No Chinook Chapter 5
No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.
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.