No Chinook Chapter 2
No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.
In the short amount of time I had after returning home from Shawn’s party, but before I finished writing my article, the phone interrupted everything. It was Shawn and he had news.
“Guess who gave me a call?” he said, playfully. I could see him lying upside down on his couch, wrapping the cord around his fingers, managing to also fill out a personality quiz in some pulp magazine. It was something I’d seen Veronica from the Archie comics do, and for some reason I associated her peronality with Shawn’s whenever I could.
“Was it Jesus?” I asked.
“You’re horrible,” he said, pausing for drama that didn’t need to be there. “It was Kate. She called me not long after you left. Apparently, something jogged her memory and she feels absolutely horrible about how she treated you last night.”
“It’s not that she was rude or anything.” She hadn’t been. She had been perfect.
“Well, whatever,” he said, eager to get his point across. “The point is, she’s sorry and wants to get together.”
“With you? I don’t think you’re her type.” I said, turning a possibly horrible situation into a joke so I wouldn’t freak the fuck out.
“Actually, she said she wanted to take me to Edmonton and turn me straight,” he said, trying his best to add value to my sad joke. “No, stupid. She wants to see you. Tonight, if it’s possible.”
“It’s possible,” I said.
“I know it is. You weren’t seeing me tonight, so I knew you’d be free.”
“I have other friends,” I said, half-lying.
“Well, I would certainly hope so,” he said, “I’d hate to be your only avenue of getting out of that hen’s den you call an apartment.”
“It’s called a henhouse. You’ve never been to a farm, have you?”
He snickered in his particular scheming way. “Anyways, be there at seven. I set it all up for you.”
“Where?” I asked. “At her place?”
“If you can remember where it is.”
“It’s just a few blocks from yours,” I said. “Do you want me to come by beforehand?”
“Sure,” he said, “I’d like to see you. Mark’s coming over a little after that, but the timing should work out just fine.” I could see him jotting all of this down in his planner. He was meticulous with his organization. It was why he was able to get away with all the things he did.
“Okay, I’ll be there,” I said, and hung up. She remembered and knew who I was, and this might be the worst possible thing to happen to me.
I had no idea what to wear. This was a stupid conundrum, but really, I had to think about it for a few minutes. I was seeing two very different people from very different lives. I’d have to wear something other than that jacket, but what?
Last night was perfect. I saw her, and there was no registration. That worked with the spectrum. She wasn’t supposed to remember who I was. The whole evening fit, right down to her slightly using me. And then this! Now she knows who I am? She remembers me as I was in high school? And worse, she wants to see me again? This could only lead to horrible things. She’s going to invite me to a party where everyone’s only purpose is to point and laugh.
I figured out that I would wear a plain brown t-shirt and jeans, not because it was easy, but because I’d been given a chance to make a new first-second impression. I’d wear nice shoes, though.
I also had to consider Shawn’s encouragement for this to take place. He had sensed that I had feelings for Kate last night as we lay in bed. Although he had little right to be jealous of anyone I was interested in, it seemed strange that he would aid in any romantic endeavour not including himself. Perhaps this was his way of showing that he was casual, and that until he sorted himself out with Mark I was just a proximity infatuation, or at best a future investment put on hold by an insecure situation. But perhaps he didn’t read into Kate as much as I did, and to be fair and honest I would need to put it all out on the table and make sure that he was okay with this happening, if anything at all were to happen.
I held both of my jackets up to the window, trying to breathe the outside air into this decision. She saw me last night in my leather jacket, but she was drunk, so I could wear it twice and, oh, hell, who am I kidding? I wear this damn thing everywhere.
I knew the fantasy of this entire situation was approaching ridiculous heights. Shawn knew of Kate’s boyfriend, knew she was currently off limits, and knew that I had no chance with those odds. He knew that Kate was no threat to whatever plans he might have for me. Surely he thought that he would break up with Mark, and hopefully soon, either by telling him the truth about me or because of some other circumstance that would prompt serious relationship discussions. Shawn had to have it in his head to set everything right, and this situation with Kate didn’t swerve his intentions from the desire to finally be with me. His casual behaviour towards her meant nothing, just as her sincere behaviour around me meant nothing.
I walked down to the subway, catching people’s eyes as they looked through me, trying to see if anyone was impressed with my choices. I expected and noticed nothing.
It occurred to me not too long ago that I thought about Shawn more than he thought about me, and that I put more effort into thinking about our situation than he did. Perhaps I did have a chance with Kate and this thing with Shawn would end up being only a fling with someone unavailable; maybe Kate and I were the real thing and were meant to be. Still, it was best to expect nothing more than an afternoon of humiliation and heartbreak. I would leave scarred, crying, and seeking comfort in sad pop songs while not answering my phone.
All afternoon, I rehearsed what to say to Shawn when I saw him, but when I knocked on his door and he hugged me and offered me a beer, I’d half forgotten my spiel. He’d cleaned up from the morning and was wearing a blue tshirt and that grey ball cap that drove me crazy. We clinked bottles and sat down on his couch; he reminded me about painting his place next week.
“How about Monday?” he asked. We both agreed that Monday was best.
“What colour?” I asked.
“I’m thinking fluorescent green.”
“Or perhaps a lovely shade of puce.”
“I think instead of painting it I’ll just put up a bunch of pictures of Tom Cruise.”
I said, “If you do, I’m not helping.”
“You don’t like the Cruise?”
“Didn’t I ever tell you? I’m always the third opinion on Tom Cruise.”
Shawn looked confused, as if he’d never seen this scenario take place.
“The Tom Cruise scenario goes like this,” I explained. “There are two girls talking about absolutely nothing. They’re anywhere, at any time. The conversation shifts slowly to movies and naturally movie hunks, and Tom Cruise comes up. The first girl says how much she just adores him, and the second girl agrees, although her descriptions of what she’d do to him are always slightly more perverse than the first girl’s, because girl number two is always hornier than girl number one. Then, another girl comes over and those first two ask her her thoughts on the matter. But in a shocking twist and in total rebellion to the clearly established preference, the third girl chokes on whatever she’s drinking and says ‘Are you kidding? Tom Cruise is such a fucking creep.’”
“You know,” he said, “I think I’ve been there before.”
“Everyone has,” I said. “And I’m guessing you’re the second girl.”
“You probably don’t want to hear what I’d do to that man,” he said, swigging his beer.
“So what did you mean by ‘her memory got jogged?’” I asked, regaining my footing and moving ahead to the truth about Kate.
Shawn didn’t know, however, or he knew and was holding back secrets. “She didn’t tell me,” he said. “She just said that it hit her sometime after you dropped her off. She said she felt horrible about not remembering, and wanted to make things right.”
“Things were right,” I said. “Everything was exactly as it should have been.”
Shawn gave me a look. It spelled out that he had no idea what I was talking about.
“She was a lot more popular than I was in high school,” I continued. “Actually, I wasn’t very popular at all. I only had a couple of friends, and none of them were qualified to be valedictorian, or even spend more than a few hours out in the sun. But you know that part. Kate didn’t notice me most of the time, you know? I saw her every day, and I’m sure that sometimes, she saw me too. Most of the time, there was this wall between us that I didn’t have the courage or nerve to break through, and eventually I forgot to try.”
“So what are you getting at?” he asked.
I said, “So last night, when she didn’t remember me, it made all the sense in the world. Who would remember someone they barely had any contact with?”
I guess at that point Shawn picked up on the subtleties in my vocabulary because he began questioning them. “What do you mean about the ‘barely?’”
“Huh?” I muttered, not terribly eager to get into the whole thing, but at the same time needing to know he was okay with any prospective scenario.
“You said ‘barely’ and ‘most of the time.’ You’re playing coy, Scotty boy. Did you two ever…?”
“No,” I interrupted. “I mean, I wanted to, but I was too afraid. Like I said, there was this barrier, this wall that I…”
“I know that one,” he said, brazen and clearly over whatever pitfall he’d encountered. “It’s that desire to go get something you completely fear, because it might screw up every belief you’ve ever had about anything.”
“Yeah, that’s sort of exactly it.”
The spectrum of popularity and happiness was a theory I scrambled together in high school as a way to get over the sense that the universe was terribly unfair. My idea was that the more beautiful or smart or popular someone was, the less happy they’d be. The uglier, dumber, and more lonely people were compromised by having an excessive amount of happiness. Even if they were depressed, they’d still be generally happier than that smart, pretty girl or boy you might come to be jealous of. To me, this levelled everything out. By judging people not just on their exterior features but also on their thoughts and feelings, everyone was measured against a ruler of equality.
“The reason I say ‘most of the time,’” I continued, “Was because there were a few moments in our last year that Kate and I shared. It almost ruined everything I had ever believed in. It almost ruined my spectrum.”
“What kind of moments?” he asked.
I should have had to stretch my imagination to fill in the hazy memories, but like anything to do with Kate, they were fresh and complete from too many painful nights spent awake thinking about how things always go wrong. “I was in a class with her, and that one particular day she was sitting right beside me. We were writing a test, and I finished early. I reached into my bag and got out my notebook where I wrote my ideas and poems and short stories and began jotting some things down. I was halfway through a story about an actor moonlighting as a boxer, and I was concentrating on his taxing relationship with his father. I was getting really into it, too. I’d probably written three pages in twenty minutes. Ideas were coming left and right. It was probably the most inspiring writing moment I’d experienced so far, but then she ruined it by saying hello.”
Shawn nodded, “I suppose it would be strange for someone who’d never spoken to you before to start all of a sudden.”
“And it sort of pissed me off in hindsight, because it would take me months to finish that damn story and I think I could have put it all down that afternoon if nobody had got in my way. At that moment though, all I could think was that Kate Foley acknowledged my presence and that there was no God. My idea of the world was in place, and my lowly position in it was set and I was happy to know where I stood in relation to everyone else. My philosophy put everyone on an equal footing, I found so much comfort in that. But Kate, man, for a time there she forced me to question the nature of the entire universe. After I said ‘hey’ back, she went one further and asked me what I was writing. I explained it to her, you know, in that way you’d tell someone the description of your job if you had a feeling that they just didn’t give a shit. I downplayed everything and made myself sound like I wasn’t doing anything important. I used to be kind of shy.”
“You’re still shy,” he said. “But that’s half of what makes you so cute.”
“What’s the other half?” I asked, deviating from my point.
“Well, that would be your fleeting attempts to make everything whole.”
I had to kiss him at that moment. That line was one of the things that made me forgive Shawn for being a cheating asshole. I was a sucker, and I knew it, but I couldn’t help myself. He always seemed to know just what to say.
When I stopped and smiled, he looked instantly worried.
“What is it?” I asked.
“So what’s going to happen tonight between you and her?” he asked, trying the role of bullet to the chest in a dark murder mystery.
I didn’t know what he meant. I thought back to my previous neurotic ideas about Kate, but couldn’t see how they applied to Shawn in any way.
“Remember what I asked you last night?” he reminded me. “I asked you if you liked her.”
“You didn’t ask, Shawn. You insinuated.”
“Was I wrong?” he asked. I couldn’t tell if he was hopeful.
I kissed him again, only this time he didn’t reciprocate. Shawn was nervous, maybe jealous, and I didn’t want him to feel that way about me. I wanted security and would say anything.
“There’s nostalgia there,” I went on, finding a valid point in my otherwise meandering bullshit. “Have you ever wanted to view parts of your life through the eyes of your old friends, or even just innocent spectators? I’ve always loved the idea of that. You get your eyes, sure, but what about everyone else’s? What do they see? Do I look different to them? Do I sound different? I’m a little curious, I guess, to know what she thought of the whole thing now that it’s all over.”
“The whole thing between you and her?” he asked, not sure what I meant.
“Sure, that,” I said, “but more than just that month when we were sort of friends. I want to know what she thought of our high school, and if she keeps in touch with her old friends. You know, things like that. I think it would give me a different outlook on what happened.”
“You mean between you and her?” he asked, now clearly being an ass.
“Stop it,” I said. “Nothing happened between you and her. I mean, her and me. Kate and me.”
“You promise?” he asked.
“What do I promise?” I had no idea what he was talking about. Shawn spoke more languages than I did. Every word he spoke was aimed at uncloaking whatever I was hiding. Sadly, Shawn knew everything there was to know about me and whatever I meant to conceal. I made myself completely open to him. More and more, I wished he would do the same.
“Just promise that you’re not trying to screw this up,” he said, his hand flirting with mine on the couch. I was surrounded by his sense of ideas and style, but I still held small things over him, if only because I was something he couldn’t resist.
“You’re the one with the boyfriend,” I said.
Shawn laughed and said, “You can be such a bitch sometimes.”
“You can match me,” I said, not letting win.
“You have to get going,” he said, mockingly tapping my watch.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to ruin your date.”
First Shawn feigned anger, then disgust, and finally pangs of guilt. Then he showed me the door. He knew I had the upper hand in any dirty tiffs we would have so long as I was the honest one and he wasn’t. He kept me away from Mark so that I would never get the chance to come forward. I didn’t see the point to this game, but knew that if I became too honest, I’d ruin my chances of being with him. I felt trapped and typical in the same way the lesser half in an undisclosed number of other relationships with dishonest origins had to have felt. Still, I was in his house and he could kick me out if he liked. His shift in attitude, from completely open to defensive and ready-to-attack, had forced me to alter my plans for him. If he was going to be jealous of some old crush I’d had, then I wasn’t going to stop him.
I said, just before leaving and without a kiss goodbye: “I honestly don’t know what to expect when I get there.”
It felt satisfying to be catty with Shawn. It was the first hint of something more between us than just easy attraction. We’d almost had a fight there, cut short by Shawn’s restraint. He had to realize it too. From what little he told me of their deal, Mark and Shawn fought incessantly, and I felt jealous of that particular aspect of their relationship the most. A fight always signified the presence of additional emotions at play. It represented our feelings for each other being strong enough to make it worthwhile to quarrel.
The same leather jacket Kate saw me in the night before kept me as warm as possible. Carly, my girlfriend from high school, called me “Linus” the winter we hooked up because of that thing, but it didn’t stop her from stealing it at every opportunity.
I don’t know what made me think of Carly as I headed down to Kate’s place. Perhaps it was the warmth in the wind. Carly loved this strange time of year. She thought of it as this beautiful little vacation in hell.
Kate’s townhouse was painted a wretched shade of rain-torn white and more vines sprouted around it than other houses in the area. It was about a quarter of the size of Shawn’s house. A yellow house was to the left and a pink house to the right. These colours were a strange characteristic of Calgarian suburbs that I’d never seen in the few other places I’d visited. It was like this in most places here. The houses surrounding Shawn’s, however, were the same tan colour as his. I didn’t notice this last night, but she had a small dead garden, tucked away on the left side of her door, with plant markers in the hard dirt probably appearing there by accident. I knocked on the door, and at that moment a bird flew down to the garden and stayed there with its little head tilted to the side, trying to fight the beginning gust of wind.
Kate opened the door and smiled, but looked exhausted. “Scott,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I must have come off as the biggest bitch in the whole world last night.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “And you were fine.”
“I’m sure I wasn’t, but whatever. Come in.” She took my coat and led me through. Her place was nicer than I’d imagined. She was such a jock in high school that I would have assumed hardwood flooring, but instead there was beige carpeting. On the walls I expected beer mirrors, but several framed paintings and old photographs hung sporadically along the hallway. She led me to her living room and we sat on her aged-green sofa. Perhaps it was her parents’ or a garage-sale bargain. It smelled old, and it didn’t fit with the rest of the place. The coffee table looked much newer; but even it was dusty. It was obvious that somebody in here had serious money.
“I’ve been cleaning all day,” she told me, “but this place is so huge that it takes a weekend. I haven’t even begun the upstairs yet.”
“I can see that,” I said. “This is the upstairs, then?”
“I know,” she said, feigning defeat. “I’m horrible at the domestic thing. If all of us didn’t rotate on the cleaning, and if it was all up to me, we’d be living under a growing mountain of garbage. You remember that Simpsons episode where…” she stopped, and placed her hands on her hips, as if examining me again for the first time.
“What?” I asked.
“You really put yourself together,” she said, looking me over. I felt immediately intimidated, but she went on. “I mean, I looked at your yearbook photo today, and I have to say that you have come a long way. I mean, I didn’t remember you last night, but afterwards, when it hit me that I’d been talking like an ass to someone too polite to let me have it, I had to see you again. I had to make sure it was you.”
“Is this why you invited me? To check me out?”
“Sort of,” she said, but then broke into that laughter she had.
I went with it. “So, how many goats am I worth?”
She put her finger to her lips and gave me a more thorough up and down. “You look taller than before, but maybe you’re just not hunching. I like your hair more now that you look like you’re seeing a barber. Your clothes are definitely more fashionable, even if you’re still wearing that same jacket. I’d go with twenty.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Daddy says if I can’t net thirty goats I have to join the convent.”
“Damn,” she said, “And just when I was thinking I could score some free labour.”
“Well, you could certainly use some,” I said, wiping my finger across the table to pick up the dust. As I pushed through, I hit a a stack of books. I recognized the one on top immediately.
“So you have been looking through the yearbook,” I said.
“There’s this one picture of you in there, where you’re standing alone against some lockers, looking away. That’s the shot that did it for me, when I knew that it was you I’d talked to last night.”
I flipped to the picture, about halfway through. My right hand was clutching my left elbow, and I stared pitifully at something off in the distance. Wesley had taken it. She was the yearbook editor, so she would always be around trying to snapshot group photos with everyone smiling, everyone loving high school so much. Sometimes, though, she’d find people alone and shoot them differently. My picture showed longing, she told me afterwards, but she never explained what she meant. I didn’t long for anything then. At that time, all I really cared about was smoking.
“You just happened to be looking through your yearbook and recognized me?”
She sat a little closer and looked at my picture. “Okay, little confession. Ray remembered you. I came in last night, and he was home already.”
“Ray’s the boyfriend?” I asked.
“Yeah. We had a fight last night, because he bailed and went home without saying goodbye. He didn’t even give a good excuse, you know? It was really rude and put me in this awful mood all night. During the fight, though, I mentioned you, because you were there to take me home when he wasn’t, and out of nowhere he blurts out ‘that punk from high school?’ Can you believe that?”
“Wait,” I said, “Ray went to school with us, too?”
“Ray Salinger,” she said, and then we mouthed, “Captain of the football team” together, both sarcastic. Of course she was dating Ray. Everything about that made sense.
“Anyways,” she continued. “After he went to bed I rummaged through my old boxes and found our graduating yearbook, there we were, wearing bad clothes and looking all cheery. I mean, everyone except you. You just looked like you wanted to get out of there.” She looked up at me. “Kind of like you do now. Is something wrong?”
I thought I might start crying. I wanted to be home and holding on to something soft and warm and inanimate. “Nothing,” I said, “This is just coming as sort of a shock, you know?”
“What, someone from high school remembering who you are? It was only a few years ago.”
“I suppose it’s good,” I said, retracting my point. I didn’t want to insult her by telling her about just how right it was that she didn’t remember me the night before. “I’m sorry,” I said, “Can I use your washroom for a second?”
She pointed me down the hall and I shut the door, sat on the can and held my face in my hands. This should have been nostalgic and nice, but instead it was terrifying. Suddenly, I was glad to have known Kate for only a few scattered hours in high school. If she had ever invited me to her house or out on a date, it would have been so much worse.
“Sorry,” I said, returning after a minute, “Asthma, I think.”
“That’s right, you had asthma,” she said. “See? It’s all slowly coming back.”
While in the bathroom, I figured I could handle this situation in two ways. I could act as if I was still interested in Kate Foley, still woozy when thinking about how beyond me she was, or I could treat this as an occurrence outside of my reality. It didn’t take long to figure out which option to choose. My life revolved around Shawn/was directed by Shawn. Kate was someone I once fell for in impossible conditions, but she was now someone with the insight to perhaps let me in on some things I’d done wrong. The situation was not really so much bigger than I felt I could handle; I didn’t need a panic attack. I looked at my face in the mirror, and watched my eyes scanning the reflection. And then I went back.
“What was high school like for you?” I asked, “You know, now that it’s all over and you can look back at all of it.”
She closed the yearbook and got up from the couch. “Come with me,” she said. She stepped into her brown winter boots and threw on a coat. She was much faster than I was. I left with my shoes untied.
Down the street was this tiny convenience store selling dirty magazines and chewing gum. She asked, “Do you remember those old Fizz candies?”
“Yeah, I loved those.”
“Me too, they were my favourite.” She knelt down by the candy wall and picked up a string of them. “Remember when you were ten and they used to stick in your teeth and it would take half the afternoon to suck them clean? I loved doing that so much.”
She bought the string. It cost a quarter, which seemed to be about the exact same amount I paid for them as a kid. We left the store and she handed me the string after popping one herself.
“See, the sucking part is the same as I remember,” she said, exaggerating the whole process more so than any commercial actress. “And when it breaks and all the fizz comes out, that’s still really cool.”
I popped the candy in my mouth and chomped down immediately in order to catch up with Kate.
“But then, when all the liquid is gone and all there is left are the tiny little rock parts, they get stuck in your teeth.”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling something surely not intended by whatever factory produced this stuff. “Jesus, that’s annoying.”
“I know!” she said, excited to share her annoyance. “You can’t get it out of your teeth right away. It’ll still take all day, and now that we’re older, it’s so fucking awful. How did we ever like this feeling, right?”
I thought for a second about prying two fingers into my molars and scratching at the stuck debris, but that that would be way too gross for Kate to watch.
“This,” she said, opening her mouth wide to sell the effect, “Is how I feel about high school.
“See, I’m surprised,” I said. “From where I stood, you were having a great time. You were always laughing or gossiping, always focused on whatever it was you were doing at that moment.”
“Well, sure,” she said, tossing the wrapper into the trash. “While I was there, it was my whole world. I did everything I could do. But you didn’t ask me if I liked high school while I was in high school. Opinions change. I mean, look at you. You probably hated the whole institution, but now you’re curious about it, wondering if I had just as awful a time as you did. That would be a nice picture, right? Acting happy but really decomposing inside? I liked it while I was there, but what else do you do? I didn’t want to spend four years wishing I was somewhere else. I mean, I’m sure you regret doing that, right?”
“I’m not sure my opinion has changed all that much,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “at least one of us is full of surprises.”
“This shit is still really annoying. Is there nothing we can do to get it out?”
Kate smiled. “There’s only one way,” she said. “We have to get really drunk.”
This made absolutely no sense to me. I said, “I’m never going to get your way of thinking, am I?”
“Just shut up, will you?” Kate took hold of my hand and didn’t let go for a few minutes. I was surprised until I realized that this is what she’d done with her girlfriends. Still, this was only the second time we’d ever touched.
The first time, she hugged me in the hallway of our high school, beside my locker. I’d stopped her to wish her a happy birthday. She smiled, but there was more to her smile than just appreciation. It felt like disclosed information. Other than that first time she’d talked to me, every other meeting had been semi-private. On her birthday, she looked around quickly, and I later assumed she must have been checking to see if any of her friends had seen her with me. This cloaked me in shameful self–consciousness which would take years to shed. After she’d looked around, I grabbed my backpack from the floor and took out the story I’d been writing; the one she had interrupted. It was done, and at the time I thought I’d finished it because of her. It was signed ‘For Kate’ on the front cover of all the loose-leaf. It had cost six dollars to do the binding at Kinko’s, but it was always about the thought, anyway. She read the signature and smiled a little longer than she was used to, and then hugged me. I remembered everything about it. Kate didn’t throw herself at me like some girls did when they hugged boys. She took a step forward, placed her arms around my shoulders slowly, and held me really tight. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept my hands at my sides. I tried to hug back, but before I could completely do it, she was finished. “Thank you for this,” she said. I don’t know if she ever read it, but I hope she didn’t.
She let go of my hand after a moment, and then we walked three blocks in a direction Shawn had never taken.
“The thing is,” she said, trying to sound like she’d been talking about her life this whole time, when really for the last three blocks we agreed that at some point in time we should trick Shawn into chewing some Fizz. “I wanted to ask you the same thing. I mean, I haven’t really talked to anyone I went to high school with but Ray in almost a year, and even then it was just at parties and when I ran into them at the pet store.”
“All your friends work at a pet store?”
“Just Rachel,” she said. I didn’t recall Rachel. “But there is that curiosity you get, right? When you experience all the same things with a bunch of people, you have to know how everyone else felt?”
“Like when we got math tests back and, even if we didn’t know the person next to us, we’d ask what they got, right?”
“Yeah,” she said, “Same thing, just on a bigger level. Man, all of a sudden you’ve got me wondering if everyone hated it as much as you did.”
“In general, I’ve found that nobody admits to liking high school after the fact,” I said. “It’s like a social standard, like pretending that we care about movie stars. I mean, unless they’re the ones planning the reunion, I can’t imagine a single person who lives in that kind of past.”
She asked, “Celebrities are planning our reunion?”
“No, I’m not sure who’ll be doing it, but they’ve got to be .” And then, quickly, “You’re not planning the reunion, are you?”
She said, trying her best to pose like a pirate, “I was thinking about buying a parrot and an eye patch and telling everyone I spent every year since graduation thieving the high seas.”
“Only if it doesn’t get in the way of me convincing everyone that this is, in fact,” I paused, thinking of a way to play along. I shaped my hands into a gun and pointed at her freckles, “A stickup.”
And right then she laughed like someone who’d just fallen head over heels, which was the way she’d always laughed. I remembered that about her best, and I loved that bit of her. I’ve found that not every girl can fall down laughing at some stupid joke and make it sexy. Kate’s laugh never wavered. She must have spent thirty years in some past life as a lounge singer. She had it down.
“Come on,” she said, “My favourite place in the world to get completely fucked up is right over here.
The bar was a converted corner-house. As we came up to it, I noticed the forgotten backyard, and the white plaster adorning the side. It had one of those flat roofs, and two unassuming doors at the top of a few steps. It was called “Pete’s,” possibly the most harmless name a place like this could have. Inside, the bar was littered with foreign beer posters and TSN on the TV above the booze. She’d taken me to a sports bar. It’s not that I hated them, but I never liked to surround myself with a male crowd dedicated to spending every Friday night indulging a passion towards sport scores. The Hip were playing, and as soon as we entered, Kate shook her fist in the air and yelled ’Thirty eight years old, never kissed a girl!” The bartender gave her a wave. The few people over in the corner paid no attention to her.
“My dad made me listen to these guys for ten years straight,” she said, sitting down in a booth and talking with her hands as if she were explaining some great war. “Whenever we’d get into his Thunderbird, they’d be cranked the whole way. He always told me that each piece of music is written for a certain place, a certain time, and a certain person. He said The Hip wrote their songs for when he and I were in the car going one-forty down the highway.” She saw the bartender coming around and hollered, “Two Kokanee’s, please.”
About a minute later she asked, “You like Kokanee, right?”
“Sure,” I said. “Whatever’s good.”
“So what do you do?” she asked. I could have sworn she’d asked that same question the night before.
“I write a column for a weather magazine,” I said.
“Is that fun for you?” she asked. I didn’t know if she heard me, or if any answer I gave would have been reciprocated. She always had a gun loaded up with responses before I even had a chance to speak.
“It gets me by. It’s interesting doing it in Calgary, because the weather is kind of insane here. I’m also working on a novel.” This was half true. I’d been working on a novel for about two years. It was nowhere near done and I had no intention of finishing it anytime soon.
“So you actually ended up being a writer? That’s fucking crazy.” Our beer arrived and she clinked hers with mine. “Congratulations. That’s great.”
“Thank you,” I said. She was right. The beer helped with the shit stuck in my teeth. “It’s hardly earning me Pulitzers. I’m a total nobody right now.”
“Nobody is anybody at first, right? What are you working on now?” she asked.
“I’ve got an interview with some guy who tracks tornados in two weeks.”
“That’s kind of cool. Like that movie…”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’ll come up at some point.”
“So you think it’ll be a fun interview?”
“Um, I don’t know. I guess. I mean, it’ll be as fun as you’d figure talking to a guy about the language of tornados would be.”
“The language of tornadoes?” she said, mocking me.
“Yeah,” I shrugged it off. “The language of tornadoes. It’s this book he published. That’s why we’re interviewing him. I read it, and it was kind of philosophical. The idea was that everything’s got a language if you get deep enough into it.”
“Huh. Interesting,” she said, likely regretting having gone down this road in the first place.
“Yeah, it’s like when two totally different civilizations come across one another, like the Indians and the Europeans. They couldn’t understand anything of what the other was saying, but there were some simple actions each understood, denoting universally shared ideas or vocabulary, you know: hunger, food, bed, water, women, king, queen, love, gold. They’d take that and eventually go deeper, and that’s when they’d kidnap a tribe member and teach him English or French or Spanish, take him back and figure the rest of the stuff out.”
“So this book he wrote is like his version of the kidnapped little indian?”
“I guess so,” I said, realizing how ridiculous that sounded. “Still, I guess it’s better than telemarketing or standing outside a flower shop in a bear costume.”
“I think you’d definitely look cute in a bear costume,” she said. I couldn’t begin to fathom what she meant by that.
“Anyways,” I said. “It pays the cable bill, though I don’t ever seem to watch TV.”
“You’re not missing anything on TV,” she said. “My mother is addicted to all those reality shows. I swear — that’s half the reason I moved out.”
“The other half was Ray?” I asked, finally getting to the issue foremost on my mind. I wasn’t here to tell her stories about my life. I wanted to dig through hers.
“It was his idea, he’ll always say. But I totally used him to get out of there. It’s the whole ideal of stability. But lately, I don’t know; I’m not comfortable talking about it, really.”
“Well, what do you do?” I steered the conversation off Ray, finding more comfortable ground. I was doing my best not to piss her off now that we were enjoying a fun conversation settled in the comfortable present. “I’m assuming you don’t interpret foreign languages or work in telemarketing.”
“Nope,” she said, as if I’d offered her gum.
“Nope what?” I asked.
“I’m not telling you what I do,” she said.
“Because I can’t tell you,” she said. “It’s just something that people have to accept about me.” She quickly added, “It’s nothing lewd. I’m not a prostitute or a loan shark. It’s legal and some people have no problem with it, but it’s just something I can’t get into, all right?”
I knew I wanted to say something in the vein of “that’s ridiculous” or accuse her of working at Wal-Mart, but she told me I had to accept this about her. If there was something to accept, it meant I had to accept her, and this offered more than a good chance that she wanted to see me again. “Sure,” I said, “If it means that much to you.”
“Good, I’m glad you understand that secrets are important.”
“What happened to honesty being the best policy?” I asked.
Kate leaned in and said something so very characteristic to herself, “Clichés are only true because everyone believes in them.”
Afterwards, when she was home and I was walking the streets alone at one in the morning, I felt like sprinting down the middle of the road. She had a boyfriend and I practically did as well, but we were both in strange situations; I was pretty much in love, and this fuelled a run all the way to the C-train. I jumped every third stair and when I got to the top and grabbed my ticket, the train came, wind hitting me hard. I was almost knocked over, but I kept my footing.
On the LRT, the girl across from me had her headphones on and the music was cranked loud enough for half the car to hear. It was just Kate and me; every beat was clear. It was a pop song that was big when I was in junior high. I remembered it from my first dance, when I kissed Jordan, my first crush, in front of everybody. Instead of thinking about how wet that kiss was, I remembered about a point earlier tonight when Kate told me that music was made for people in specific times and places. I was simultaneously flushed with nostalgia while yearning to be part of the future in which Kate seemed to exist.