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ILLUSTRATIONS © TERRY PLUMMER ONE
No one knew what happened to Al except maybe Kay and me that night barelegged in darkness on the bank of the Fraser on the perimeter of Fort George Park even though I’d only been in town for a while and I didn’t really know him well I swear I saw his hand clenched in a fist in some shallow eddy or rib of the river weeds foxtails soft thick silt but the truth is I didn’t know shit about the cold white north the purple tint of the sky the mills why everybody drove a pickup truck the northern lights why even in August it never gets that dark up north compared to the sky in the Kootenay mountains my old home town but anyway back to Kay and my thighs were relatively large and incom- prehensible compared to Kay’s hard muscular calves it seemed her body was the antidote to a chaotic world something about the tightness of her shape the angular quality of her jaw the smallness of whatever space she chose to occupy red hair freckles and small green eyes she was a dangerous kind of friend who could run real fast and never cried it seemed the scent of lemons was rising off the river but it was just the Sunlight dish soap on our hands from dousing the fountain on the police station lawn a couple hours before smoking her stepdad’s weed twisted tight inside our report cards cause we didn’t have money for Zippos or a half sack of Kokanee or even cigarettes which is kind of funny in retrospect cause the stiff blue paper burned and we inhaled and exhaled and hard as we tried we weren’t really high or as bad- ass as we wanted to be and we always made honour roll anyway what a pathetic attempt at an act of rebellion this turned out to be Kay said the way she was always saying things in a transcendental adult way which got us to talking about Al you know asking questions not how he might have died but rather did he die at all and inhaled and exhaled and Kay didn’t cry.
A few years later and there was Kay and me twenty-one or twenty-two going on a hundred and three finally made it the hell out of Dodge in Kay’s little RX7 all the way to the Pacific Ocean me on my way to bulimia- ville cause I was gettin’ real used to lino and late night binges with Leno or Letterman I guess it doesn’t matter now the way we twirled alone in front of the big psychedelic projector screen in the wall at that techno bar two doors down from the Odeon on Yates Street we were Gold Card members cause we went like five out of seven days a week three-for-one Monday night highballs what was the name of that place oh Scandals yeah that’s right no prissy girls allowed or they’d probably get their asses kicked sometimes we were high on mescaline otherwise known as myth that our gorgeous French model slash roommate Majou from Montreal got us from time to time pronounced /majew/ but the /j/ is real soft like an engine humming between your thighs and his little French girlfriend Mélin pronounced /maylin/ the little bitch who couldn’t speak a word of English and Kay and I fuckin’ hated her cause one night we snuck into his room on hands and knees real quiet so as not to wake his warm soft lips and silky brown hair and long dark eyelashes god it makes me want to cum right now lying beside him one on each side touching his body all over letting our hands float just above the surface of his skin his naked chest his slightly opened mouth and I looked across the arc of his body like a desert in moonlight cause it just depends on your perspective things look different real close up and saw something briefly in her small green eyes something dark and vampirish like she either didn’t give a shit about anything in particular or she had it in her to consume the guy whole.
Why did Al go out jogging that late June evening the tender muscle of his hamstring burning was he driven by his dream of becoming the world’s fastest eighteen-year-old sprinter of becoming something larger than he was lean and strong and sexually charged he catapulted off the blocks oh man he was amazing sleek and dark the only black kid in town the only black kid I knew except Chris Franklin and his little brother something Franklin oh and Cher Kinamore from the Laurie Junior High School Tigerettes yeah she couldn’t dunk but man she sure could jump back in my hometown of hockey jocks and red-neckedness and beauty queens no shit Miss Canada nineteen eighty-four or was it nineteen eighty-five used to work at the Dairy Queen and the manager was so proud of her accomplishment he nailed her picture to the wall between the john and cash registers I’m pretty sure but if you don’t believe me the picture’s probably still there even though it’s been so many years things don’t change much in small east Kootenay hockey- jocked-dairy-queened-red-necked towns.
There was Kay and me going on a hundred and four I had gotten a couple of tattoos a butterfly one on my belly right here just above the button sort of angled upward in a kind of less than vertical ascent toward some unfathomable part of my body I can’t really see the armpit maybe or hollow place in the knot of my throat was working at a new café Majestic Eatery at the local shopping mall a step up in the world I guess I got to blast the stereo after the boss left crank up Sheryl Crow Tuesday Night Music Club No one said it would be easy but no one said it’d be this hard and not always but occasionally after I locked up I swiped a brownie or two and well you know how it goes the job was okay but sometimes when I was vacuuming underneath the chairs and tables trying to manoeuvre the piece of shit Hoover around the legs I worried maybe this is all there is I’m crazy if I think I’ll ever make a dime workin’ in this shit hole sometimes writing poetry and my fingertips were burned from lifting hot coffee cups out of the industrial dishwasher got strong wrists though it’s true what they say about waitresses having great upper body strength I thought one day while carrying about a dozen plates it must have been about a dozen cups across the room when the phone rang and my boss Brian said hey it’s for you sounds like someone’s crying and I thought oh shit who died but Kay’s voice bled across the line sort of high pitched freakin’ me out I’d never heard her sound like that before like her devastation was implicitly linked to mine something about the smallness of whatever space she chose to occupy if she couldn’t fit then how the hell could I and she cried I don’t know what to do I don’t know what to do oh shit I don’t— Okay I said now listen what’s going on? Shit, she said, I’m over three months along.
Maybe he grabbed his Air Nikes and yellow Sony Sports walkman and Run DMC tape and said fuck it I’m blowing this town even though he had everything going for him even though he was more popular than any of the NHL prodigies on the local Spruce Kings hockey team maybe he was sick of running for everyone else and he needed to run for once for himself maybe he headed north to Chetwynd the hub of the Peace River country past the wave pool and sulphur pelletizing plant or farther still to Hudson’s Hope the land of Dudley the Dinosaur to Fort St. John’s man-made Williston Lake and the W.A.C. Bennett Dam or northwest instead he’d heard of the Great River of the Tahltan people and stopped for coffee at the Riversong Café on the west bank of the Stikine River and at last decided to make a home in the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park a land so large you could hide England in it and the English would never find it or farther still he thought of Mr. Hatcher’s biology class third block just between math and metal shop something about a place called the Arctic Cordillera he’d always wanted to try his hand at ice climbing kind of like rock climbing but well I’m sure you get the idea the glaciers were said to come in many colours always shifting depending on the light green blue pink even it just depends on your perspective which side of the ice cap you wake up on so to speak and no matter which way you look everything is empty and white and everywhere you look is exactly the same but sometimes emptiness doesn’t mean nothing it means you’re ready for anything.
There was Kay and me gliding past Galiano going on a hundred and five on the Queen of Vancouver Island one of the shitty older vessels mind you when the captain came on the speaker and said everybody there’s a pod of killer whales off the starboard deck Kay was absently rubbing underneath her white Kurt Cobain t-shirt in slow erotic circles the slight almost imper- ceptible curve of her belly even though she was more than three months along she hadn’t been showing much she was never the kind of girl who would gain much weight being a one hundred and what ten pound waif you sure you want to do this I said it’s not too late to change your mind you had to go to the mainland to have abortions so far along to which she replied holy shit I swear I just felt it kick kind of excited like she was enthralled in the process even though tomorrow the baby oh sorry I mean fetus would be gone when the captain came on again this is a popular migratory route these whales pass through the strait every time this year and maybe I shouldn’t be such a bitch but I hated all those god damned tourists their camcorders and Old Navy sweatshirts gawking at those poor ill fated whales sucking in the petroleum from the ships not to mention all the whale watching tours on those bright orange Zodiacs shit she said hey feel this and placed my hand on the impercep- tible curve of her belly I realized just then I’d never touched a woman like that before I guess not even myself talk about existential angst all those nights we twirled beside each other on the psyche- delic dance floor and her skin was warm and thick there was something there I could feel it just beneath the surface of her skin something small and familiar like a kick or I mean a person can never be sure but it could have been a fist.
SEVEN Maybe he headed west to Vanderhoof the Dutch word for of the farm a small town sure he liked the idea of slowing down a little raising birds maybe on the Nechako river flats or did he follow the Stuart River to the ancient village of Chinlac a few miles east of marshland migrating Canada geese oh the north- ern lights still I don’t know what the guy would do for a living in a tiny town like that get a job as a ranger no a tourism officer in one of those little booths that sometimes have question marks on them you know big red question marks preceded on your way into town by smaller question marks inside those standard highway signs so full of hope and certainty aren’t they burgeoning like magic mushrooms from out of nowhere like the cairns you sometimes see a bunch of rocks piled up thoughtfully by an absentee artist of the highway they always say information this way those semi-omniscient signs yeah right like they know the answer to modern man’s existential dilemma the booth itself haphazardly placed on some corner so remote by the time you find it you’ve pretty much familiarized yourself with every nook and cranny of the town fire station gas station city hall whether or not there’s a McDonald’s you know the kind of thing that says it all I wonder what it would be like to find a town whose information booths were identified by semicolons instead that would seem to be a little closer to the truth don’t you think follow the semicolons after which you are sure to find a list of semi-related thoughts separated by commas or in the case of a grammatically correct sentence a subject followed by a verb.
EIGHT I guess I’d had enough one night or maybe I was in a bad mood I couldn’t stop thinking about that tiny fist and it seemed like Kay didn’t give a shit I walked up to the first guy I saw on the street and said hey man do you have a smoke and I swear to god he said sure hey do you wanna do some coke sure I said just like that it wasn’t even me I guess so we went down to the Inner Harbour he rolled up my sleeve for me and tied a rubber band around my arm right here just above the elbow and a little red bandana later I closed my eyes he said do you feel anything and I was like no I don’t feel a thing but then time became irrelevant again I looked across the moonlit harbour threw back my head oh yeah I feel it I said and a minute or an hour later I’m not sure which a police cruiser floated past I remember the blue and red pretty lights flashing and a man named Constable John got out said to the guy hey Leo what are you up to tonight and I thought cool they seem to know each other it felt kind of cozy even though I still had the rubber band tied around my arm right here just above the elbow and Constable John yelled Okay sit down right now against the wall and suddenly everything got real fast and bright as kryptonite or Luke Skywalker’s neon green light sabre Leo cuffed and taken away I was so upset about that like I’d known the guy for years like a great injustice was unfolding right before my eyes I started to cry hey what did he ever do to you why don’t you leave him the fuck alone and Constable John said okay it’s all right just settle down and held my hand I sobbed and slobbered all over his uniform coat sleeve crying I hate myself I hate myself but I love you Constable John just then an ambulance pulled up and that was kind of cool I guess I’d always secretly wanted to ride inside an ambulance haven’t you one of those masochistic incidental idio- syncrasies and the hospital smelled like formaldehyde like Mr. Hatcher’s biology class I thought of Al floating in the river and the fibrous grains of the cat’s muscle in that dissecting tray as the doctor slid his hand down my gown to the butterfly tattoo sort of contemp- tuously like I was a piece of garbage or something hit me when they finally let me go a few hours later my pulse had slowed I walked across the field of the hospital lawn picking up pine cones as I went along and the sun was rising above the Safeway sign the empty parking lot a shopping cart the stop sign at the corner of Foul Bay Road and Fort Street and I thought It’s okay it’s all right I’m blowing this town.