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“Dave Is Dead” is the sequel to “The Sad and Improbable Story of Mousey Connexion.” George A. Walker is an award-winning wood engraver, illustrator, teacher and author. These engravings are from Images from the Neocerebellum (Porcupine’s Quill, 2007) and represent Walker’s dreams.
DAVE IS DEAD
“Dave is dead.” I was told after a long meal in a crowded restaurant. “He was hit by a car.” I had one arm in my winter coat. I let the other arm dangle. I’d always figured Dave would die in a pool of his own vomit. The blunt force of a Ford Taurus fender is no way for a rock star to die. Alone. At five in the morning.
THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS DAVE
Dave often wore a gas mask on stage, sometimes a tutu, occasionally flippers. For a man who’d once picked a shard of glass from his cheek while laughing, Dave sure could write a pretty melody, even if he was hell-bent on burying it beneath layers of distortion and noise. Perhaps that explains the need for the gas mask.
MEETING DAVE: THE IDEA OF ORDER AT A BAR CALLED THE COPACABANA
Given our mutual acquaintances, Dave and I were not unaware of each other’s existence. As such, I tried to avoid eye contact as he entered the bar, ducking down into the worn paperback I was reading. The book had a coffee stain shaped like Newfoundland on page 109 that grew steadily fainter through the 120s and finally disappeared on page 178, sinking into the Atlantic. “Fuck,” he said to me. “Wallace Stevens. You must be depressed.” I wasn’t sure if he was making fun of me. He sat down before I could think of anything to say.
DAVE IN LOVE
Dave talked a lot about the girl he loved back west. Her name was Mousey Connexion, and when they were in the same city they’d share lead vocals. Dave was tall and dark, and the broken nose and various facial lacerations—from assorted fights and moments of self-injurious clarity—gave his soft, boyish face a broken-down appeal. Mousey was small and fair and always looked as if she’d just rushed in from the rain. In the end, she died before Dave. Before all of us.
DAVE MAKES FRIENDS
Dave was unconcerned with being liked. In fact, he derived great pleasure from inducing disgust in others, particularly if it led to physical violence. We were sitting at the bar once, as the lights came up on the end of a long night. His jaw clenched and his back straightened, before it happened. He stood up from his barstool, put down his empty beer glass, turned and dove, arms flung out wide at his sides, across a table of khaki-wearing sports fans who’d just finished shots of Jägermeister. Everyone, even Dave, was a little surprised. Then they beat the shit out of us.
ON THE TOWN WITH DAVE
It was an ugly summer. And though friendship can describe many things, it was not exactly what we shared. There was a dingy bar down the hill populated largely by aging, alcoholic punks and unlucky Indians, both groups attracted by the unbeatable all-day, all-night 2-for-1 drink special. That, rather than friendship, is what Dave and I usually shared.
DAVE AND HIS MANY PALS
We were in the back room, about six of us, around a single table. There was no air conditioning, so the door to the fire escape was open. The breeze was a little too warm and got into places it shouldn’t have. I knew most of these men, but none very well. The conversation was a bleary concoction of lies, exaggerations, half-truths, fabrications, bluster and guff. Beneath most of it lay a need to confess and a desperation for absolution. But none of us were capable of either.
When most people, in the course of casual conversation, mention their “arch-enemy,” they are employing hyperbole to emphasize their dislike of an individual. Dave, however, really did have an arch-enemy, a splenetic film writer named Patrick, who, until Dave’s arrival from the west coast, was the resident hell-raising sloppy drunk. Though he was diligent about it and tried every night, it wasn’t long before Patrick realized he couldn’t compete with Dave’s casual genius for unpleasantness. And he hated him for it.
DAVE TAKES A PISS
Dave had gotten up from his seat—a repurposed diner chair with shiny purple upholstery—to take a piss; the rest of us were playing a little bottle-cap basketball with one of the coffee-can ashtrays when Patrick walked in. He was red-eyed and predatory, with a large tumbler of brown liquor in his left hand. He eyed the five of us, all the empty bottles on the table, the vacant seat. We went quiet, like cowboys in a movie. And then, making sure to bump into the table and spill half the beer, he sat down in Dave’s spot.
IN DEFENCE OF DAVE’S WARM CHAIR
“You could throw a chair in this bar and no one would fight,” Dave had once said to me in a plaintive tone, “everyone’s so goddamn conciliatory.” With this sentiment in mind, I met Patrick’s gaze—half drunk, half smug, half anxious, half everything—and said as coldly as I could, “That’s Dave's chair. You can’t sit there.” I was surprised at myself. Though I had no deep fear of violence, I wasn’t all that familiar with it. How bad could it be though? The guy was a film writer.
A NOTE ON MY OWN FAILURES
That was my summer of youthful ruin. Heartbreak, penury, sustained self-delusion, despair. But nothing permanent. As such I was really only a tourist in Dave’s fully developed universe of gnash, bludgeon, spit and blood. Alcohol was my way in, but I didn’t understand the language and sometimes had a hard time following along. Still, even though he didn’t have my friendship—in any way I understood the word—Dave had my loyalty. I repeated the words: “You can’t sit there.”
ERIC THE BARTENDER
Patrick stood up. I stood up. Men in various states of inebriation whistled and cooed as if we were two virgins making for the marriage bed. And then came a blur past my left shoulder: Eric the Bartender, a stocky, shaven-headed drummer who had the paws of his two Pomeranians tattooed on his forearms. Nobody fucked with Eric, even drunken Patrick. There would be no fight. Disappointed, I returned to my seat, swollen with adrenaline, Molson Canadian and codeine.
DAVE EATS GLASS
No one sitting around the table seemed to care about what had just happened. Dave returned to his seat, feigning ignorance of my defence of his chair’s honour. As the conversation turned to the grotesque and cautionary images found on cigarette packs, I heard a noise in the front room. Then, coming faster than any drunk should be able, Patrick rushed in, hate on his face, bottle in hand, followed closely by a cursing Eric the Bartender. Patrick smashed the bottle across Dave’s forehead before any of us could even stand. And as blood poured down his face, Dave began to laugh.
HERE COMES MOUSEY
Dave thanked me later for protecting his empty seat, though he seemed a little puzzled by the gesture. I hadn’t seen much of him lately. His beloved Mousey Connexion had finally come east; they were busy making music and, presumably, being in love. I went to see the two of them play a show. They were very good. Dave was very good. They were fucked up. They were angry. They were rock stars. As the old sentiment goes, they could’ve been somebody.
TROUBLE WITH MOUSEY
Dave drank a lot. Mousey did a lot of drugs. They were a volatile pair. One afternoon my friend Steve and I ran into Dave hunched over a bottle of beer, his left arm crooked in a ragged sling. Mousey had run out on him or he’d run Mousey out of the apartment—he wasn’t quite sure. We didn’t press for details. Each of us had another beer, making a little stack of our loose change on the bar. Then Dave did something that surprised us all: he invited me and Steve back to his apartment.
DAVE THE DRUGSTORE COWBOY
The sling was actually an old Vancouver Canucks T-shirt that had been cut with a paring knife, bend sinister up the front, on the occasion of Dave’s recent accident. In a botched attempt to shoplift some painkillers Dave had been chased from the pharmacy. He’d clambered over a fence and landed awkwardly, falling on his arm. There was a spot of blood between the elbow and the wrist. It hurt, he said. He asked if we had any painkillers.
HOLY SHIT. DAVE’S PLACE
The air was close. It didn’t quite stink, but it was heavy and still. Clothes lay strewn across the floor like Rebel soldiers on a Civil War battlefield, battered and grey, never to be used again. Dave’s uncle had been to town recently, and there was a half-bottle of Scotch on the coffee table to prove it. Dave brought out three drinking vessels: an actual glass, which he gave to Steve; the bottom half of a plastic pop bottle that had been jaggedly bisected with nail scissors, which was for me; and a chipped soup bowl, from which he awkwardly sipped his whiskey. I was touched that he entrusted me with the DIY highball. It was a gesture of intimacy.
We were all nervous, and it seemed like Dave was already regretting his impulsive invitation. At one point he had three cigarettes going at the same time. “Hey, do you guys want to see something?” We did. He extracted a videotape from beneath a pile of Taco Bell bags; the label, scratched and peeling, was illegible, save for the letters o, c and k. The tape hitched a bit as it slid into the machine and Dave leaned forward to knock it all the way in. The screen came to life, a headache of black and white geometries. “Fucking tracking.” Dave banged the set, turned a knob. An image appeared.
DAVE HAS A DAD
It was a middle-aged man on skates, holding a hockey stick. He looked like Dave. “That’s my dad,” said Dave, and laughed nervously. “He makes instructional hockey videos.” He laughed some more, so we joined in. I took a big sip of Scotch and nicked my lip on the serrated plastic. “My name is Howie, and I’m here to give you an inside look at the training strategies of professional hockey players so you, too, can play—and practice—like a real NHLer.” Jesus. Howie.
DAVE STOPS LAUGHING
Howie was captivating. We watched him skate, stretch and shoot, listened to him talk about face-offs and backchecking, wrist shots and the slot. We laughed at first, at his earnest red-cheeked pronouncements, at the awkward teenaged “everyplayers” he was coaching. Gradually, though, we grew quiet. Howie was clearly having more fun than any of us had had in years. He was warm, even a little bit funny. The awkward teenagers weren’t that awkward—they were having fun, too.
We hadn’t spoken, hadn’t laughed, in forty-five minutes—we just sat there drinking the Scotch until the bottle was empty. There was no alcohol left in the house. Steve and I rose from the creaky grey couch and said goodnight. Dave got to his feet in a stumbling lurch, grumbled something about being alone, and sat back down to watch Howie explain the two-man forecheck. When we got downstairs and out into the street, Steve and I took deep breaths of the late spring air. Very slowly, as I began the long walk home, it started to rain.
A DANCE WITH MOUSEY
After that, I didn’t see much of Dave. There was a misunderstanding one night, at a party, about Mousey. Even still, I think we’d told our best stories two or three times. We’d gotten to the end of each other, or at least to those parts of ourselves we’d been willing to share. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to Dave when I left the city, left the country. I saw him once in a checkout line, buying a can of pea soup. I think he saw me, but there wasn’t much point in saying hi, in having a conversation right there under the harsh fluorescent lights.
YEARS LATER, DAVE’S LAST NIGHT ON EARTH
There is snow in the streets, on the sidewalks. It is quiet, save for the judder and growl of the recently dispatched salt trucks. He is wearing black, as he does, with black boots. He has been drinking, as he does, but not to the end of bottle, as he used to. The plow has kicked an extra layer of snow up onto the sidewalk, so he walks along the half-cleared road, in the flattened tracks of the trucks and the taxis. There is a streetlight ahead that doesn’t work. He doesn’t notice; he is humming, a new melody, absently. He sets foot in the dark ring of light’s absence. Briefly, eternally, a bent black figure caught in the headlights. The humming stops. He becomes his admirers.