shirt and jeans. Her hair was still wet but she left it down. She sat next to me and kissed my shoulder.

“She’s not giving you too much trouble?” she asked, referring to her computer. “She does the weirdest things sometimes.”

“Like what?”

“Sometimes she’ll flicker and just turn off. She doesn’t like being forced to do something she’s not comfortable with.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “It’s just a computer.”

“That’s what I thought when I bought it,” she said, curling her hair behind her ears and sitting cross-legged. “But it’s got feelings. It’ll only let me check my email at certain times of the day. It’s cracked.”

I clicked on the Internet icon, and Hotmail sprung up. I signed in and winked at her.

“Well,” she said, “It likes you better, I guess.”

“Can’t say I’ve got an answer for you. I’m not a computer nerd or anything.”

“Since when?”

“You’re stereotyping me,” I said. “I am deeply offended.”

She kissed me. “Say that again.”

She kissed me. I said, “I am deeply offended.”

Kate laughed. “It’s just, you hung around those people at school all the time. You had to have picked up on it, right? I mean, isn’t that why you were with them?”

“You think I did that out of common interest?” I asked.

“Why else do people hang out with other people?”

When Kate asked me that, it immediately made every morning I walked into high school and didn’t talk to her seem like a stupid and immature decision. The closest thing to a good excuse was that as a kid I was a scared little shit who was only comfortable around people who didn’t intimidate me, and as a teenager I never found the courage to try being any different.

I said, “It’s stupid now, I know, but back then, I thought there were a lot of rules. Like, rules about who you could talk to and whatnot. My friends filled me in, pretty much, and I never really questioned them. But, who isn’t generally stupid in high school, right?”

Immediately I knew, like I always had known, that Kate wasn’t stupid in high school.

“I can’t say I really regret anything about it,” she said. The back of her t-shirt was wet from her hair. “I had a bunch of goals and I went for them. I had some pretty good friends. I have so many great pictures and stories.” I wasn’t anticipating she felt any guilt over having a better four years than I did, but that didn’t stop me from searching that out. “But you’re right, Scott. Most people are pretty big shits in high school. They comfort themselves with the idea that they were young and stupid and that makes it all right, but they were just as conscious of their actions then as they are now, you know?”

I didn’t get it. This all seemed to be a direct contradiction of what we’d talked about before. “But what about the fizz candies? What about the crap in your teeth?”

“Well, it’s nothing I’d ever consider doing again. I mean, planning and goals and all that stuff is really a giant drag at this point. And I don’t need a ‘few great friends’,” she said, and paused for emphasis, “When I can get so many good ones instead.” I had no idea what she was trying to imply.

I hadn’t particularly wanted to share my spectrum theory with Kate, but I knew I couldn’t bring it up anyway as she began to share her own ideas. For one thing, it would make me look exactly like the kind of guy she was talking about, but more than that, Kate would never need to know about the spectrum because she always existed outside of it. 

I was living outside my range, too happy to dwell on theories explaining repression and the unfairness of life. It was being too fair, really. According to my own set of beliefs, this would lead to something terrible.

*

Later that day, we were lying on her kitchen floor.

 “If you look at it this way, you can totally see it,” she said. Kate was trying to show me the giant face of Che Guevara on her ceiling. She told me it was there when she moved in, but Ray never noticed. It had been driving her crazy every time she looked at it.

“Please tell me I’m not crazy,” she said, nudging my shoulder with hers.

“Of course you’re not crazy,” I said. “But at the same time, just because you see things that aren’t there doesn’t mean that you’re crazy. You might just be gifted.”

“So you don’t see it either?”

“I’m not gifted.”

“Shut up!” She said. “Nobody sees it. Nobody ever sees it. I’m hungry.”

She got up and grabbed some ramen noodles from a cupboard, the kind you can eat without water or heat. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said. 

“Why did you move away from home?”

I didn’t have to think about it for that long. I said, “hated my parents, mostly.”

“Me too,” she replied. “Crazy how that works, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“So, what was it?” She asked.

Thinking about my parents was akin to working diligently on a tile-stain in the bathroom of your newly rented apartment. The problem was present before you ever got there, and no amount of effort was ever going to fully remove it.

I said, “I think the only reason my parents got together was so that each of them could have someone to fight with all the time.” I stayed down there, on the floor. Through all of this, I was focusing on the spot where Kate saw Che. “I mean, some nights they just wouldn’t sleep. Some bill was paid too late or dinner was burnt or the car had a scratch or just some random bullshit that most people would forgive the person they loved for. But that was the problem, you know? I don’t think I ever saw them in any situation resembling love.”

“So they weren’t fight fuckers then?”

“No,” I said. “My parents were not fight fuckers. Or maybe they were. I sure as hell hope not.”

“As I see it,” she said, “There’s only two kinds of parents. The ones that divorce, and the ones that should.”

She offered me some noodles. I took them.

I said, “I can’t argue with that.”

“So that’s why you moved out here to the city?”

“I was sick of home, but they were really only part of it,” I said. I kept looking at that ceiling, thinking, how does someone see people in their ceiling if they’re not crazy? “I was sick of the whole thing, really. The high school, my friends there, and Carly.”

Kate asked, her mouth full of raw ingredients, “What happened between you two, anyway?”

“I was with Carly for three years,” I said, but then stopped. The actual hours clocked spending time with Carly far outweighed time I’d spent with any other person in my life. And at the same time, it was so easy for her to let go of me. And just when I thought I could maybe make out part of Che’s hat, I had the realization that I might never get over Carly. I might be fifty and still wondering, what if?

“I was really, really in love with her. The last year of school started really well. We were going so strong, and what the hell did I know, right? I thought we’d be together forever. But then she began seeing this other guy. It started as a one-time thing, but then she just kept going. They started seeing each other more and more, and I slowly fizzled out of the picture. She came to me one day and said ‘you know it’s over, right?’ She didn’t care what I had to say about it. She was just making sure I wasn’t stupid about the whole thing. As if I needed an ‘oh, by the way.’ So I spent the last half of school sulking around, mostly hanging out by myself, writing, smoking.”

Kate just stood there. After a moment she said, “And then that’s where I fit in, isn’t it?”

I nodded. That’s all there was to do.

*

The next morning, Kate came downstairs in a pink housecoat and a messy, frayed ponytail. She sat down at the table with me and stretched.

“Morning,” she said, detached; squinting. 

“You have to work today?” I asked.

She nodded her head, and her ponytail shook, settling in a way that drove me nuts. She added, “But only for a few hours.”

“Coffee?” she pleaded. I pointed over to the percolator, and she smiled wide. I drank my tea slowly and read the paper.

“Jeans with holes in the knees are back,” I said, reading a headline in the fashion section.

“Good!” she said, with more enthusiasm than I figured it’d warrant.

That 67’ mustang that I wanted in the classifieds was sold. Kate came back and asked for the horoscopes and crossword. I’d noticed over the last two days that it was her little thing in the morning. Once she got about seven words in the crossword, she’d quit to make out with me, ignoring her morning breath.

“Want to hear yours?” she asked. “It says ‘Aries: you’ve got a birthday coming. The stars tell me that you have been restless lately, and that love has been on your mind. Don’t ignore these feelings, Aries. Something you love may be just around the corner.’ Ooh, Mr. Scott Clarkson, someone just might have a crush on you.”

“Kate,” I replied coyly, “it didn’t say ‘someone,’ it said ‘something.’ And it’s wrong. See? My Mustang is gone. Someone bought it.”

“Well,” she said, pouring her coffee, “It’ll just have to be a someone, then.”

Kate sat down next to me, took a pen from the utensils’ drawer and studied the crossword puzzle. About ten seconds later she asked what a seven-letter word for ‘pants’ was.

“Trousers,” I said, and she scribbled it down.

The arts section had a feature on a few new jazz bands oddly making the charts lately.     

“Well, shit,” I said.

“What?”

“Jazz was just about the only thing left.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Jazz,” I said, “Was the only free thing we had left. And now they’ve killed it.”

Kate sighed, and at that moment I should have probably dropped it. I’m not really sure why I cared. I’ve sometimes found myself rambling on about things I didn’t even feel passionate about. I really could not care less about music, the underground, or the average American. 

“Jazz,” I sighed, as if it were the last time I’d utter the term. “They really sped up the process. I mean, I knew it’d have to go eventually; that there would come a time when it wouldn’t be okay for someone to take up an open microphone and belt out 5 notes without a shill for shoes or soda or batteries. Someday, it would stop being about love and become about the mechanics. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.”

“What are you talking about, Scott?”

“This is how it always happens, you know? Every genre gets this treatment. It starts with a handful of jazz singers who get lucky and get breakthrough records in the underground. Those major labels see this happening, and snatch them all up, give them huge advances and big press. Their major label debut comes out, and by the end of the first month, they’ve all sold a million each. This gets called things like ‘unprecedented,’ and these singers are getting praise and press from people who have never covered jazz before, like this guy here. The genre gets big, the radio overplays them, the music becomes the soundtrack to every car commercial in the country, and soon enough nobody can stand it. Poof, dead genre.”

“How do you know he’s never written about jazz?” she asked.

“You can just tell,” I said.

“There’s no way.” Kate sounded like she wanted a fight, but I couldn’t go there. Not this early, not with her. Still, the process of sophomore philosophizing is an easy thing for me; words spray like a garden sprinkler system a child might have neglected to turn off. It doesn’t turn off until the parent braves the blasts of water and turns the tap. 

“You’re fucked up, man.” Kate told me. “Honestly, how a guy comes up with that shit at this hour, I’ll never know.”

“It’s kind of automatic,” I said. “It just sort of comes out. Honestly. I didn’t even think it through.”

“Like the Brad conversation,” she said.

“The what?”

Kate wrote down ‘squall’ along the bottom of the puzzle, and explained it like this. “The Brad conversation. It happens to me at least once a week. Hell, we probably had this conversation back in high school.”

“Brad who?”

She looked at me, pursed lips and wrinkled nose. 

“Brad Pitt, stupid. This is how it always goes, always: there are two girls chatting. One mentions a random celebrity and says how much she’d love to meet him or sleep with him or whatever. Now, the second girl will disagree about this particular celebrity, and mention someone a little more famous. The first girl will disagree with that choice and up the ante again. This volleys back and forth for a few minutes until one of them mentions Brad Pitt, and they both immediately swoon.”

“Okay,” I said, recognizing the story and knowing exactly what would follow. I was jealous of her at this point. I was sure I had come up with this whole spiel. “I think I get it.”

“I’m not finished yet,” she replied. “Now, a third girl enters the scene, and while the first two girls bicker about their preference for ‘Interview With The Vampire’ Brad or ‘Oceans 11’ Brad, this third chimes in, saying she thinks he is the most repulsive man on earth. The first two girls are all aghast at the statement, immediately defending his infallible acting prowess and unforgettable photo ops. Nothing they say will steer this third girl off-course from insulting everything about the man. Whether she’s jealous or genuine never matters, and isn’t the point. What matters is the consistency of this conversation happening to just about everyone at some point in time. This happens to everyone at least once.”

I had never been on the opposite side of this conversation, but loved that we shared this morsel of basic life philosophy. I said, “At least.”

“Oh, one more thing,” she said. “There has to be a guy who was either there and kept silent the whole time, or comes in after the third girl had expressed her hatred. When the three girls have exhausted their opinions, they turn to him and ask his opinion, which is one of three choices. This, by the way, is a great way to judge a guy. He can adopt the traditional, homophobic stance of saying ‘hey, I don’t rate guys by their looks,’ attempting to be macho, or he can say that he either finds him attractive or not. It’s the test I use every time, and I won’t date the guy that chooses wrong.”

Her kitchen tiles were cold against my feet and a chill went through me. The tea refreshed my reflexes and senses. My hearing was astute and my sight medically perfect. I had no problems with my sense of smell or touch or taste. I felt empathy, but I knew that empathy wasn’t the correct feeling. Fact of the matter is, I will still never understand women. Stand-up comics that I watched late at night as a teenager had told me to stay away from the whole lot of them, to live in the mountains with my beard and coal stove and beaver pelts. They told me I’d be happier up there, rid of all the puzzles surrounding the opposite sex.

And like an amateur, like someone who hadn’t had almost the same conversation in a different universe, I asked, “So what’s the right answer?”

Kate sipped her coffee without taking her eyes off me. Then she snickered and walked out of the room, saying, “We’re always kids, you know. I don’t think anyone grows out of saying ‘if you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you’.”

*

After work, I still wasn’t done the Chinook article. I couldn’t think. I was enraptured. When I arrived back at Kate’s doorstep, she handed me a beer. We began drinking at five and by seven were seeing each other in different lights.

“Favourite colour?” Kate asked. “Brown,” I said. She gave me a look, just like everyone else does before I explained things. “I don’t mean like any brown though. I mean brown as in a theme, like a season or a city. I once read this big story on the UK punk scene emerging in the early seventies out of a very ‘brown’ London. It’s like the idea of a broken-down and listless area where people get pissed off at their situation and do something about it.”

“Wow,” she said. “You put more thought into your favourite colour than anyone else.”

“Really?” I asked. “Anyone else?”

“Maybe not the guy from Blues Clues.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m sure he’s got to think real hard.”

“Well, sure,” she replied, “Why would you assume that because the show is called Blues Clues that his favourite colour is blue? How do you know it’s not red?”

“I suppose we could call him,” I said, being both preposterous and daring. I’d find him, if she wanted me to. At this point I’d call anyone and ask for favourite colours.

“Your turn,” she said. We’d been playing this game since the third beer.

“ Okay,” I said. “Favourite random person on the bus.”

“Oh, toughie. One sec.” Kate uncrossed her legs and ran back into the kitchen. We’d been sitting on the spot where the chair had been before she’d broken it. She said she wanted to get to know things about me that didn’t matter in the least. Banal things. Ice breakers. We began revealing our favourite movies, moved right onto music, sports. Eventually it became difficult to stay in the shallow end of the pool.

She came back with two more beers. These were Ray’s. There was close to a full case when we started. “Thanks,” I said.

Kate sat back down and flipped her hair behind her ears. “Okay, it’s got to be this one driver I used to see almost everyday. It was first year of university, and I really don’t remember how we began talking or anything, but almost every day I got on the bus, we’d chat. We ended up being pretty close. She told me about her kids and how they were doing in school and how they were almost my age and stuff like that. We really opened up to one another. How about you?”

“This one’s easy,” I said, cracking the new beer open. “College. My buddies and I used to call her the emergency wife. It sounds horrible now, and we never said it to her face or anything, but back then it was really funny. She didn’t seem to have a pattern, like the weather. You know, ‘if you don’t like the weather in Calgary, wait five minutes’ and all that. She would be on the bus when we left campus to go to the pub or whatever. She sat near the front, and every time we’d pass her, she’d ask us to marry her. Once, she grabbed Greg’s arm and almost pulled him down into her lap. So this one time Marshal came up with the idea that the last one of us to marry would have to come back and find her.”

Kate was holding back that infectious laugh she’d cultivated. “That’s really awful of you guys. She must have been crazy if she was asking you and your friends for it, eh?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t fish for compliments,” Kate said. “It’s not attractive.”

I said, “I wasn’t fishing for anything.”

She said, “Everyone is always fishing for something.”

It was funny, her saying something like that without changing her tone; she managed not to lose any of her half-giddiness. It made it impossible to take her seriously. If Kate had tossed out a general, sweeping statement like that back in high school, it would have sounded deep, maybe even profound. But on the floor of her living room, it carried the weight of a dollar-store birthday card. Kate was never the kind of girl I would expect would have much to say about the universe. She just didn’t have enough scars for that.

*

“Do you think he’s thinking about you?” she asked me during a commercial break. We were watching hockey.

I knew who she was talking about, but asked her anyway.

“Don’t be cute,” she said.

“I don’t know how to be cute.”

She said, “But you know how to evade questions.”

“You said we weren’t going to talk about him this week.”

“I said you wouldn’t talk to him. Talking about him is completely different.”

“Why do you want to do this?” I asked.

She said, “Because the game is boring tonight.” I knew she probably just wanted to hang me out to dry. Nothing I could possibly say about Shawn could help me and Kate. Recent relationships where wounds are still open are never good news.

She was right, though. The game was boring.

“I don’t know if he’s thinking about me,” I said. Then, I lied. “He’s probably happy I’m gone.”

Kate turned the volume down a little. Her legs rested on top of mine, and they were light. She was wearing woollen socks and tights and a hoody. Kate was the most comfortably dressed person I’d ever spent time with. 

She asked me, “What do you think he’s doing right now?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

“Do you think he’s with that guy? What was his name?”

“Mark.”

“Right. Mark.” Kate sounded sinister, like she’d just found exactly what she was hunting for out in the dark, when most people were sleeping. I wasn’t comfortable with her using Mark as a weapon between us. 

“Kate,” I said, “I don’t really want to talk about him.”

Kate turned the volume down zero. We weren’t paying attention at all anymore. Her tights rubbed against my jeans, rubbed against her couch, sunken in from cuddling over the years.

“When was your first kiss?”

“Kate, don’t.”

“Was he with Mark at the time?”

I never told Kate this, but sometimes I was jealous of her. I was jealous because she was capable of moving in circles I had no glimpse of. It wasn’t that she was successful, because I didn’t know what she did for a living. I didn’t know how much of Ray’s decision to leave was her fault, because I came too late. I didn’t even know if she was happy because she always seemed ready to lie. She navigated vessels I could not begin to board.

“Kate?”

“What?”

“Please don’t.”

“I thought you wanted to tell me everything.”

I hated her for her capabilities, so superior to my own. She held keys to doors I didn’t. She saw things I didn’t. My world had some windows into hers, but she had doors into mine. 

“I don’t remember ever saying that.”

“You said something of the sort.”

“Why do you want to know about Shawn?” I said.

Kate kissed me on the cheek and snuggled into my side. “I already know plenty about Shawn,” She said. “He’s my friend too, remember? But I can’t really picture you two together. I was just trying to understand how it worked, you know? I mean, I told you all about Ray.”

I hated her because I couldn’t understand her, and even though I could have always asked her to explain, I wasn’t capable of trying. 

“You didn’t tell me all about Ray,” I said. “I don’t know when your first kiss was.”

“It was on New Year’s. The Millennium.”

I hated her, but I couldn’t help laughing.

She defended herself. “What? It’s romantic.”

“Yeah, just like a teddy bear caught inside a claw-operated machine,” I said.

She retracted, “Oh, and your first kiss was any better?”

It wasn’t something I understood at the time, but later on I would learn that it was a common thing for guys to ask their new girlfriends about. They seemed oddly unable to let their past be in the past; an inherent kind of male jealousy, I’d soon learn this relationship dance Kate and I were performing was a lot more common than I thought. 

So, knowing I was beaten but not knowing how to avoid it, I retorted: “It was spontaneous. Back in the summer, when I met him at one of his parties, he spent most of the night stalking me. I didn’t know he was with Mark. He was relentless.”

I could sense I was already a joke to her. I could see the creases formed by her smile twitching in a sly attempt to hold back her laughter at my stupid cliché.

“He wouldn’t leave me alone all night. And then, he had me cornered, and he said, ‘just kiss me already.’ And I did. I didn’t think about it. He pressed me against the wall as he kissed me back. I knew he was taken and I knew he was dangerous, but the second I kissed him, I was somewhere else.”

Kate’s creases folded out into a full grin, but she maintained composure. 

“I had never kissed anyone like that before. He was almost a complete stranger, but I felt like I was getting to know him just from this kiss. Suddenly, I knew all of his favourite songs and what his writing style was like, and how he licked his stamps. I could taste his favourite drink and knew how much chocolate sauce he mixed with milk, what kind of magazines he bought and when he first started thinking about college. It wasn’t just that I felt like I knew him. I could feel things about him that he didn’t know yet. I knew I could get him to fall in love with me. And I thought I knew how to make him mine.”

Kate’s smile vanished. She looked pained, but then she sat back up and looked straight into me, searching for her own version of the truth.

She said, “I hope I find someone who kisses me like that.”

And here was just one more way Kate could shake me. For most of the week, she would be wonderful. She would make me smile in the same way I did when fantasizing about happiness. She seemed to personify so many archetypes of love for me that it seemed like for once, the world would deliver on a promise of happiness. 

At other times, like this one, she’d say something that Shawn had himself said once, and while I’ve learned that people sometimes say similar things in moments of serendipity, it was still hard to completely forgive her for being a little bit like him.

These connections between Kate and Shawn were problematic to my attraction to both of them; I didn’t want to see bits of Shawn in Kate. I wanted them to be completely different, but I knew that would probably never happen, because they both breathed, they both kissed, and they both referred to me when they talked about things that changed their world.

*

It was one of those mornings where nothing needed to be done. We were trying to stay in bed as long as we could. We were hungry but relished resisting the hunger.

“So,” she said, resting her head on my arm, “Tell me about your novel.”

“I don’t have a novel,” I said.

Kate tilted her head and looked at me. “You spend your days at a computer writing articles, editing articles, reading articles. I remember you wanted to be a writer. That means you have a novel.”

“You’re stereotyping me,” I said.

“It’s early. I don’t have the energy to see a multitude of dimensions.”

“I don’t have a book.”

“Yes, you do!” She exclaimed. “Even if you haven’t written it yet, you’ve got one. Fine, forget that you’re a columnist at a lame magazine. Everyone’s got an idea for a novel.”

“No,” I said. “I just, I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Kate poked me in the chest, like a kid. “Why not?”

“Why don’t you want to talk about your job?” I asked.

She said, “That’s different.”

“How?”

Kate hid herself in my arm.

“Hey, come on.”

“Didn’t we go through this?” she asked.

People were most honest after they’d used up every lie when pressed on an issue. I figured she would run out of reasons not to tell me eventually, and until then, I wouldn’t dig in too far.

I said, “Yeah, I’m sorry.”

Kate moved a few strands of hair out of her face and looked up at me like a duck, angled and with one eye.

“So?” She asked. “What’s it about?”

“It’s lame,” I began, feeling half-embarrassed. I hadn’t thought about this story since college. “And it’s not fleshed out and there’s only about a third of it on paper, and I have no idea how it ends.”

“That’s fine,” she said. “I just want to hear your story.”

I said, “It’s about a hotel. It’s this run-down place on the edge of some town. Drunks and hookers, you know, but there are a few guests. There’s a college professor and a dancer.” I looked down at her, and saw only her eye. “The story’s about what happens in a day at this place. There’s general unhappiness inside and out, but a few glimpses of hope are still visible. Like, there’s this kid, he’s 10 or so. He’s an orphan, but he lives there, and he has these dreams of someday owning the place and making it nice. And there are these lovers.”

“Are the lovers people you know?” Kate nuzzled her nose into my forearm. It was so damn cute. “Are we the lovers?”

“Sure,” I said. “They can be us.”

Kate said, “Awesome.”

Kate reached with her lips to the part of me closest to her. She kissed my shoulder.

She asked, “Is there a happy ending?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you think there should be?”

“Well, that depends,” She said, kissing my arm again, “Does the reader deserve it?”

I shrugged, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well,” she said, “By the end of the book, have you put them through enough that they deserve a happy ending?”

“Put them through enough?”

“Yeah,” she said, sitting up halfway. “Like, most of any story is suffering, right? Whenever I see a movie or read a book it’s always like that. There’s just this hero or group who go through some peril to get to the end, and that’s like a reward for going through the whole adventure, right? You know, they learned their lesson, or he got the girl, or she got the girl, or whatever.”

I shifted her way, “So you think the whole point of any story is to fight and suffer so someone can get a girl?”

“Pretty much,” she said, “But I meant that it’s more about the audience. Like, if I’m reading a book, I’m the audience, right? And part of the reason the book exists is to please me, yeah? So, part of the reason there’s a happy ending at all is so that I feel like the book did well.”

“Even if the whole journey is completely torturous to read?”

“Especially,” she said. “Then, the ending is crucial.”

Just then, there was a gust of wind through her bedroom window. The Chinook had been blowing all week, but only now did it actually break into the house.

“See,” I said. “I hope my book isn’t like that.”

“A torture to read?”

“Yeah, obviously. I don’t want to get that sort of negative response at all.”

I thought; did she open the window while I slept? Did she get up without me noticing?

I said, “But it’s more than that. I want people to enjoy every page. Like, why take three hundred pages to get to the happy part? That’s not life, right? That’s not what really happens. Life isn’t just suffering and drama with the happy moment at the end.”

“It is for some people,” Kate said. This derailed me. She was right, again, even if her logic was flawed. I couldn’t argue with her. I wasn’t fast enough.

“Well,” I gave up, “I don’t know. I don’t agree with you, though.”

“I think you’re just trying to create this ideal world where there’s only good all the time, some fantasy place with butterflies and cotton candy and pancakes,” she said. “I think it’s kind of childish.”

I wasn’t thinking of that at all. I thought: was this one of those Brad conversations? Did it even matter what I said?

“I’m hungry,” I said.

Kate said, “Me too, but I have one other question.”

“Only if it involves peanut butter or yogurt.”

She asked me, “Do you love it?”

“What, suffering?”

She gave me that look she honed so well. “Writing, stupid.”

I said, “Sometimes. When I’m on a roll it’s great. It’s like I’m performing the one function I was really meant to do here. Sometimes that muse actually does take over, even when it’s work and I don’t actually care about what I am writing. Sometimes it’s that easy. I don’t even think. I just put my hands down and it comes.”

Kate got closer to me, and we touched again.

“But then, other times, like when I get interrupted or I lose my train of thought, it can totally leave and not come back for days, and I can’t write anything. I mean, I try to plough through, but it all comes out wrong, and I end up deleting it. I can’t ever seem to force it. Like, the entire process is up to someone else and they’re just using me to get it down, you know?”

“I think,” She whispered. “You’re not taking nearly enough responsibility for your actions.”

Kate snuggled close, taking in a heavy breath, and seemed, for a moment, to fall back asleep. I could hear people walking down the street, likely pushing strollers and carrying plastic bags. What I was really focused on was Kate’s breath on my chest, her hair brushing my arm and her arm around my neck.

In my head, I was cataloguing images of Kate to save for later, but the snapshots were starting to lessen in number.

“Hey?” I asked. She murmured something. “Didn’t you say you were hungry?”

Kate groaned, “I’m comfortable.”

“We should probably get up soon.”

“And it wasn’t me,” she said, groggy from the few minutes of unconsciousness. “You said you were hungry,”

“I mean, we can’t just stay in here all day,” I said. “I’ve got to go to work.”

“Me too,” she said. “I’m hungry. Damn you.”

I was hungry, sure, but the real reason I got her up was to ask her something.

“Hey, do you love your job?”

“What?” She asked in a kind of disbelief.

“You don’t have to tell me anything about it,” I said. “But I guess I was just wondering if you loved your job.”

“You don’t love your job,” she said, slowly getting up and trying to avoid this. “You just said that you hate it sometimes.”

“Yeah,” I said, getting out of bed myself. I was naked and so was she. We both scanned the floor for crumpled jeans, socks, and shirts. “But that happens with love, doesn’t it? Don’t you hate it every now and then? I do, but I guess I sort of revel in it. I enjoy the moments when I’m feeling impossibly uninspired, because I know how much I’ve got to fight for it. Love is about passion in all aspects, right? I wonder at which point hate comes storming in.”

“Look,” she said, finding a tank top and throwing it on. “I said I wouldn’t tell you anything about it. My feelings towards it are a part of that.”

I found my jeans under her jeans. I handed them to her and put mine on. “Come on. There’s got to be parts of you that want to tell me.”

Kate put her jeans on. I found my shirt. We were dressed. We were awake. I had to leave for work within minutes, and she had to do whatever it was she did. But before leaving the room and doing what she spent so much time avoiding in conversation. She paused for a second and said, “I really fucking hate it.”

*

I finished the Chinook article. It took me three days and it still felt rushed. Time went by faster for me in places that Kate had yet to invade. I handed it to my boss; he gave me a nod. It wasn’t important, the article. It would cease to be of any value in a few days. Like the strange weather I wrote about, people would forget it in a matter of moments and move onto less trivial things.

*

“Do you even like basketball?” she asked. We were already on the court. It was in the back of an elementary school nearby, and the ground was pretty dry from the warm stretch we’d had over the last few days.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to be convincing, “Love it. I used to play it all the time.”

“Liar,” she said, and checked me. She let me go first because she knew I was about to get my ass kicked.

“Did you like breakfast?” I asked, dribbling slowly, trying to get around her and failing. She was really good at this.

She said, “It was okay. Not your best one. I liked it when you put the blueberries and bananas in the pancakes at the same time.” She stole the ball from me within seconds. “That was a great breakfast.”

“Maybe I’ll make them tomorrow,” I said, trying to imitate her defensive moves, but failing miserably.

“Maybe you’ll make them tonight,” she said, passing me, tossing the ball. It missed, bouncing off the backboard right at me; I caught it. I paused, amazed. I hadn’t played in years, since the beginning of college. Kate was on me again, poking at my sides, taunting me for my complete lack of talent. She said, “This reminds me of home.”

“Why?”

“My dad and I lived right next to my grade school, and we’d go play basketball all the time. Every time I’m playing, I can smell that house. I can smell him.”

I said, “Home for me was this coffee shop in Strathmore.”

“Which one?” I loved that she asked.

I took a shot and missed. “It closed down about a month ago. I went to visit my mom, and I walked by it and saw the ‘For Lease’ sign. It was kind of sad, but therapeutic.”

“Therapeutic?” She dribbled past me and got the shot in. It was early evening. The kids had gone home, and nobody in their right mind would come out at sunset and play on a half-frozen basketball court. We were here because we felt warm and restless.

“Yeah,” I said. “I kind of like knowing that the place I called home is gone. I know, that sounds weird, but I’d rather that it not be there.”

“So your parents’ house doesn’t count?”

I gave her a look signifying it didn’t. Then, I took advantage of her inattentive stillness and stole the ball. “Hey!” she said. “That doesn’t count; I was busy feeling empathy!”

I threw the ball again. It missed, and Kate got to the ball before I did. “You suck,” she said. And I did. At least, at basketball. “Tell me about this place of yours.” I loved that she was curious.

I said, trying to play defence again, “Whenever I wanted to relax and write and be alone and listen to fantastic music, I always went there. It was just this little hole in the wall, but it had old magazines, dim lights, and was run by this loony who had an affinity for Leonard Cohen.”

Kate dropped one more ball in the basket. It was two to nothing, and the sun was almost completely down. She said, “So you’d go there to be alone?”

“Yeah, but I’d take people there, too. A few of my friends really liked it.”

“And Carly, too, right?”

I was about to agree with her, but then I remembered that Carly had never seen this place. It was weird, because I had memories of the both of us hanging out there, but that couldn’t have happened. I didn’t find this place until after Carly was gone. Why did I think she’d been there? Was it just that I was inventing an aspect of my past? Carly, in my mind, sat comfortably in one of those couches in the back. But she was never really there.

“No,” I said. “I found it after all that.”

So Kate asked the obvious thing. “So where’s your home now?”

I told her, as she got another one in and tossed me the ball, that I didn’t know.

She said, “Yeah, well, I know how you feel.”

I told her that I knew she did. We both stood there in our jeans and winter coats. It was dark now. The only light in the area came from an archway above a door leading into the school.

I had the ball. She wasn’t trying to get it from me anymore. I eyed the basket, and in a moment of stupendous luck, tossed it right in. The sound from the net was loud. Kate grabbed it and went to the three-point line.

“So,” I said, realizing that she wasn’t done playing yet. “What don’t we know about each other?”

She tore right past me and shot. It missed, but she caught it.

Kate said, “Are we trying to get everything down?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Well,” she said, shooting. “Any broken bones? That’s always a good story.”

“No,” I said. “I’ve only been bruised a few times. Can’t say I’ve ever fallen from a great height or been run over by anything, luckily.”

“Luckily?” she mocked me, watching me dribble. “How are you lucky if you missed out on those awesome experiences?”

“You amaze me,” I said. I had scrambled for the ball. Kate wasn’t showing any sign of being tired.

“Seriously,” Kate said. “Those are stories you can tell over and over and they never get boring.” She stole the ball from my hands. She was so fast, even in a big puffy coat. “Like the time I broke my collarbone. I was ten, and I was riding a horse, right? Well, I lost control of it and it took off. I held on as best I could for almost five minutes, but after a while, it was clear I was going to get hurt somehow. The horse jerked one way and I was flung in the other direction, nearly landing on my head. Goddamn, that hurt.”

She shot and missed. I asked, “And this is a positive memory for you?”

“Of course,” she said while dribbling past me. I wasn’t an opponent so much as a traffic cone for Kate to play around with. “It’s positive because it makes for one hell of a story. I can tell that at any party and get a great reaction. It’s always great for breaking the ice with strangers. Totally works in job interviews, too. Shows perseverance.”

I asked, “So you like the memory so much because it makes a great story?”

“Yeah,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”

She missed by a mile, and I ran for the ball, sliding on some ice and falling on my ass. You could hear the crack of the ice below me so clearly. Kate laughed, standing there in the dark. I came back and she rubbed my tailbone in a cute though perhaps patronizing gesture.

I asked, “What if people didn’t like the story? Would you still like the memory?”

“But people do like the story,” she said. “That’s what makes it so good.”

I said, “Yeah, but what I’m saying is that you’re basing the quality of your own memory on other people’s opinions. Shouldn’t it be more about you?”

“I don’t see the point.”

I felt beaten up. There was no way I was ever going to match her at sports or sex or screwy logic. She had enough endurance to keep rising to higher and heavier levels of reason and existence.

I don’t know why, but I asked, “So what was your wedding going to be like?”

“My what?” she replied, stopping short. Even the dribble came to an abrupt end.

“I’m just trying to fill in the holes,” I said. “You know, getting to know one another.”

“Well, don’t,” she said. “And don’t ask me how he was in bed, either.”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” I said.

“Good.”

“You didn’t plan it at all?”

“I said don’t,” she said, continuing the game seemingly without me. She shot and got another in. “And no.”

I said, “I don’t believe that. Hell, I’m a guy, and I pretty much know how mine’s going to be.”

“Yeah, but what does being a ‘guy’ have to do with anything when it comes to you?” She used air quotes when she said ‘guy.’

“I can’t tell if that’s a knock or not,” I said.

“It’s neither,” she said, checking me, “It’s just an observation. You’re not hung up on being super-masculine all the time. It’s cute sometimes. But it’s mostly just strange.”

“So what, you’re the guy in this relationship?”

She thought about it for a second. “I guess so. I mean, take the whole ‘guy’ thing as an idea instead of this fixed label and you could just put it on a woman, right? I’ve always thought that anyway, but maybe that’s because I’m a sports nut.”

“Yeah, that kind of makes sense.”

“But,” she said. “I’ve always had this little theory.” I shot and hit one, tying it up again. “I always thought the whole idea that boys and girls are automatically attracted to each other to be a little naïve, and that maybe things are a little more complicated.”

“I’m not sure I’m getting it,” I said.

“It’s like this sliding scale. Like, on one end is total masculinity, and on the other is total femininity, and neither of these things has anything to do with gender. Me, I’m somewhere in the masculine camp, and I’m probably best attracted to my opposite, which would be slightly effeminate.”

“Like me?” I asked sarcastically. 

“Sure, why not,” she said. “And that’s why you were attracted to Shawn. He’s just chock full of an asshole masculinity that’s really sexy, and you just match up with, and everything balances out. Get it?”

“I think so,” I said, “But I’m not sure I want to. You’re saying I’m really in tune with him?”

“I guess that’s why I didn’t really freak out as much as you thought I might when I heard about you two. I mean, it’s not like it’s this thing where you’re only interested in guys, right? I mean, sure, that might be the case, but I think most people fall into this grey zone where we need to figure out how much masculinity and femininity we have in us and find our opposites to make it complete.”

“That’s how you figured I wasn’t gay, huh?” I asked.

“That,” she said, “And the fact that I’d slept with you before finding out.”

I stopped playing. “I’m not sure I like this theory of yours.”

“You got a better one?” she asked, daring, as if she knew I had one in the making. I thought about mine. My spectrum was not necessarily about sex, but about happiness on the whole. I could tell her about it, but at this point, it was like a favourite song. I couldn’t offer it up to criticism in case it was destroyed completely and I was left with nothing of my own.

“No,” I said. “I never think about life or love, ever.”

“If you’re not going to play,” she said, throwing me the ball. “Then it’s no fun.”

“Seriously,” I said, dribbling again. My hands were beginning to freeze. “I just kind of go with everything.”

“Oh that’s bullshit, and I can smell it from here,” she said. “You just told me that you had your wedding planned. That, Scott, is not much of a fit with everything.”

She had me pinned. I tried to shoot, but she blocked everything. “Fine,” I said. “I’m probably a lot more effeminate that I’d ever care to admit. But that doesn’t mean I over-plan everything in annoying detail.”

She took the ball right from my hands. “That’s mine, bitch.”

I stopped again. “Hey, that’s not fair.”

She laughed and put on this bad southern accent. She said, “I just calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”

“I can leave anytime I want to,” I said.

“Yeah?” she dared me, “Go. Get.”

“You don’t want me to leave,” I said, realizing that this was probably not the right answer.

A really serious look came over her face. “What I want is irrelevant here. The point is, you won’t go.”

All of a sudden, we were playing chicken, and she had me. If I stayed, she was right about everything. If I left, then I left, and being right and wrong ceased to matter. I didn’t leave.

*

Kate and I were drinking beers on her patio that night; her friends had dropped by, unexpected. There were three of them: Jackie, Phil, and Stephen. Jackie and Phil were a couple Kate and Ray had known from college. They were the kind of friends that only ever did anything as couples, so it was always the four of them. It was like a tightly-cast sitcom with alternating special guests. Stephen was another college friend, and had assumed there would be beer, and was right. We were nearly done with Ray’s stash, and would finish it all off fast. I had run out to grab extras, and had just come back to the porch as Stephen was explaining the foibles of his last relationship.

“See, what was wrong with her was that she didn’t get how important I was to myself.” Stephen talked with his hands. His face was unshaven. His ball hat was old and ratty. “You know those girls who give you lots of space and are cool about you really doing something with yourself? Stacy was not like that at all. She just smothered me, right? It was really just like, work, sleep, Stacy. It was work, sleep, and Stacy, over and over. I couldn’t take it. It was too much.”

I felt comfortable in this little group, and it was nice to think that Kate was willing to share her friends with me.

“And it’s not that she was just clingy with my time,” he said. “No, she was clingy with everything. I couldn’t visit my parents without her coming along. She’d call me at work every chance she’d get. It was always ‘I was just thinking about you’ or ‘oh, I forgot to tell you this earlier.’ Fucking terrible, man. I tell you.”

I said, “Well, I don’t know, but I think that kind of attention is really sweet. She obviously cared about you.”

“She obviously wanted to wear me down until she could wrap her body around me and squeeze,” he said, trying to imitate a giant snake with his arms and legs outstretched. “Seriously dude, I’m betting you’ve never been in that situation. You’d know if you were. It’s like, every minute, there she is.”

“No, I’ve been there,” I said, totally elated to be in this conversation with a stranger. “I think the difference between you and me is that I like that kind of passionate attention. I like to know that the person I’m with can’t focus well without me. Like, love is supposed to be this all-encompassing obsession, right? I totally buy that, and I love it when I find myself in the thick of it. It sucks when it goes sour, and I feel for you, but I’m sure there was some point in time when you loved it that she’d call every ten minutes to tell you something cute.”

“Shit,” Jackie said, “Kate, where’d you find this guy?”

Jackie looked like every best friend I’d ever seen. She was thinner than Kate, and her blonde hair was similar in length. Her jeans were looser, her shoes newer. She smiled less. She was incredibly aware that Phil thought the world of her, and this annoyed her a little. It was clear she loved him too, but she dropped his hand a few times when he tried to hold hers. I wondered how long they’d been together, if Phil had stayed crazy about Jackie, if she had found a plateau and set up camp there.

“High school,” Kate said.

“So you’ve known her longer than us, eh?” Phil asked me, clinking beers with mine. He shifted his weight to face his girlfriend and gave her this weird, scheming look. Phil said, “Maybe he can tell us.”

“No,” Kate sharply shot the idea down. “He won’t.”

“Tell you what?” I asked. I looked at Kate, and her face became stone.

“Well, we met her in college, right?” Phil said. “But none of us ever really knew what she was like before that. Was she the same, or like, a completely different person?”

“Well,” I said. “I was different, definitely.”

“I was totally a different person,” Jackie said.

“Exactly,” I said. “But with Kate, I think it’s different.”

“Hey, let’s not play the asshole game,” Kate said, glaring at me. I didn’t know what nugget of embarrassment she was trying to hide. Did I know something I shouldn’t? How good were these friends?

I said, smiling, “Maybe because I’ve known her for so long, or maybe because I’ve always had this image of her, you know? Like, I’m the kind of person who sets up a mental image or idea of everyone, and that never really changes. So even if she turned out to be completely different, she’s still the same girl that was nice enough to talk to me when I was insecure and just needed a friend.”

Kate went red, but in a good way. She hadn’t expected me to play along this well.

Jackie said, “That’s like, the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

Jackie reminded me of the talk Kate gave me when she pulled me aside earlier this evening. She asked me to act like I was just a friend, because she didn’t want to get into the messy stuff. She wasn’t ready to talk about Ray yet, and nobody but me knew about it. Kate told me that Jackie would likely suspect something, but speculation wasn’t fire. It was just smoke, and since she couldn’t stop the smoke, Kate figured it’d be best to just not stoke a fire.

Phil said, “So, why didn’t you two ever hook up?”

I was a little insulted to think it was so obvious that we hadn’t.

“Don’t think I didn’t want to,” Kate said. “But unfortunately for me, Scott here never really liked me.”

I had learned years before that the secret to blending in with people so much more confident than you was to fake it convincingly. The way to do this was to make ballsy claims that nobody could really refute, ideas that seemed to exist just within a hair of credibility but beyond challenge, like the one of Kate ever having a crush on me. It wouldn’t be difficult to play along with Kate here because I’d danced the same dance with other girls who enjoyed creating fiction of life. What was more interesting, however, was that Kate would try to make anything up at all. Was Kate hiding insecurities? Or was she simply hiding me by going in the opposite direction?

I played along by telling the truth. “Hey, it’s not that I didn’t like you, it’s that I was always far too scared to say anything. You were the same way, huh?”

“Exactly,” Kate said. Everyone seemed pleased with this.

The conversation kept at this pace for hours. I didn’t flinch. Nobody suspected that I didn’t belong, and that gave me this great sense of arrival that I hadn’t been able to taste since moving to this city. I came to believe in the comfort I felt at this point, and wrapped myself with it as I would with a warm blanket, like the kind that could soften cold, bare walls.

When the drinks were gone, our guests’ departure soon followed, and as we got ourselves upstairs, I thought about how I’d probably missed out on years of this sort of thing for no goddamn reason at all.

*

“You’re going to love this place,” she said. “It’s my favourite restaurant in the city.”

We had just been seated in front of a sunken, black fire-pit. I told Kate yesterday that I had never been to a Korean restaurant, and tonight we sat in a crowded hallway.The food arrived on small trays. Everything was raw. The stove divided us. We cooked as we ate. “It’s so much fun,” she said. “But, be careful. Once, I only half-cooked a piece of pork and ended up in the hospital.”

“Great,” I said, placing a small, square piece of beef on the grill. It was turning colours within seconds. “Should it do that?”

“Yeah, it’s supposed to be quick,” she said, dunking some chicken.

“Morrissey would kill me for this,” I said.

“What?”

“You know,” I said, “Lead singer of The Smiths. They put out an album called ‘Meat Is Murder.’ He’s a pretty avid vegetarian.”

“Huh,” Kate said, chewing on a carrot. “Never heard of them.”

“Really? You must have heard them at some point. Come on. Does ‘Hang the DJ’ ring a bell?”

“Is that one of their songs?”

“Well, it’s part of the chorus for one of their songs,” I said.

She said, “Don’t you hate it when band name songs after things that have nothing to do with the song?”

“Maybe they’re trying to be artsy.”

“Pheh,” she said, waving dismissively.

I said, “Well, who can argue with that?”

“Your beef is done,” she said, pointing with tongs. I picked it up with my fork and dropped it on the small plate in front of me.

“Majestic,” I commented, sarcastically. It tasted like beef, but I still didn’t see the point.

This entire setup wasn’t particularly suited to having a conversation. There was so much attention required for dinner that an extensive conversation was just going to ruin the whole experience. However, Kate had no problem attending to both at the same time.

She said, “Did I tell you I was in Korea for a little while?”

“When?”

She said, “Just after college. I thought it’d be a blast, you know? Teaching English was supposedly this easy job with free rent and lots of parties on the weekends. So I go, and they gave me this tiny crab-shack of an apartment with three chairs and a bed. It’s way out in the country, right? So it’s like an hour and a half to the closest bar that’s not full of farmers. The kids never listened to a word I said, and the Korean teacher they partnered me with never talked to me. Thank God for online poker.”

I was surprised it took her this long to tell me this story. Leaving the continent for half a year seems like the kind of thing that would have come up much earlier on in the relationship. What other amazing things hadn’t she told me? I played it cool and asked her, “I heard these teaching enterprises kept you there for a year?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Most people stay for the year, and I’ve heard that most people like it. But it just wasn’t for me, you know? So I saved up enough to not make it a complete waste of time, gave my 30 days, and bolted. Since then, I’ve been at the job I’m at now. It was the first thing I could find.”

“Hey,” I said. “Look at you. You’re opening up.”

Kate picked up her chicken with chopsticks and held it for a second. “No, I’m just filling in the blanks. The only thing I took away from the experience was an appreciation for the food. Kimchi cures just about everything.”

“So it’s a total meat-fest over there, huh?” I asked, cooking my chicken, turning it with metal tongs. We were both breathing in the smoke,

“Oh my God,” she said, biting into grilled fish. “Meat-fest. That’s what I used to call porn.”

“Are the bones still in that fish?” I asked, noticing more and more why I shouldn’t be eating this stuff.

“Yeah, you’ve got to be careful,” she said, laughing. “Seriously. Meat-fest. I haven’t heard that in years.”

I said, “It does work for porn, I guess.”

“It totally does. Not only porn but orgies, too.”

“Were you ever in one of those?”

Kate said, “Hey, private!”

I said, “I sleep with you every night. I have wounds that refuse to heal to prove it.”

“So?” she said. “Just because you’re in my bed doesn’t mean you get to be in my head.”

“Well, when will that be?” I asked, picking at something that looked like chicken but came from a different tray.

“You want to talk about futures?” she asked.

In between bites, I said, “Sure. We’ve talked about everything else.” I was lying. I figured there were at least a hundred crazy stories I hadn’t extracted from this girl. But I could tell that this was the moment where I would learn whether or not Kate had any real plans for this relationship.

“You go first,” she said, obliterating any shot I’d have at this.

“Okay. Wait. I’m not really one hundred percent on what you mean.”

Kate poured some soy sauce on her fish and asked, “You don’t have any big dreams or goals that you’ve set out to accomplish? No big mission?”

“No,” I said. “I think I knew everything would work out, but I never hammered out any real plan. It’s stupid, I guess, but I left it up to fate.”

I paused.

“That sounded tired,” I said. “But I think it’s true. Up until Shawn happened, I really didn’t know who I was. And up until you happened, I didn’t know that there was something wrong with that.”

She said, “You’re saying that I’ve screwed everything up for you.”

“Yes, essentially. This beef is kind of terrible.”

“Pour some hot sauce on it,” she said. “I understand. Trust me. I know what it’s like to wrap your life around the idea of someone and then have it damaged by a sudden departure.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “So, anyway. That’s me. What about you?”

“Well, I just told you,” she said, grilling vegetables along with pork. “It’s all shot to hell, right? I have no idea what I’m doing now. I’m really playing by Ackerman.”

“Ackerman?” I asked. This, I feared, was going to be lame.

“Yeah, it’s this phrase I had in college,” she said. “Huh. Isn’t that funny? I haven’t said that since college. Like, I have never uttered it since. But there it is, just slipping out, like leftover drunken memories told the morning your new roommate moves in because you need a story to tell over toast.”

“This was a stupid idea for a restaurant,” I blurted out. “What if you couldn’t cook? What if the very reason you left the house to get food at a restaurant was because if you cooked by yourself you’d end up poisoned or dead? What if someone got incredibly sick here because they couldn’t cook and they sued the place?”

“Anyways,” she said, completely ignoring my incredibly valid point. “Diane Ackerman came up with this one quote that I just fell in love with when I first saw it. It was in this quote about travelling. Ever since, whenever I’ve really felt this way, I’ve had her to fall back on,”

I stopped picking at the increasingly suspicious meat and paid full attention to her. Kate sat upright and appeared to begin a scene from a very old play.

“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”

I asked, “Are you talking about this restaurant or our relationship?”

Kate made a face that told me I wouldn’t be receiving an answer. That was okay. I didn’t want to talk to Kate about the wisdom of stealing quotes from books, or how she probably had it out of the proper context somehow. I didn’t want to challenge her idea of a divine truth. The only thing I wanted was to burrow inside whatever idea she had of the future that wouldn’t be destroyed by oncoming storms. 

*

We were sitting in Kate’s kitchen. The sun had set about an hour ago. Calgary’s days can last forever on a warm day. I’d made lunch. We’d eaten and cleaned up, and now we were sitting there.

“You’ve run out of things for us to do, haven’t you?” I asked.

“No,” she quipped. “Why would you say that?”

“Because it looks like you’re thinking of something, but nothing’s coming.”

Kate gave me this look that said ‘don’t be ridiculous.’

She said, “I’m thinking of having a party tomorrow night. It’s the end of the week, after all.”

“It is?” It had gone by so quickly, I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t really thought about what would happen afterwards. What was Kate going to do with me now that the week was over? That was a stupid question. This wasn’t it. She wasn’t going to use me for a week and then just take off. It wouldn’t be like that. It wouldn’t make any sense. Even if that’s how it might have started, that’s not how it’d end. She won’t use me. Kate wouldn’t do that.

It was when I saw how naive I was being that I began to wonder if I was in love with her. My sane friends would say that it was impossible. I simply had not been with her long enough for that kind of sentiment to grow in me. To them, I’d say that all of the hours I’d spent with Kate this week would add up to the hours they’d managed to actually be in love. I was in love with Carly, and the feeling I had now was close. This time, it seemed older, more aware, but it was still beating my keener senses down to make room for the sensual escapades of sweaty dreaming. I was suddenly oblivious to the fact that Kate would ever intentionally hurt me, and this, above all things, was love as I knew it. Barring any better guidepost, the best I could do was make sail and hope for wind.

“Kate,” I began, “I...”

Kate’s phone rang. She put her finger up to me, like she did every time she interrupted whatever it was I was about to say. 

“Yeah?” she said to somebody. “Of course you can come. Sure, bring it all. Will who be here?”

I moved closer to the phone, trying to be cute, spying on her. She grabbed my shoulder with a stretched-out arm and held me in place. She shook her head and widened her eyes and at that moment, I should have known exactly who she was talking about.

“I’ll be in the other room,” I whispered, and left. Her eyes stayed fixated on a ghost I couldn’t see.

I sat down on her couch and thought about our entanglement. They were friends, and somehow she had already gotten the word out about a party. Shawn was never one to stay home, so he would call. This made sense. Regardless of plans, he would invariably call her at some point. He didn’t know I was staying here. He didn’t know half of the situation. This is going to be weird for him. He’d never seen me with a girl. Every moment that I’ve known Shawn, he was it for me. No other girl or boy had been able to sustain my attention until Kate came along. In a flash, I considered his feelings. Just as swiftly, I crinkled these feelings into imaginary paper balls and bounced them off an imaginary waste backet somewhere inside my head. 

Kate put her lips on my neck, and kissed me for a moment before I could think to speak.

“Hey,” I said. “I don’t think I want to go to this party.”

She moved down, pulling my shirt to the side and kissing my shoulder. She whispered, “Yes, you do. I want to introduce you to the rest of my friends.”

Her arms were wrapped around me, and her hands were working slowly on my buttons. I tried to explain. I said, “It’s just that parties aren’t really my thing. I always get uncomfortable and nothing good ever comes of it.” None of this was completely true. 

She pulled the shirt off my back and hugged me tight. She said, “No good comes from any party, honey. But good things aren’t really the point of parties, are they?”

“Look,” I said. “I’m serious.”

“Scott,” she told me. “Quiet.”

She turned me around and kissed my cheek and began to work downward. She didn’t want to talk. She put a finger to my lips and kissed me.

“Hold on,” I said. “Are you taking my clothes off just so that I won’t protest this party anymore?”

She nodded her head. “That’s exactly why. So shut up and enjoy it, cowboy.”

She put her hair up in a ponytail as she began to kiss my chest. My hands were on her shoulders, playing with the straps of her bra.

Kate grabbed my belt and yanked it out. I told her to stand up, and then I pulled off her top. Jeans were slid off. We landed on the couch, and were at each other in the kind of ravage I’d grown accustomed to since Kate first kissed me near the river. I had quickly learned how she liked to fuck. It did not take long to adjust.

In seconds, we were naked. She was not one for foreplay. Our clothes were deserted in stormy piles on her floor. It was all propulsion, mileage, and damage. Her nails dug into my side and I moaned. My teeth pulled at her nipples and collarbone, and she seemed to purr.

Sex with Kate was a hot wind coming from all directions. I had to give up all other thoughts if I wanted to keep up with her. It wasn’t like being used. She wanted me to be as hungry as she was, but there was just no way I could muster that kind of animal behavour on cue. I left no marks on Kate. I was too weak to draw blood, but she wasn’t.

We fell to the floor together. Kate was on top, her hands tight against my chest, her lips all over mine. Her ponytail fell on my right shoulder, and my hands held her ass. The carpet rubbed against the claw marks, electrifying every inch. She saw the pain on my face, and she smiled that beautiful naked smile that got me in this mess in the first place.

Kate repositioned us so that I was on top, but she gave up none of the control. Her legs wrapped around my ass, and she was halfway off the ground. Every time I tried to kiss her gently, she would lunge her tongue inside my mouth. Kate sped up, but we weren’t synchronized. She grabbed the back of my neck. She wanted to be pulled up, and I yanked back. 

Kate straddled her weight on my thighs and she looked at me, biting her lip. It wasn’t the kind of sex that lasted forever, and it was mostly because of her pace. I couldn’t imagine anyone who practiced Kate’s style of fucking producing a respectable time.

She flipped us again to make it last a few moments longer. She put me behind her. She grabbed the edge of the couch pulled my cock in. I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to keep as close as possible. I didn’t like keeping my distance during sex. I wanted sweat on sweat, grind on grind. People don’t fuck to create babies anymore. They did it to exchange fluids. 

Kate grabbed one of my hands and put it on her ponytail. She wanted me to pull her hair when she came. It was one of her things.

She came. Her right heel came down on my foot and nearly broke it. I lost balance, and we collapsed to the ground. All of the intensity numbed into a dull pain, but the pain was still too distant to think about after what’d just happened. “Wow,” She said. “That’s new.”

“Which part?”

“We came at the same time,” she said, panting. “Not bad.”

“That’s never happened before,” I said. I felt bad about it, but I lied. I may have cried out, but I hadn’t come.

“Well, I’m sure someone’s done it,” she said, grabbing hold of my left hand and giving me a sweaty kiss. 

We lay there for a moment, watching the ceiling fan, my cock still mid-throb.

“To answer your question,” Kate purred, “ About the party, anyway. We’ve talked about this before. Wouldn’t you rather have a great memory than a great time?”

“Even if the memory is awful?”

“Even then,” she said.

“I don’t know. I guess it all depends on how you gauge happiness.”

“Well,” Kate asked, “How do you gauge happiness?”

Kate was agreeing with the idea of my spectrum to a degree, even if her understanding of it went way beyond my theory. To me, the really unmemorable and uncool people had to be the happiest, because that was the only way the universe could be fair. But my spectrum left out the one absolute in life. Life’s really not fair, no matter what theory you use. Life will always slice through you using someone else’s theories. Kate always had the upper hand on my ideas about life. 

Thank you, Kate. You’ve destroyed it completely this time.

“Kate,” I began again, “I...”

She put her finger to my lips again and inched closer. She whispered, “We’ll have none of that.”

I listened to the still air and realized that the winds outside had slowed. Eventually, we got dressed and finished up the last day, getting ready for this big party.

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No Chinook, Chapter 6

No Chinook is my first book, oriiginally published in 2008.

Read No Chinook on your ebook reader or cell phone:

 

“Can you get me a beer?” Kate asked. I could barely hear her. With all the people around us, and the electro blaring out from every angle, I had to wonder why people bothered to open their mouths. But people were yelling all around us. Conversations seemed to swell in every direction, indecipherable because of the noise, but not far enough to be ignored. Kate drank Kokanee before, so I figured she’d like that again.

“I can’t believe you remembered!” she said when I got back from the bar. She swigged and clinked me. “Thanks, man!”

After we’d got back to her place, had sex and were laying there, cuddling, she said she wanted to dance. This came out of nowhere, but I went along with it. She got dressed in a low cut t-shirt, black jeans, slip-on black shoes, and off we went. She said she loved this place, how busy it was.

“What kind of music do you like?” she asked as we drove.

“Oh,” I said, lying. “nothing really specific. I like whatever.”

“Good,” she said. “This place specializes in whatever.”

Kate had dragged me out onto the dance floor, her beer playing the part of the naked mermaid on the front of ships. I followed Kate following her drink.

“You’re really good,” I think she said, after a few songs.

“Thanks,” I mouthed, but she wasn’t paying attention to my lips. There was no use actually saying anything with the blanket of volume around us. “You’re beautiful,” I mouthed.

She smiled, but I’m not sure she understood. Her hair was down again and she flung it in every direction. She danced with a freedom I never really thought she had to show. Whatever it was she was doing, it gave us some room.

In no time, we were both sweating. We were at a club that was a flea-market during the day, so the walls had signs advertising used clothing and bargains. Strobe lights and foggy smoke were above us, and we danced surrounded with people wearing an assortment of dress shirts and other club gear, hammered, high, or both, yelling and moving with the music. 

“Are you all right?” Kate might have said. She noticed me looking around, looking uncomfortable. I didn’t come out to clubs that often, especially the underground converted warehouses like this one. “Who are you looking for? I’m right here!”

“What?” I yelled.

“I’m right here!” she screamed, and finally I heard her voice. I don’t really know why I was looking around. I guess I was just taking it in, but her insistency forced me to kiss her. It’s not like I needed an excuse at this point, but some things she did prompted me to kiss her more than others. We kept dancing. It was all there was to do.

My phone kept ringing. It rang just about all night. I let it ring because I wanted Shawn to know that I knew he was calling. I didn’t want him to think I left the phone at home or had turned it off for the night. Every now and then I’d open it up, let him hear a second of music, and then hang up. Kate never seemed particularly interested as to why I was doing this. Mostly her eyes were closed or focused on her beer or on my chest.

She pulled my shirt and drew me in closer as we danced. Her crotch rubbed up against my leg. No eye contact. As the phone vibrated in my pocket, she cupped it and smiled.

“Don’t get it,” she said. She said this in my ear so loud it hurt. She could have whispered. 

I couldn’t have known what Kate was generally like after sex, but I figured that if she stayed awake, all she’d want to do was have more sex. Her hands dangled from my neck and she stared right at me, but even then I knew she wasn’t looking at me as a person; there was no intimacy there. Even then, I knew deep down that I was only her means to some end. But wrapped in that moment, she made feel like I had a place. The objectification was nice, actually, because at least it was honest.

Shawn had used me. Before I’d finally figured it out, I thought it was love. It wasn’t love, this thing between Kate and me. It was carnal, and that was fine.

Way back in high school, the first thing Carly told me to do was to shut up so that she could kiss me. She knew it was lame, but it still worked. I shut up. This was before I quit smoking; we were smoking outside the school and I mentioned something about wanting to burn the entire place down. I was just shooting the shit out there, but I imagined exactly how I’d do it. Halfway through it she told me to shut up, and that was the beginning of me and her. The entire week after that, all we did was make out under a tree near the parking lot where she kept her bike.

The first thing Shawn did was kiss me, too. I met Shawn in this bar I wasn’t even supposed to be at. It was late and I was going home, but I didn’t have any change for the subway. I ducked into this bar to break a twenty, and Shawn came up and ordered a few beers. “And one more for this guy,” he said, and before I could refuse, he kissed me on the cheek in his joking, frat-boy imitation, and before I knew it, I was sitting beside him and three other guys, arguing about art I’d never see.

But Kate was different, because the first thing Kate did was show interest in my writing. Even that slight interest made mountains of difference. She wouldn’t kiss me for almost six years. I knew it was no coincidence that she was the one I thought of the most.

None of my friends called it pathetic outright, but I knew they thought my constant moaning about Kate early in college couldn’t be anything else. I remember one of them saying “Scott, trust me. For every guy, there is a girl that got away. The details might be different, but overall it’s always the same story: guy likes girl; girl probably doesn’t like guy; guy eventually gets rejected by girl and bitches about it to his buddies while getting wasted.”

Now, I could say that they were wrong about this one incident in my life. Kate was right in front of me. She’d kissed me a hundred times in the last two days. The past was just empty context. I was in a world only I knew, but I could share it with her. I could open up to Kate. I could be honest. I could be loved. Also, she’d slept with me, twice.

She grabbed my hair and bit my lower lip, half-laughing and half-snarled. Her hands were on my hands, my ass, my back, my chest. Her nails were sharp. Of course people stared. I think I was bleeding, but the phone kept ringing. 

She didn’t stop until she noticed the mark on my arm.

“What the hell is that?” she yelled. I tried to shrug it off, but she grabbed my arm and led me to the entranceway where the music was quieter.

“That,” she said, pointing to the burned mark. “That wasn’t there this morning. What happened?”

“I, um,” I muttered, both wondering why I hadn’t thought of a cover-up and why she hadn’t noticed it when we were naked earlier. “It was an accident.”

“Really,” she said, not questioning so much as interrogating.

“It’s a cigarette burn,” I said.

“You don’t smoke.”

“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t burn myself with a cigarette.”

“You did this to yourself?” she asked, equally worried and visibly re-evaluating who she’d hooked up with for the evening.

“Yeah, well,” I said. “There weren’t any chairs to throw into a wall.”

She took a second to process my explanation, and get her own idea of what it might mean. Then she reached into my pocket and stole my phone.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“What do you think?” she said. “I’m checking to see what your ex-girlfriend’s name is.”

I tried to grab the phone from her. I told her, “There’s no girl.”

“Look, I get it. I never asked if you were seeing somebody. I didn’t think you might be going through the same thing as I was. Hey, maybe that makes all of this easier, you know? We’ve got something really big in common, if that’s the case. I just want to know.”

I stopped lunging for my phone, because I’d just realized she understood something I was only now grasping. What had brought us together was our common heartbreak. It was shitty things leading to good things, and the reinforcement of my spectrum was enough for me to let her flip open my phone and look around for my missed call list.

I could tell by her confused look that the list required some explanation. I said, “Shawn, right?”

“Yeah, but why? What does he want? And why weren’t you answering?”

I began to head outside, and Kate followed. I knew if this situation got any closer to the truth, we should move the proceedings outdoors. “I think he’s mad at me,” I said, trying not to give too much away. “I stormed out of his place today. We had a fight.”

“Oh my god,” she said. “Are you hurt?”

Kate followed me. We got to the door and felt the cold night air. I said, “No, nobody hit anyone.”

“Then how was it a fight?”

“We just yelled.”

“But you’re guys. Don’t guys hit each other when they fight?”

“Not all guys,” I said.

“Well, you should answer it and get it over with,” she said. “You know, be a man about it or something.”

“I don’t want to be a man about it,” I said. “I really can’t talk to him right now. Or ever.”

Kate laughed. “I had no idea you were this melodramatic.”

My roommates in college might have been wrong about every guy having a girl that gets away, but they were right about most other things. Once, Jesse, the only one of them I really liked, told me a story of when he was a kid. He was walking along on the CN railway tracks, about half a mile away from his house.. He was maybe 8 or whatever. These trains come through all the time, and Jesse always got out of the way long before the train came close. Only there was this one time when he felt something completely different. It was the same sort of day as any other, and he didn’t really feel any differently, but for whatever reason, he didn’t move. 

Some thought rippled through his brain that was much heavier than the average 8-year-old should be thinking: what’s really going to happen to me if I don’t get out of the way? And even at 8, he knew there was nobody around that could really tell him what it would be like to die, or what it would be like afterwards. He knew it would hurt, surely, but it was the after that was the biggest mystery. 

He still got out of the way long before any real sense of danger set in. And really, he only stayed on the tracks a few seconds longer than normal, and it still took the train a good five minutes to hit the spot where he had been standing. Still, none of that made his childhood moment of great philosophical transcendence any less terrifying. He was absolutely right. It’s possible to know what it would feel like to be hit by the train, but what followed was anybody’s guess. That’s why, when I saw in her eyes that she’d put two and two together and began to dial Shawn’s number on my phone, I headed outside to her car. I sort of had an idea of how she would initially react to the news of my little affair, but had absolutely no idea what would happen after.

“Hi Shawn, it’s Kate,” she began. “Why have you been harassing Scott all night?”

I quickly asked for her keys, and she tossed them to me. I got in, and I could see her inching towards the driver’s side. I was about to open the door, but then I saw her hand pause in front of the window. At that moment, Kate knew everything, and it had stopped her in her tracks.

This would be my bar story, to be told with slight variances every time I drank with new friends. Drinking with people meant meeting other people, which meant leaving the house, which meant being okay enough to stop crying and get on with life. This imaginary string of events gave me the most comfort. The rest came from knowing that I’d done relatively little wrong. It’s not likely that either Kate or Shawn would be telling their hypothetical future bar friends about how manipulative or abusive I was, and how happy they were now that I was gone. Even though I was the other man in one relationship and the rebound in the other, I figured that I’d played both parts well enough to dispel any blame.

The funny thing is, the image of all of us in the future made me realize that I was just as willing and knowledgeable as Shawn in what we were doing. I mean, he never did actually leave Mark, did he? It really was just as much my fault that I landed in this situation. If Kate slid into the driver’s seat in a few minutes and told me that she never wants to see me again, it would be my fault. It would be my fault because I wanted to be with Shawn and didn’t tell her, and because I really had no right to be with her in the first place. We belonged on opposite ends of the spectrum, and that’s exactly where we’d return. Her car felt warm even with the engine off. I saw her shadow through the back window, pacing.

I wasn’t innocent. Sure, I’d tell people I was completely victimized; but even as it all unfolded, I knew I was to blame. Without me, Shawn would probably be happy with Mark, and Kate would be doing something other than having rebound sex. Maybe she’d be going after Ray. Maybe she’d grab his new girlfriend by the roots of her hair and break her back against a wall. Kate was the strongest woman I’d ever met. She could have carried this car home on her back if she got angry enough to do it. I couldn’t imagine her having the sort of sex she was having with me without a certain amount of rage. I could hear feet crunching on the snow outside, behind me. Her reflection in the rear window gave away nothing.

She hung up the phone and walked to the driver’s side of the car. The door creaked open and slammed shut. There were goose bumps on her arms. She cracked her neck to one side. Still, there was no way I was speaking first.

“All right,” she said. “I guess I lost my own bet.”

“What?” In this moment, one word at a time was all I could manage. I know I wanted to explain everything to her before she had a chance to speak, but at the same time knew there was never a chance I had that sort of strength.

“Last night, when I kissed you, I thought that I had it figured out. I mean, sure, I’d been dumped, and yeah that fucking hurt, but I guess I always knew he had it in him to do something like that. Ray was just the kind of character where cheating was part of the package. I should have seen it coming, dating a guy like that, living with him. It didn’t matter to him; he could cheat on you and leave just like that. You still don’t see it coming and it still breaks your heart, but in hindsight, it makes sense. You know what I mean?”

Of course I knew what she meant.

“Anyways,” she said. “When I kissed you, I thought I knew you; I mean, in a way, I’ve known you for years, right? I never stopped to wonder if you’d changed. I just kind of took you at face value.”

I could see the whole thing coming. She wasn’t good at the long speeches. She wanted to call me a big fucking asshole and tell me to find my own ride home. She would have said the same thing back in high school.

“But people do change,” she said, “People do grow up and beyond what anyone might think they could turn out to be, right?”

I’d caught my breath, and remembered where I stood in my own big mess. “So what are you trying to say, Kate?”

She coughed, and started the car. She only turned on the heat, and I could immediately feel it on my toes. “I wish you had been honest with me, Scott.”

She sounded hurt, but it felt like I’d known what to say to this for years. “I’m sorry, Kate. But I’ve been a little windswept here. In the last day or so, you’ve completely blown my entire world apart. It’s easy for other things to lose their importance, you know? It’s easy not to mention something.”

“Oh, like your fucking boyfriend?” she said, blowing the fuse I hoped I would never see ignited. “How does that particular piece of information become completely lost in the course of one day? Huh? Explain that one to me, please!”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Shawn is not my boyfriend.”

“Sure, he isn’t now,” she said. “Not after you stormed out on him today and did what we did last night and tonight and oh, my God, I can’t believe you. You son of a bitch!”

She was screaming, but neither of us moved from our seats. We both knew there was so much more to say, and both of us knew that something had to be resolved. Shawn was lying to more people than I thought.

“Okay, fine, here’s some truth,” I said. “I am not Shawn’s boyfriend. I never have been. This guy Mark is Shawn’s boyfriend. Yes, I’ve been seeing Shawn, and it’s been happening for quite a while now and I thought he and I were really close. But that’s the thing. It was all sort of in my head, you know? He was just fucking using me, and today when I went over to his place, I pretty much made him choose between Mark and me, and he picked Mark. Do you know why I did that?” 

She shook her head.

I said, “Last night, I got caught up in the moment in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. You made me feel like Shawn had never made me feel. And you know what that is? It’s the knowledge that there is nothing beyond the surface. You didn’t sleep with me for any alternate reasons, you know? I know exactly what last night was and I’m fine with that because it was honest. That’s why I went straight to Shawn’s. I wanted everything to be as honest as possible.”

She relaxed, allowing her body to rest on the seat. “Is that everything?” she asked. “Is this you being as honest as possible?”

“I’m being honest, but I’m not even close to giving it my all. You know, for a while I even thought I was in love with him. Not lately – I’d been doubting the entire situation for some time, but it is like you said, right? Even if you do see something bad coming, you still convince yourself so deeply that everything will end up exactly as you’ve pictured it, and you believe it. Then it hits you that the one you think you love doesn’t love you back, is really just using you for whatever he needs at the time, and when it comes down to choosing who he really wants to be with, it’s the easiest decision in the world.” I flopped back in the seat, unable to find the energy to look at her reaction.

“I’m floored,” she said. “I really am. There’s absolutely no way I could’ve known you were this fucked up.”

“Yeah, well, same to you.”

We both sat there for a minute, just breathing the hot air. I couldn’t see out of the windows. The fog was layered with more fog. If there were cops around, it was a miracle we weren’t busted for hot boxing or fucking.

Other than Shawn’s strange definition of our relationship, I really did think I had everything figured out. “I want you to say yes to something,” she said, calmly. “And I want you to say yes to it before you hear what it is.”

“Yes.” I didn’t know what I was doing, but her car was warm and this hadn’t ended up being an altogether horrible experience.

“And you can’t go back on it,” she sat up in her seat, “I mean, you could, but it would be really fucking lame of you.”

“Yes, I said.”

“I want you to stay with me for a week,” she said. It felt like an anticlimax. For a second I thought she’d want all of us to fuck or something in order to get it out of our systems.

“Of course,” I said. “That’s no problem.”

“And I don’t want you to see Shawn during that time.”

“I don’t want to see him again, ever,” I said.

“That’s very sweet, Scott,” she said, taking out her compact to apply some lipstick. “But we both know you will. Still, I think you can go a week.”

“It’s really no problem.”

“Actually,” she added. “I don’t want you to see anybody this week. I mean, go to work and do all the things you need to do. Just consider my home your home. Don’t go home. Don’t go to things you can cancel. Get out of your book club or whatever.”

“I’m not part of a book club,” I sneered. “What if I had a dog?”

“Do you have a dog?”

“I have a goldfish.”

She took a long breath and let it out. “I want you to let it die, Scott. I want your goldfish to die because you were too busy fucking me.”

I was never particularly high on the damn thing anyway. “It’s just a goldfish,” I said.

“So that’s a yes?” she asked.

“For the seventh time.”

Kate turned on the radio. More dance music. I kept agreeing with her, thinking how this was all going to work out. This would be the beginning of something I’d wanted longer than anything else. Somewhere, mostly in places where the idea of my spectrum rang loudest, I knew that in no uncertain terms I had allowed myself to be happy.

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No Chinook, Chapter 5

No Chinook is my first book, oriiginally published in 2008.

Read No Chinook on your ebook reader or cell phone:

 

I had learnt I’d been accepted to the University of Calgary almost a month before I told Carly. I’d have to move, and in that, I saw the collapse of our relationship. For not one moment did I understand why Carly was with me to begin with; I’d figured it was proximity luck. To put myself at any distance would challenge Carly to sacrifice something, and she was not the type to do so for other people. Anyways, she found the letter, stashed underneath some papers, and was the first to congratulate me. Carly knew it was the best thing that could ever happen to me, and there was no way that I should think of anything other than attending. She said not to worry about her. She said she’d be fine.

For the first hundred feet past Shawn’s front door, I thought he might be following me. I didn’t look back because I would feel weak, but after three blocks I couldn’t stop myself. Behind me was an empty sidewalk with lazy shovel marks.

It was after I started walking again that I began to cry. Eventually, I got on the LRT and broke down. The last time I’d done this, I promised myself it wouldn’t happen again, but I was never any good at New Years’ resolutions. I was pretty pathetic when it came down to it. There, in the spaces between thinking about how much of a bastard he was, I imagined all the times the magic had gone out of my life. There were so many momentous deflations, though I’d always attributed them to my spectrum. As long as I could punch a life experience into one end of the dial, I could fragment and control it. It happened for a reason, and things would even out. Even in my sad little state of bawling my eyes out on public transit, I knew that what had just happened made all the sense in the world.

I missed my stop and decided to keep going. I got off on 17th street and found a corner store. I had nothing to do at home but cry into a pillow, so I decided to go buy some cigarettes instead.

The place looked like it had been broken into three times in the last week, but then again most mom and pop places in Calgary looked like this since they’d stuck a 7-11 on every other corner.

“Can I get some cigarettes?” I sounded so fucking lame. It had been a while since I’d done this. I’d forgotten what kind I liked.

The small old woman across the counter just smiled like a grandmother who’d just caught her granddaughter stealing a dollar from her purse. I figured she’d inadvertently embarrass me by asking which brand I’d prefer, but instead she simply reached behind her and grabbed a small red and white pack labelled extra, extra light.

I gave her a ten, and she gave me my change and said “hank you” in the sweetest tone. Then I asked for a lighter, and she almost laughed.

“You’ve never done this before, have you?” she said. “And don’t say ‘it’s for a friend’, because I can tell it’s for you.”

“Yeah,” I said, “First time.” It was half true, anyway.

This old lady opened the pack, and put one in her mouth. “Do what I’m doing,” she said through her teeth. I grabbed one and held it in my lips. “Hold the lighter like this,” she said. “So that you don’t burn yourself.”

We both had tiny blue lighters and I imitated her as best as I could, but I dropped the smoke. It landed on the glass counter. I was glad there weren’t any junior high kids watching this.

“You’re really no good at this,” she said. “Maybe you should try quitting.”

“Nah,” I said, smirking for the first time since this morning with the muffins. “I’m being bullied at school and if I smoke, people will think I’m cool.”

“I’ve been there,” she said. She couldn’t have been less than sixty. “So just make sure you practice at home. And don’t let your parents catch you.”

After a second of wondering just how serious the other was, I thanked her and walked around to the side of the building. I leaned against the fake plastic siding, and re-lit the smoke I’d dropped at the store. For a moment, I looked at the end of the cigarette, trying to see some truth. I focused so hard on the small flicks of bright red because I thought I’d see some image of Shawn as he should be, or a glimpse into Kate’s mystery, or Carly being less of an uncontrollable fireball, or me being someday capable of getting through a situation without crying on the subway. I concentrated so hard on every hope I had and made a series of stupid wishes.

I thought about kids from school with scars on their forearms, and how stupid it seemed back then. I thought it was a cry for attention. Maybe it was, but I wished so much to be away from my thoughts that I pulled back my sleeve, turned the cigarette upside down, and cringed as the tip came into contact with the back of my bare forearm. I collapsed and sat against the store wall, wallowing in my self-inflicted pain. I was not made for this sort of abuse. The spot I had stabbed was a lesion of burned flesh, a stabbing reminder that I’d learned nothing.

The burn hurt longer than I thought it would, but it did the job. The only thing I could think of at the time was how empty I felt, how drained of power. I came to the conclusion that I really was weaker than most people. As I saw the last speck of red drop off the burn, I knew I had spent too long on one end of the spectrum, and it was time to cross over.

If I wallowed a little while longer, it might guarantee a level of happiness later that I might not otherwise achieve. Something had to happen to even all this out. I knew I couldn’t feel like this forever, because all misery had to be paid off. 

My phone rang. I thought it might be Shawn, but it wasn’t.

As soon as I answered and heard Kate’s voice, half the pain went away. But I wasn’t really sure at that point what took its place.

“I got off work early,” she began, sounding like she was walking down the same street whose wall I was backed up against.

“Where are you?” I asked. I almost asked ‘who is this,’ but I didn’t think she’d appreciate it.

“I’m just coming from work. I couldn’t wait to call you.”

After what happened today, it felt really good to hear that someone couldn’t wait to call me.

“Do you want me to meet you at your house?” I asked.

“No, I’ll pick you up. I’m driving,” she said, sounding great. “So the question is, where are you?”

“I’m on seventeenth,” I said. “Just outside of the LRT there.”

“That’s scarily close to where I’m at,” she said. “What are you doing there?”

“I missed my stop,” I said. “I was going to get back on, but you called.”

“Good thing I did,” she said. “I’ll be there in like, three seconds.”

She hung up. I wondered what to do with the smokes. I saw a guy coming toward me with a cigarette in his hand and I tried to give them to him, but he waved me off without even looking. A second guy did the same. They must have thought I was homeless. My hair was a wreck. My jacket was dirty. I threw the pack of smokes in the trash. I didn’t smoke, and maybe with Kate I would have no reason to use them for any other misguided purpose.

As soon as I hung up, the burn began to hurt again, so I tried to keep my mind on Kate and all the unanswered questions surrounding her. Kate pulled up and smiled as I got in. Then she kissed me and we drove off. She looked refreshed, whereas I could still feel all my new wounds. 

She didn’t immediately notice the raw circle on my forearm because I hid it from her.

“You want to go out somewhere? I know a few places,” she said. I didn’t know if that meant food, dancing, or something sinister.

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