Michael, Chapter 13

rain

~~

Cascades of warm rain washed atop the fortifications of Surrey Memorial Hospital windows, as lugubrious health care professionals dutifully fought through the storm, sheltered from the downpour but not from hard circumstance. Lethal winds had disabled Surrey’s power grid, and the hospital switched to auxiliary. With the city in blackout, the city’s IV drug population had witnessed a sudden carfentanyl outbreak. Overdoses happened at record levels, and the media and police had set up camp on the hospital grounds to further antagonize an already destabilized workforce.

On the sixth floor, an anaerobically fit and dopey eyed custodian hypnotically swirled the head of her mop, listening to earbuds. Day dreaming, and focusing on the task at hand, she accidentally yanked her Apple earbuds from her skull, and overheard the conversation of two white coats from the psychiatric unit.

“Princess snowflake checks out. Mom gave us an earful. Hasn’t seen her flesh and blood in years.”

“I won’t even give her an Ativan anymore. But mark my words, three months, tops, she’ll come back. Back to hotel unit six.”

One sunken face winked and nudged the other; the second doctor turned back, grimacing, then with his colleague edged ever further down the hall, looking over his shoulder like a crack dealer.

~

On the ground floor, which had recently been renovated and painted green and red like some banana republic flag, Emily idled by the glass wall of the atrium, tearing at her wrist bracelet with what remained of her savagely chewed nails.

A glance in the mirror set her neurotic self-laceration in motion, and she swore at the reflection. Her unwashed hair draped over her flushed face, as her puffy eyes palpitated and twitched. She lingered close to a low traffic exit, where to her right an East Indian barista meditated over his morning duties, wiping his already pristine coffee shop with manic focus. Hoping for a distraction, she scanned the menu. A spasm in her chest eliminated the suggestion that she needed coffee just then.

 

As Emily stepped towards the exit, headlights flooded the curb beneath the sleet and rain. She recognized the vehicle’s distinctive driving style. Her mom was as non-linear a thinker as Emily, and had boorishly pulled into a “no stopping,” tow away zone at a bizarre, impractical angle, then innocently scanned the vicinity for her daughter, oblivious to the burly security guards descending on her vehicle, carrying flashlights.

 

Holding the US Magazine she had snagged from the waiting room over her head like an umbrella, because of the sleet more than the rain (all Vancouver locals are immune to rain), the estranged daughter yelled at the security guards while running through the downpour. They backed away, allowing Emily to collapse into the passenger seat. Madeleine greeted her daughter, “You’re shivering.”

The door slammed and the guards staggered out of the way as the Jetta sped off. Madeleine’s typically rapid-fire eye movements shifted from the road ahead, to Emily’s face, then back to the flooding road, several times a second, as she breathlessly piloted her rusting Jetta through the tempest.

The inclement weather brought out the worst in other drivers and the traffic was bedlam. A tail gating Mercedes almost forced Madeleine out of her lane. Recovering her composure, she turned to the scruffy deviant in the passenger seat. “I don’t suppose you want to tell me what happened.”

The daughter laughed imperiously. “Mom can you not be a total bitch right now?”

“Emily, I LEFT WORK TO come get you from the hospital, in this freak storm. We haven’t spoken in two years. You won’t let me know where you are, and why? Was I such a bad mother? Oh. I’m sure you have your reasons?”

“I was assaulted, okay! I was drugged!”

Madeleine flipped her turn signal, sped around a lagging Oldsmobile, then jerked the steering wheel hard enough to impressively slide across a puddle into the unoccupied stretches of a used car lot, then braked hard, stopping the car so fast Emily bit her tongue. “Mom!”

“Em, Are you okay? Did you go to the police?” her tired eyes showed complete deference, all of the sudden.

Emily snorted, seething up towards the sullen clouds.

“No. Because there was no medical evidence and I don’t remember anything. It’s fuzzy.”

“What do you mean? How do you know, then…”
Emily leaned into her seatbelt, watching rain. “Well. Someone drugged me.”

“Drugged?” Madeleine echoed, twirling her hair, considering her words.

“They must have slipped something in a drink … Or maybe a joint.”

“Oh so you were doing drugs?”

“Mom! I wasn’t doing … GHB or roofies or whatever this person gave me.”

The aggrieved and fatigued mother folded her sleeves and rolled down the window, then put her hand out into the cool rain and closed her eyes to think. Emily looked across the street and asked if they could stop at a convenience store.

“Oh you’re still smoking? Whatever happened to quitting before you finish college?”
“I never finished. I dropped out.”

“Oh. So. No need to quit then.”
“Mom I fucking DON’T NEED THIS-” Emily lost her voice in a spasm of coughing.
“No. I’m sorry. I know this is not what you need,” Madeleine droned, twirling her short hair.

The estranged mother backed out of the dealership lot, sped up onto the freeway, then after a pregnant pause, hit the turn signal and merged with traffic. She asked Emily to describe what she remembered.

“Just let me get my smokes first. I’ll smoke outside.”
“Of course,” Madeleine acquiesced, slowing at an exit. The Jetta parked at a Chevron.

Emily bought her cigarettes from a mixed-race man with combed, neatly parted hair. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Jian Ghomeshi, making her shudder. She got back in the car and tried to explain to her hapless mother the events leading to the incident. Details to do with Michael were omitted. Madeleine prodded and pressed but Emily couldn’t produce a believable explanation without this aspect and eventually she just stopped trying to make any sense. Exasperated, the mother threw up her hands, perplexed by Emily’s obstinate stonewalling.

“I need another smoke. I was in there for three days,” Emily bit her lower lip, as her mom patiently sat in the car, shaking her head. Standing by a railing the daughter lit a second Benson and Hedges.

“Don’t know if your dad told you,” Madeleine segued, “Lewis, John and Carolyn’s oldest son. Killed himself, overdose.”

“Serves them right.”

The mom scoffed, stunned, bearing the whites of her eyes. “Why would you say that!?!”

After taking another drag, Emily dropped her smirk. “I’m sorry. That was insensitive.”

“It’s just… Too much, too much for one family. After losing their younger son… Both of their sons, now.”

“Just shows you money can’t buy happiness, I guess. 4000 square feet in West Van and a garage full of Lambos and Ferraris, and two sons dead by suicide.”

Madeleine choked and sucked back snot, as Emily took lightning inhales from her smoke under the silver rain, looking thoughtful and pensive.

With an agonized expression, the mother called to the daughter through the rain, “Will you give me a call? Where are you staying right now?”

Emily shuddered, and became alert. Thinking on her feet she gave her mom directions to her old apartment, neglecting to mention that she’d been evicted.

They hugged as Madeleine whimpered and swallowed tears. Emily shook off her feelings of guilt and stepped away from the Jetta to breezily enter the apartment foyer, acting like she owned the place. Dripping rain, with no immediate destination, she hung around the lobby, and tried to connect to the wifi. Her data had long ago exceeded its limit. The loitering girl then went to the bathroom to fix her hair before switching over to Facebook messenger and sent an emoticon laced text to sometimes contact and unfortunate hookup Tobias, whose modest suite was on the fourth floor.
~

Exiled to his posh West Vancouver abode, in a house purchased at 10 million dollars, Jordan sat listless at his desktop gazing at the blinking cursor, as blood curdling wails flooded his bedroom from the dining room below. He tried to drown the piercing cries by blaring Andre 3000 over his computer speakers, while with divided concentration he skimmed his chemistry text, hopelessly guessing at the answers. The doorbell rang.

Jordan descended the elegant spiral stairs. He cracked the great door, and beneath the warm glow of chandelier light received his guest Andrew, along with a uniformed Vancouver police escort in a tactical vest.

“Do you both have to be here?” Jordan asked, raising an eyebrow at the cop.

The officer removed his Oakley sunglasses, and with a diffident expression, folded and abruptly agreed to “a few minutes of privacy.”
As the officer returned to his squad car, Andrew looked confused. “Is he supposed to do that?”
Jordan shrugged. “Did you bring my reading list?”

“Course. Mrs. Thompson assigned Walden.”
“Thoreau?”
“My condolences.”
“I’m not going to read it. Seriously, have you fucking looked at that thing?”

A high pitched scream from down the hall prompted Jordan to slam on the wall and yell for his sister to shut the fuck up. Then he turned to Andrew, and relaxed.
“I don’t know if you’ve met Denise. She has Down syndrome so she’s a fucking handful.”
Andrew nodded, “Oh, no but I remember you telling me about her.”
“It sucks man. Anyway, I’ve been wondering if anyone at school has been saying anything about this whole thing. You know, Tom and I. I haven’t been in touch you know.”

Andrew looked out the window at the police officer, who looked like a pug. The bald head stared back at him with an expression that said, “I’m watching you.”
“No one’s said anything really,” Andrew answered, “… I think everyone’s really shocked.”
Jordan considered this. Then he said, “Stephen hasn’t said anything?”
Andrew raised his eyebrows. “… No. What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Nothing. How is Stephen?”
“… Uh … Good? I think he’s doing well.”
“Yeah. He with Rebecca now?”
“As far as I know … They aren’t really together though.”

Jordan suppressed a laugh and stretched his pockets. “No. No, I know they’re not. It’s probably hard to be with someone like Stephen.”
“What do you mean?”
Andrew did not understand the disbelief on his quarantined classmate’s face.

“What?”

“I mean haven’t you ever noticed certain things just aren’t as they should be. When he goes off on say, his views about women.”

Denise opened the basement door. Jordan shifted his gaze to the street.
“Well anyway. Thanks for stopping in. The cop’s giving me a weird look.”

Andrew squinted to see the police officer and turned to Jordan to concur.
The classmates separated and while stepping out the front door Andrew turned back to Jordan to muse, “Do you think they treat us differently than people who don’t have any money?”
Jordan waved this off, “No, but they should.”
Andrew stepped in to his Mercedes and turned on the ignition then pulled out of the driveway and followed the police escort back towards the city.

~~

Gymnastic toned Rebecca performed a Bhujangasana pose on the soccer field, savoring the last moments of shade as the new sun peaked through cloud cover that had hung like alien space crafts over Meadow Ridge for three days. The ambitious student had started her school day two hours early to do yoga and prepare her presentation about the class trip to New Zealand from earlier in the year. “Kia Ora!”

Adorning herself in the trappings of her adopted culture, Rebecca wore her hair in a traditional Maori topknot. Her headdress included elegant, red streaming feathers. Bare foot on Meadow Ridge’s freshly mowed lawn Rebecca set down a mug of Blueberry Merlot organic tea, as the first vehicles of the morning started to appear in the parking lot. She picked up the beverage, sipped it with an appreciative murmur, and rolled up her yoga mat.
“Does Stephen do yoga at all?” Nicole, Rebecca’s classmate and yoga partner, asked while following her to the school entrance.
“You’re kidding. It’s for ‘fags’.”
Nicole made her face say, “whoa.”
“Did he really say that?”
“Yes. I’m trying to stamp those attitudes out of him.”
“So low class.”
“Oh I know. It’s probably because his family is poor.”

Nicole checked her skin colored lipstick. “I thought Michael was a lawyer?”
“An alcoholic lawyer. They live in a bungalow, in Surrey, remember.”
“Ew. Well at least Stephen knows what he wants out of life. He’s got ambition.”

Rebecca texted someone on her Nexus 5, then took an impromptu selfie.
“I do sometimes catch him saying “fuckin’”, as in, he’ll be saying something and insert “fuckin’” into the sentence. Like, “I have to go to the fuckin’ dentist.”
“Almost like he’s from Alberta.”
“It’s not that bad. Mostly he talks like a civilized person. He speaks in full sentences.”
“Is he really going to Harvard?”
“I know he plans on it. I doubt he’ll get in, I mean I threw off a few applications to Ivy league schools, naturally, but I don’t know why he didn’t apply somewhere less selective. But he’s Stephen… Does things his own way.”
The girls visited their lockers and put away their bags, then went to the gym change room. Rebecca took off her clothes.
“Oh my God your boobs are so huge.”
“Stop.”

They each put on their uniforms and then left the gym. In the hallway, they were intercepted by a tense, gangly man with curly brown hair, whose oversized blazer had elbow pads.
“Rebecca Hammond?”
Rebecca stopped and squinted at the man.
“Yes…?”
“I’m detective Mills.” The officer extended his hand and Rebecca shook it hesitantly.

“I work narcotics. I’m investigating the charges against two of your fellow students, I’m sure you know who I’m talking about. You’re not in trouble miss. Would you be willing to answer some questions? Won’t take long.”
“I don’t really know anything,” Rebecca insisted, as classmates gawked and eavesdropped.
“I’m not investigating you. There’s no reason to be anxious,” The detective told the suddenly flushed eighteen year old.
Rebecca turned to Nicole and told her friend to see to the New Zealand backdrop being set up. Then, with her interrogator, she made for an unoccupied classroom. Together they locked the door behind them.
Stephen had seen and heard the whole thing. As soon as they were out of sight he ran to his locker and grabbed his phone, then exited a side door and jogged towards the McDonalds on Dewdney Trunk road. Inside he ordered a triple triple coffee and paid in cash then took the cardboard cup on to the patio and hammered out a text message. His phone chimed at the response and Stephen clenched his jaw and opened his Uber app.

Stephen spotted a rusting beige Hyundai from his stool and entered the car and told the driver to take him to Yaletown. With a black toque covering his head, he cracked his knuckles, brooding.

~
Joggers in Cooper’s park waved at passing boats. A four person basketball game under the bridge had become heated. Kendrick Lamar blasted over the stereo.
“Up the pay for him then.”

“Chill. Take a shot.”

David blocked his rival’s three point shot and then froze in place. His partner cursed in Spanish and threw up his hands. Dave brushed it off, imploring patience with downward palms.
“Back in five,” the friends fist bumped and Dave hopped the broken fence.

“Why do you keep fucking doing this?” He snapped at Stephen as the boy stomped towards him, flexing his shoulders.
The private school student stopped a meter away from the drug supplier, unflinching.
“You haven’t done anything yet. I want to know when you are going to.”

Upon realizing the nature of the visit, Dave waved at his basketball partners, then held up a finger to his lips, signaling Stephen quiet down.
“… It’s too heat Stephen. The cops are watching those houses.”
“No. They aren’t. Not around the clock.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve checked.”
“Well anyway man, I can’t do it. Too much risk.”

Stephen scrutinized the older man icily. The ‘cryptkeeper’ picked up on something and looked quizzically at the young man. “What?”
“Nothing Dave. It’s just curious. You know that if those boys testify you’re all going to go down together.”
Dave frowned and looked at the rowing champion’s steel blue eyes.
“Is there something you want to say Stephen? Mister private school?”

The blonde boy stood perfectly still, lips sealed, his empty eyes blank, hands at his sides, inscrutable.

“I want to know what you are planning on doing to fix the problem you guys caused.”
“My hands are tied.”
“Your hands are tied. In the future … Don’t ignore my texts. Stop making me hunt you down.”
“Well I don’t know what more business we have.”

For a brief second it looked like Stephen was winking.
“Who knows what the future could hold,” Stephen shrugged. David bumped his fist. He tried once more to stare the younger boy into backing down, but Stephen was unrelenting, and he gave up, and stepped back over the broken fence.

The dealer dismissed the concerns of his basketball friends and returned to the game. “Who was that damn gringo?”
“Make America Great Again!” Stephen called from the overpass.
“Fuckin’ gringo.”
The sun reached its apex and the clouds broke for a rainbow. Dave took out his phone and frantically searched his texts.

 

~~379916_l

Michael, Chapter 12

ana_web_lauchingevent

~~

Lisbon’s airport swarmed with travelers. Airline attendants scrambled to check departures; the customer service workers pulled at their hair, overcome with distressed vacationers, livid about unexpected delays. The airport lounge ran out of seats.

Those customers, Michael among them, lucky enough to have secured an unoccupied spot, had to accept stiff, metallic benches. Lisbon’s airport, like most of its contemporaries, had been cruelly designed to encourage shopping and discourage sitting, and the seats were medieval. Slouching against metal, Michael felt too hungover to care.

He gave thanks for the air conditioning. It worked better than he’d expected it to, given the general dysfunction of the place. Sweat cooling his skin, he awaited the boarding call.

When the muggy day dispersed its clouds and sun rays brushed against his face, Michael’s pounding hangover subsided, allowing him to admire the idyllic sights beyond the Airport window. He’d hardly appreciated this harbor, during his trip. Just before he had to go home, everything became more beautiful. The sun rendered details crisp. Michael admired the summer day as his mind drifted into fog.

Buzzing over the speakers, a Portuguese voice cycled over the intercom through greetings in the major European languages. Michael’s haggard libertine fingers thumbed a book Emily had left behind, “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron.

Skimming the first few pages Michael asked himself out loud, “Why can’t I be a human for once.” He said it more like a statement than a question.

The announcements ended and faded into a song by Sinead O Connor. The sappy melody tempted the lone wanderer into a sensation he did not want to experience just then. The tears welling in his eyes felt clichéd.

Uncomfortable with such public displays of sentiment, Michael stood up and walked with a gentle limp towards the glass lookout. In the distance, over Atlantic waves, a medieval castle wall eroded into the sea.

Something alerted his periphery. Michael snapped his head to the right to discover the mocking glare of four flight attendants. Light skinned women, they wore generic white uniforms and were uniformly pretty and nubile. Perhaps he had committed some local faux pas; they sneered and cupped their hands over their mouths watching. Alarmed, Michael looked around for a target of the Portuguese flight attendants’ roast. There were no obvious candidates.

Confused, he lost patience with whatever game these women were playing, and turned away from the glass window to return to his metal bench. Unsurprisingly the spot had been claimed, and now a Korean man wearing P Diddy glasses innocently tapped his thumbs on a gold smart phone as if he’d been there all along. Michael shrugged and turned back.

Early boarding was announced. Michael went to the men’s washroom for a bowel movement. When he wiped, he discovered something on the toilet paper that was not shit. The tissue soaked with so much blood from his ass that it had disintegrated into crimson, and now his fingers were red. He looked down. The toilet bowl was filled with blood, and all of this had somehow come out of his body.

Mildly unsettled Michael returned to his seat then read the book until his eyes got tired. After boarding, he learned that the in flight movie was The Purge. He declined headphones and mostly entertained himself looking out the window at the ocean. One hour in to the cross Atlantic flight, the stewardess came to ask if he wanted anything. He ordered a double whisky and coke and then set it down on the drink tray and waited for the ice to melt.

“Ohhhmm…” Michael moaned. He wanted to meditate. The Chodron book didn’t explain how to do it, so he based his attempt on what he’d seen in Bruce Lee movies. Basically this amounted to: close your eyes, squint, breathe deep, pose.

Frustrated at his lack of progress, he returned to the refuge of the translucent plastic cup containing syrup water and fire.

~
Touchdown roused him from his nap, and Michael awoke to discover his pants and seat soaking wet. Heart spiking, the alcoholic touched between his legs, worried that he’d peed himself. The wetness was further down. Cautious about who could see what, Michael allowed the other passengers to file off before he stood to collect his carry on from the overhead. Casually glancing back at his seat before stepping off the plane, he couldn’t help but notice a dark red stain.

Anxious, Michael tried to cover the stain on his pants with his luggage, but this was not practical. In the rush to exit the terminal, disbelieving travelers shuddered and gossiped. A condescending British accent kept saying the word “accident.” Michael tried to pretend he couldn’t hear.

On his hurried way to the men’s room, a cute brunette Air Canada stewardess intercepted Michael to demurely inform the panicking man, “Sir … You appear to be bleeding … From your rectum.”
“I know!” he snapped, his forehead wet and pounding.

Inside Michael peeled his pants off with the blood soaked boxers and stuffed them in the garbage then dabbed toilet paper against his blood soaked rectum. The tissues absorbed all of the blood, until they disintegrated into the flooding scarlet. Every time he thought he’d stopped bleeding, more droplets appeared. Blood dripped on to the tile floor and stained his shoes.

Michael lost patience and stuffed a mound of toilet paper into his ass, hoping to dam the hemorrhaging. Pants done up he washed his hands then left the washroom and grabbed his luggage from the terminal. A teenage girl wearing a white Puma tank top and black Lulu Lemon pants gawked and turned to her friend to whisper something. His face fell, as she laughed herself red and covered her cheeks.

The conveyor belt came to life after a half hour wait during which time Michael attempted to dissociate from his experiences, back against the wall. When his luggage came he took it to the bathroom, solemnly changed into new pants, then fled the airport, teeth chattering.

It took him half an hour to find his Audi in the parking lot. When he reached the car he took a moment to examine the dent.

“Rust… This is going to rust.” Then he noticed two fresh new parking tickets tucked beneath the window wipers. Shrugging, he left the tickets where they were, sat down in the car seat and unlocked his Samsung to dial his physician. As the phone rang he wondered how he should word his concerns to the receptionist.

~

Stephen sat on a bench facing the HSBC Canada building examining the lobby’s slick pendulum artwork as suave, well dressed business people commiserated, ate lunch, and perseverated on texting. After reviewing the details of his pitch to Norm, Stephen zipped his Iphone into his jacket pocket and boarded the elevator.

While ascending, the freshly shaved boy perfected his smile in the glass reflection. The elevator chimed and he strode into Michael’s former practice to deliver his choreographed smile to Secretary Kate.

“Who’s that strapping young lad?”
“Kate. You look lovely.”
“Thank you dear. How can I be of service?”
“I’m here to meet with Norm. I made an appointment and he should be expecting me.”
Kate looked skeptically at Stephen’s steely blue eyes. “What on earth are you wanting to talk to him for?”
“It’s to do with school. Not Michael.”

“I can’t imagine he has a lot of time. If you say so. You know where to find him.”
Not missing a beat Stephen departed for the senior partner’s office. The door was cracked open but he chose to wrap once. “You can come in.”
Stephen stepped into the immaculate and spacious abode. The grey haired Jewish man leaned back in his plush chair and gestured that the boy should take the seat facing him.
“Sit. Say, I’m tired. Coffee?”
“Sure.”
“What do you take in it?”
“I’ll try it black today.”
“Masochist. If you say so. What’s up?”
“My father was supposed to ask you if you would speak to the Dean of arts at Harvard. You two have a relationship. He said you could advocate for me.”

The distinguished attorney rolled his eyes and smirked, “You are a masochist. Harvard, you say.”

The boy folded his jacked arms over his lap. “Yes.”
“Stephen I barely know you. I can’t very well vouch for you if I don’t know you.”

“You’re angry at my father and taking it out on me. I understand that.”
“Excuse me, it is not my practice to-”
“… I have a proposition.”
“What’s that?”

A file sat face up on Norm’s desk between the aspiring and practicing attorneys. It depicted a glossy printing of Vancouver’s sleek skyline. Beneath the picture, a petition had been highlighted in parts. Stephen gestured at it, and Norm raised his bushy eyebrow.

“What?”
“It’s my understanding that you have an interest in ensuring that our Mayor approves the Bill C5172, to eliminate rent controls on Commercial drive.”

Norm parted his lips, allowing his small eyes to flutter in disbelief. “What… Sorry, did Michael tell you something?”

Brushing this off with an angular hand gesture the aspiring lawyer kept his tone serious and professional, and answered, “No, I never speak to my father. But I’ve heard.”

“What did you hear?”

Stephen looked over the older man’s shoulder and gestured, signaling that the office door should be pulled shut. Standing up, Norm looked annoyed, but complied, showing with his scowl that the boy had his attention.

“My office is soundproofed. Go on.”

Stephen made hand gestures he’d copied from Bill Clinton, pointing in various directions and gesturing for dramatic effect.
“Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Hardly anyone can afford to live here. Your office does real estate law, though, and stands to benefit from repealing certain restrictions on the market.”

“Well, half our clients aren’t even Canadians.”

“Exactly. But it doesn’t matter to you. Your interest is in ensuring that property values keep going up. I think I have a way to do it.”

“What the fuck are you talking about. Are you insane? What, are you 18 years old?”
Stephen winked, nonplussed. “17. And I am being serious.”

Norm leaned back, and removed his glasses for a moment. Then he put them back on and looked closely at the boy’s placid face. Stephen shook his head. Anticipating that he would be pressed for details, he cut in preemptively, “You don’t want me to be specific. Soundproofed or not. Somethingsarebetterleftunsaid.”

Sighing, Norm got out of his chair and paced over to his office window to listlessly gaze upon the crowded downtown concrete spaces. Eyes on the world below, he shrugged towards city hall.
“It’s hard to put this in terms that the mayor can appreciate but I’ve seen the city’s budget projections this year. There is simply no way to capture the revenue shortfalls without a major property tax loot. His interests and mine align on this but he has opposition from that whole anti gentrification, safe injection, ‘gender is a construct’ crowd.”

“Well, people need to stop tolerating that shit. I mean I’m a conservative, but I don’t expect the mayor to be able to honor an agenda I could support on this issue without something changing. The rich people need to feel some pain to care.”

Norm raised an eyebrow. “I mean they do sometimes. But yes, there’s always something insulating about wealth, being of means.”

“It can’t last forever. Eventually all this tolerance will get them in trouble. And if Bill C5172 was pushed into an omnibus bill that came to be known as a tough on crime bill, or some such thing, maybe the city could see about really turning around some of the rougher parts of town, hey? Get the riff raff out.”

The barrister sighed again, heavier, and returned to his desk. “Where is that coffee?”

Stephen said it didn’t matter about the coffee. Norm then returned to the original subject, “Well you’re wanting to go to Harvard next year.” The boy nodded.

“I’ll see about talking to the dean. We go back a ways, it won’t be much trouble. But I want to know what you’re doing, whatever you can tell me. If we get this bill passed I’ll make sure, at the very least, I honor our commitment.”

With that, Stephen offered his hand for a firm, stern handshake. Fingers locked, Norm chuckled and asked, as an afterthought, “You are… At least a marginally talented student, correct?”

“Oh yeah. I’m MENSA material.”

“Well. Hope you have some thug in you too. Harvard law is no gentlemen’s club, these people are really cold hearted psychopaths. I mean, that’s what it takes.”

Bellowing laughs in baritone, the blond boy stood and reassured his benefactor that he could handle himself. Norm let the door swing shut behind Stephen, then wrote something down on a notepad. Licking an envelope, the Harvard alumni laughed to himself, shaking his head in amusement and dismay.
~

Exiting onto the 99 from Richmond, Michael’s Audi alerted him with a repetitive chime that he needed to check the engine or some such thing. He eventually figured out how to turn the alert off, but after parking in his Surrey garage, discovered an unusual smell, as of noxious chemicals seeping from beneath the hood.

“Rains it pours, some such.”

Something stalked forth from the shadows.

“Sylvester,” Michael greeted the beast. “What am I going to do?”

The quadruped rebuffed the greeting with his signature face swipe.

“Fuck! I’m already bleeding out of my ass you bastard.”

Oblivious to the utterance, the grey cat escaped through the open garage door and took to the Surrey street, lit by a crescent moon.

Michael called after the departing feline. “Maybe see if you can find Emily!”

Ten minutes after depositing his suitcase on the bedroom floor, Michael returned to his addiction. Ignoring the deterioration that had rudely announced itself in his physiology, the former lawyer popped the lid off a fresh 40, hammered back 3 shots, and then carried the clear bottle to the couch to try to somehow relax as he died.

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  • ~~

A blast from the past

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My name is Bort Ludwig and I live in sunny Miami Florida. I work in a foreclosure company in the outreach department. I work as an outbound call agent. I call residents who have failed to make mortgage payments and I explain to them that they will be required to leave their homes unless they repay their outstanding balance and accrued fees. I have to stay on point while talking to these people. I can not sympathize with them. We are very much discouraged from talking with them at all, actually. All of my calls are recorded by my bosses although they rarely listen to them. I do the same thing every day and I don’t care for it.

My office is in a derelict section of Miami’s downtown, and I walk to work every day beneath the high rises. During the walk from the apartment where I live to the high rise that I work the city empties out and gets spooky. Buildings are totally abandoned. There are some vagrants but no cars. Family owned convenience stores here and there with cameras pointing at the parking lots. Prostitutes.

I work on the eleventh floor. The office houses 100 employees who generally work in cubicles. I think the managers have their own offices or perhaps they share offices. There are only five managers. I don’t know how much money the managers make. I make a couple of dollars more than minimum wage. The supervisors, I know they make about fifty cents an hour more than I do.

I don’t try to get promoted. I tried half of the first year but at my six month review I was given a rating of “C” and told I was ineligible for a raise. I like to drink at work. I drink in the bathrooms. Someone wrote above the bathroom mirror, “Welcome to Hell.”

I take every opportunity to relish the micro conflicts that I experience during my daily calls. I especially enjoy when they try to shame me for doing my job and throwing them out of their homes. They argue with me about what’s fair.

“Bitch, I have never taken out a mortgage myself because I understand finances and I know that I’m TOO POOR TO OWN A HOUSE, whatever the person at the bank says. And I don’t enjoy coming to work every day and doing what I do, but if I didn’t take this job I’d be living on the streets. I just can’t feel bad for you, and I will not pretend to.”

I don’t say that, but I think it. If you listen to my tone of voice while I am talking, using phrases like, “I understand, however…” and “Unfortunately, I can not…” you can probably tell that I do not care, deep down. I don’t care, and I can not. I would go mad.

I spend my shifts drawing on sticky notes. I used to sketch in a journal, free associating shapes then penciling in details until unique figures would emerge from the swirls. But the supervisor was unimpressed with my masterpieces and told me that I could no longer sketch on shift.
Now I can only write, with a blue or black pen, on sticky notes, and it has to be work related. This basically prevents me from getting anything out of my day. I am not allowed to read at my desk, or to write, or draw, or do crosswords. I can only focus on my task. Harass senior citizens at home, and relay to them their impending homelessness. If I’m drunk I can tolerate the day. I laugh at inopportune times, like when someone expects me to explain mortgage default swaps. Weird stuff comes up and I’m not an economist. I just laugh uncontrollably and hit “silence” on my headset.

There were days that I would stare at my female coworkers. This is Miami after all, and there are some knockout women around. I don’t shoot for them. They never last at this place, anyway. Generally really hot girls never have to take truly awful soul crushing jobs because they have other options. If you see a ten in one of these cubicles, it is a law of gravity that one of the flunkee juiceheads will zero in, others will then zero in, and she’ll be taken by one and then another, and then she’ll be gone within a month, because she only took the job to tell her parents that she was doing something or something. They never stick around. Why would they? They have options. I don’t have any options.

Today I decided that I would steal some confidential documents from someone’s desk. Then, when I get home, I’ll read them and … Put them on the internet!!! So excited.
That is what I will do.

Michael, Chapter 11

~

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Emily stalked the cosmopolitan Praca do Comercio, punishing her lungs with full inhales from her cigarettes, stomping the marble stones with her red converse shoes in between coughs. Masochistically, she pressed on her bandaged tattoo, suppressing the wound until the pain made her eyes water. Realizing what she was doing, the purple haired woman admonished herself for relapsing into something like self-harm and stopped.

Abandoning a prior vow to abstain from Facebook for the duration of the Lisbon trip, Emily logged on through her Iphone and updated her status to “feeling glum”.

On the rain soaked curbside next to a fountain, Emily scanned her Facebook inbox, full of unread messages. The most recent PM alert and popup window was sent from a clean cut dark haired man in a pink collared shirt who was not on her friendlist. A previous day he had simply Private Messaged, “Hi,” to which Emily had politely replied, “Hi.”

The convo had gone on, “You are very pretty.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re very welcome. Have a nice day!”

Emily had not responded to that last message. The next day, the dope had seen it fit to send an identical message.

“Hi.”

Emily twitched. She focused the Iphone screen on the blank, ridiculous face. Digging her nails into the screen, she hammered out, “WHAT ON EARTH DO YOU WANT!?”

Before sending, she backed the cursor and erased her text unsent, opting instead to block the stranger. Closing the window she briefly paused to notice the sheer volume of unread messages. A distressing proportion appeared to be unsolicited proposals from random men who in general looked unemployed.

Emily closed Facebook, as the rain picked up. Water soaking her Etnies sweater, the lone wanderer sought shelter beneath the protection of the gray Rua Augusta Arch. A crow set down its talons upon this fountainhead that dominated the august strip.

Just as she settled against the inner wall of the arch, someone whistled. The unescorted female felt her heart pick up. Ignoring the solicitation, she pursued the fleeing crows, eyes trained on a trajectory of majestic flight. The man whistled again, louder. With an exasperated sigh, the purple haired woman turned heel towards the beach. While stomping to the sand, she took out her phone to snap pictures of the board walk, seeking a diversion from her obsessive cigarette smoking addiction.

Crossing the rainy beach, Emily assessed that she had put enough distance between herself and the stranger. Sitting down on a cement block, she ran her fingers through the damp, rain thickened sand.

The rocky coastline offered a pristine view of waves breaking with calming and predictable rhythm. Emily removed her shoes and lay down on the block. A haunting column of search lights shone like sentinels over the Tagus River. A drop of rain hit her cheek. Seagulls swooped beneath a burst of lightning. Water ran over her pupil. Tears converged with the rain.

“You look lonely.” From the dim block, the stranger stepped forth into the light.

Exasperated, Emily cursed, and with bated breath, stood to face her pursuer. Tightening her fists, she visually apprehended what turned out to be a lanky and flamboyantly dressed man with black hair and devilish handsome features. In his hand he held a cigarette that dropped ashes onto the soggy earth.

“I’m just doing some soul searching” the young traveler answered, taking another smoke from her pack.

“Is this vacation?”

With the amber glowing in her fingers, she nodded yes.
“Ah. Let me tell you, there are such sights to see. Lovely, have you been to see the Carmo Convent?”

“No. No we haven’t … I haven’t.” Emily shook her head, straining to see through the dark.

“I would love to take you there. Medieval ruins. Like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

Silently Emily studied the man’s face, assessing its trustworthiness. The stranger gestured to his heart.

“Do you appreciate sculpture? The arts? Why just above us, the Rua Augusta Arch. I have to draw your attention to the colossal height of these angelic sculpted statues. They are personifications of Valor, and Genius.”

The aspiring Don Juan pointed up to the arch. Adorning the structure’s peak was a stone cut into the shape of woman dressed in a peplos. The figure held two crowns, one in each hand. Her right held a crown above a lady in chlamys, while her left topped a curly haired nude adonis with an Olympian physique.

“Um. I’m here with someone,” Emily answered, wondering if her annoyance crossed the language barrier.

“Why, if you notice,” the stranger went on undeterred, “The woman in the statue, she is an Amazon – a female warrior. Veteran of the Trojan war … A long forgotten race of female warriors, their spirit rages on … In you! You defiant woman, I adore you all the same.”

Emily shook her head forcefully. The man just kept smiling. Calmly she slipped on her sneakers.

“Boyfriend or husband?”
“It’s not like that. I’m really not interested.”

As she stepped away, the stranger reached through the darkness to stay her with his hand. Emily yanked back, causing him to hiss, “Androktones, Herodotus called you. Killers of men.”

Emily scoffed and snapped back, “You fucking can’t take no for an answer?”
With her runners the lone woman stomped on her pursuer’s toes.  He shouted something in Greek, or Portuguese, that sounded like a curse.

“Excuse me.”

Scurrying past her pursuer, the lone woman discovered an easy path back to the anonymity of the crowded street. A tall grey haired man in a frock jacket passed by walking a terrier. Emily followed him close, seeking protection, across a narrow stream, then over a bridge. The man went into a pastry shop, so Emily turned and walked further into the city. With her heart skipping beats she reached into her bag to find another cigarette. Rain fell in cascades and darkened the soil.

~

Emily had no sense of direction, but had wanted to avoid using her GPS command system so that she didn’t look too much like a tourist. Now that she was lost in a truly foreign land full of aggressive men, she cursed herself for having prioritized such a frivolous and superficial worry over her own material well being. Hurriedly she tapped the Google Chrome icon and zoomed out on the map. When it dawned on her how far she’d walked she became so distraught that she felt vertigo.

After following the arrow for what seemed like hours, she reached the block of their accommodations. Soaking wet, the shaking woman swore at herself for having smoked 12 cigarettes; in her trachea she tasted blood.
“…I don’t want to talk about it,” Emily announced to the suite after opening the door with her key fob.

Something on the kitchen island caught her eye. It took her a second to identify it, but sure enough, someone had left six lines of cocaine cut on her vanity mirror. Emily’s heart rate picked up. Clenching her fists, she walked on to the bedroom, preparing for the worst.

There Michael lay naked on his back, his curly dark chest hairs wet with sweat as a thirtyish cleanly shaven and wide hipped naked woman with an angel tattooed to her lower back fixed her lips to his mildly erect, condom wrapped penis.

Noticing Emily’s entrance the date allowed the failing appendage to slip from her lips, and cupped her hand over her face. Eyelids fluttering, Michael muttered nonsense.

Holding her breath, Emily turned around to stomp out of the room. “Like a shower with a raincoat, I never understood that,” she called after her, as she rapidly grabbed her purse and phone charger.

Uncomprehending Emily’s dis, the nude woman nevertheless understood the general dynamics of the situation, so inched away from Michael to grasp for the diversion of a foamy Champagne bottle by the cluttered night stand. As Michael wrapped himself in the bed sheet, the naked brunette woman fixed the departing Emily in her hardened, calloused, “seen it all” visage, sipping on the oxidized fermentation.

Blushing fuscia, Emily marched to the elevator, hammering the “ground floor” at ballistic speeds. Rain water dripped from her tanned, aroused goose flesh. Closing her eyes to shut out everything, the lone woman rode the creaking elevator back to the anonymity of the wet, indifferent European city.

~~

Meadowridge rowing team met at False Creek for a drill, racing practice against Alexander Academy. Conrad, Stephen’s ex Olympian coach, partnered the rowing captain with a talkative and obnoxious classmate who answered only to his last name, Kennedy. Stephen hoisted his racing shell into the stream, scowling at his plump and stout partner, when not outright ignoring him. Kennedy plopped into the seat behind Stephen, holding his phone to his chest, preoccupied with texting.

Without waiting for him to put the phone down, Stephen pushed off into the salty Pacific.

“Whoa whoa! Patience Steve.”
Stephen ignored his partner, and thrust with his expansive chest, forcing the smaller boy to mind the paddles.

Then, moments into the race, Kennedy launched into a meandering, free associative soliloquy, shouting over the waves disconnected segments of random words: “Steve! Steve Mackenzie! Steve, Steve Nash! Fitness, Nash! Stephen Mackenzie, bitch ass!… Bitches love Jar Jar. Beyonce, bitches!”

After a minute of this Stephen had enough, and without anyone else noticing, thrust his elbow into the plump Kennedy’s plexus, knocking the wind out of his chest. The clowning around stopped.

Stephen took control of the boat’s pace. From the shore, a crowd of parents and students called out. “Row faster,” the captain commanded his cowed inferior.

Abruptly, Stephen’s own phone chimed, and he dropped his paddles to check his phone. The boat slowed.

“What the fuck you doing? What, it’s okay when you do it?”

“It’s important.”

Kennedy cursed and shook his head in disbelief.  A separate craft, from Alexander Academy, passed the boys as Stephen frantically texted back his messenger. As the boys from the other private school passed, they bowed their heads at Stephen, in an apparent show of deference.

“Everyone knows Stephen,” The young Kennedy noted, holding his oars still as the craft bounced in the waves.
“I’m knowable.”
“Lots of peeps seem to recognize you…”

“What of it?”

Coach Conrad shouted from the deck. Kennedy tapped Stephen on the shoulder. “Coach is pissed, put it down.”

“Can’t. We have to go back to shore.”

Stephen pocketed his phone and redirected the rowboat to the circuit’s exit.

“Speed!” Coach Conrad dug his nails into his hair, enraged at the dereliction.

Under Stephen’s direction the vessel docked. Coach Conrad grabbed the captain by the shoulders and hoisted him onto land.
“Boy you look tired! I hope you haven’t been partying. Stephen have you been sleeping at all?”
“Coach I need to be excused. Family emergency.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. I’ll need a note.”

“Of course.”

Slipping on his Converse sneakers Stephen broke away for the bus loop, leaving Kennedy muttering bitter slurs under his breath. Improvising, the coach shrugged and looked down at his list, searching for a replacement to finish the evening’s meeting. After a minute of squinting down at the possible candidates to fill in for his strongest rower, the Coach shut his eyes and called out,

“Let’s just call it in for the day. Same time next week.”
~
The ambient margarine glow of streetlamps framed the outline of Surrey’s evening clouds. Emily stood at the end of the block watching Michael’s modest bungalow. The kitchen lights were on.
From across the street Emily sent the old drunk a text.
Michael I’m at your house. Someone is here./

After a ten minute wait, during which time Emily smoked the last of her European cigarettes and circled the block, he texted back,
You’re back home already? You left your suitcase here!
Emily’s eyebrow twitched.
I need to get my cat. Michael who is at your house?

The “…” appeared on the screen as he typed his reply.
???? I am coming home now. Next flight… Please wait for me.

Emily swore, and typed back,
No. Bye.

With her phone silenced, Emily tossed the filter into a storm drain, and stepped up to the porch to ring the doorbell. Waiting, she checked her reflection.

For the first minute there was no sound from inside. Emily rang the doorbell again, over and over in rapid succession, while she struggled to see through the cream colored blinds. A shape bolted from one end of the hall to the other. It was her cat. As he tore across the carpet, something human followed.

Emily instinctively checked her red lipstick and black eyeliner. She had gone “goth,” dyed her hair black, and dressed in seductive black skinny jeans and a purple t shirt with the Prince symbol, over fishnet sleeves.

The door cracked open and a handsome young man with blond hair and blue eyes, about six feet tall and muscled, leaned out. He wore a black Diesel sweater and black Perry Ellis dress pants.

Emily made wide eyes and cupped her hands over her mouth. “Oh my God this is awkward.”

Stephen beamed at the woman five years his senior with a confident grin and gestured for her to come inside.
“Oh no. No, I …”
“Please, come in. It’s okay.”

Sylvester bolted towards the door, but Stephen stopped the animal from escaping by reaching forward to grab Emily by the silver bracelet on her wrist, pulling her in then shutting and bolting it.

“He’s always trying to get out.”
Emily looked at Stephen, face to face, briefly assessing his good looks. The cat pounced her from behind. “Ah!” She batted away his claws.
Sylvester scampered away. Stephen gestured to her neck. “You’re bleeding.”

With his left ring finger, he dabbed up the blood and ran it over his thumb.

“I’m alright,” Emily insisted. “He’s mad that I abandoned him.”
Stephen wiped the blood off and then turned to lead Emily further into the shadowy abode, gently asking, “Please, remove your boots.”

Emily knelt to unfasten her footwear, as Stephen made his way further into the kitchen. He checked his Iphone and then set it down. Emily followed him, looking around. On the table by Stephen lay a stack of mail with Long and McDonald and partners letterhead, addressed to Michael.

“Honestly Steve … Should I call you Steve or Stephen?”
“Oh, Stephen, please. More sophisticated.”
“Honestly Stephen, I don’t have to stay. I just came here to pick up my cat. I’m not seeing your father anymore.”

Stephen broke into a laugh and then forced himself to stop, turning red.

“I mean, see? I should go.”
“Oh no, stay,” Stephen cut in, suddenly stepping forward. “Stay and have a drink.”

Emily shook her head, “I’d rather not.”
“You look like you could use one. My father has such an inventory. He won’t even notice anything’s gone.”

The Iphone buzzed and Stephen checked it while Emily sighed and pondered the suggestion.
“… Okay. Give me um … A cognac. I know he has some good cognac.”

“He sure does. Very dignified of you.”
Stephen slipped back into the darkness to prepare the beverage.

Emily tapped her hands on the table and hummed quietly.
“Tell me about yourself,” Stephen called from the other end of the dim room as he poured brandy into the glass.
“…Um. Let’s see … Well …” The pale woman painted with black mascara peered across the dim kitchen at the handsome and well-mannered host.

“I grew up in upstate New York. My parents split up when I was in high school and I moved to Vancouver to live with my aunt. I started a band and did that for a few years…”
Stephen set the caramel colored drink down on the stained wooden table.
“Thank you,”
“My pleasure.”
Emily straightened her upper body and affected an aristocratic pose, her chin beneath her fist, thinking.
“… Did what?” Stephen asked, studying her.
“What?”
“You did what for a few years?”
“Oh. Well not much. Then I went to college.”
“What did you take?”
“What uh … Philosophy I think.”

Stephen laughed, then stopped.
“I’m sorry,” He said. “You’re not much of a story teller.”
Emily sipped the drink and tilted her head, making an “L” symbol with her left hand.

Stephen’s phone buzzed and he stood up, walked over to the counter, typed a text, and then returned to his seat. He noticed Emily fidgeting with her empty cigarette pack.
“You’re a smoker?” he asked.
“Yes.”
“What was your relationship with your father like?”
Emily scoffed and cocked her head. “What?”
“Do you have father issues?”

Unsettled, Emily nervously chuckled and made herself smaller in her chair.
“Look, Stephen, I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I mean my own parents … I guess I didn’t think about what I was doing. Now that I’ve met you …”
“Do you think I’m attractive?”
“Um…”
“Wait, don’t answer,” Stephen gestured down, then took out his phone again. Emily noticed her temples getting warm.

“Oh, sorry,” The boy said, chuckling. “Just sharing a meme. Those… Propagandists of the 21st century. ‘The Meme wars’… Should be a subtitle for the 2016 American election, I swear, that Pepe the Frog will win the election for Trump.”

“He’s … A monster.”

“He’s great. He’s great … You’re a liberal, right? You must admit you love the whole Trump phenomenon, deep down. He gets you all excited.”

“I’m …” Emily shook her head, parting her lips, and trailed off.
Stephen’s phone interrupted them again, blaring out a novel downloaded ringtone.

“Fuck, wait Emily, I have to meet someone. Wait here. I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”
Without any further explanation, Stephen slipped on his runners and disappeared out the front door, leaving Emily at the kitchen table shaking her head.

~
The glass sat empty. Emily fixated on finding more smokes. Forgetting Stephen’s edict she remain in place, the 22 year old woman in gothic makeup put on one shoe and walked into the refrigerator, where she spontaneously bit an apple and opened a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Then, with googly eyes, she methodically inserted a package of AAA batteries into a tub of margarine then set the plastic down in the apple crisper and knocked the spice tray to the tile floor.

Triumphantly, she turned heel, and smashed right through the mesh of the sliding screen door, to climb barefoot over the fence.
The streetlights sang siren songs; the wet concrete gave way to moist grass, until the darkness of the night swallowed whole the lone woman.

~
Stephen arrived back home at 9:33 pm and discovered the back door torn from its rims, and mud stains all over the carpet. “Oh.”

Taking off his Converse sneakers he walked across the tiles of the kitchen and called “Emily!”

The empty glass lay sideways, ice spilling out and melting to a puddle. Emily’s cat had escaped. Stephen shut the door and picked up the spilled glass. With the loose tablets of Flunitrazepam back in a lock box, Stephen carried the Long and McDonald envelopes to the bathroom.

With no television in Michael’s house, Stephen brushed his teeth in near silence, listening to Surrey crickets and the subdued vehicular traffic slushing over wet streets.

Then, alone in the quiet bungalow, the teenager practiced yoga for twenty minutes before contacting an Uber to take him back to Shelly’s Abbottsford home.

19766_07_201601180622221289~~

Michael, Chapter 10

~
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Sunlight peaked through the blinds in Dr. Bootsman’s downtown psychiatric practice, and the wispy haired doctor yawned, unable to disguise the symptoms of overwork. He shook himself and slapped color into his cheeks, hoping to snap out of it, but the disclosure did not escape Mary’s attention.

“What’s wrong?” She sounded concerned but subtly accusatory.  “Not sleeping at night?”

The slight shouldered doctor waved away her concerns, “It’s my own problem, but thanks. I’m here for you, this is your time.”

Mary tilted her head to the side, “We could reschedule.”

“Oh no, no,” the doctor brushed off the suggestion with a good-natured laugh, then as if trying to redirect the conversation, looked towards Stephen. The young man had sunk, deep into his chair, so low that his head barely rose to the level of the doctor’s pelvis. The psychiatrist raised an eyebrow and parted his lips in a peculiar smile that the placid boy met with an aloof, noncommittal gaze. “You’re looking very healthy, Stephen.”

Twiddling his thumbs, the rowing champion perused the titles on the doctor’s book shelf.
“Healthy, athletic young man,” the doctor went on in a whimsical inflection, as Mary flashed tepid pride at her oldest biological offspring.

Acknowledging the doctor at last, Stephen sat up straight in his chair, and stretched back his shoulders, only to say, “Thanks.” Then he slouched back down.
“So we have some catching up to do. I guess Michael won’t be coming to our sessions anymore?”
“I’m sure he’s devastated,” Mary chuckled, bitter.

“He never was crazy about this whole thing. Wasn’t his sort of environment.” The doctor surmised in a declarative way.
“I hope he drinks himself to death,” the estranged wife snapped back with a hiss. Affecting a surprised “Ah,” Dr. Bootsman assessed Stephen; the boy seemed to have virtually no response to his mother’s outburst.

“How have you been handling this?” The doctor looked down at his slouching patient.
Stephen straightened up, and stretched his powerful arms toward the ceiling. “It’s been rough. But I saw it coming. Maybe for years.” After another yawn, he slouched even lower in his chair.

When Stephen’s gold plated Iphone buzzed, the doctor flashed irritation. Mary shook her head at her son. “Put it away.”
Holding up his hand, he read something quickly onscreen, then apologized, “…I’m sorry.”

Brushing past the distraction, the psychiatrist pressed on.
“Now, I suppose if Michael is out of the picture, we can set aside reservations about discussing his problem. Sometimes the children of alcoholics become codependent. I know you don’t drink yourself, Stephen, but there may be ways Michael’s drinking affected you.”

With a thumb on his freshly shaved chin, the high school senior offered a melodramatic “hmmmm…?”

Raising an eyebrow, Mary moved her lips to speak, but Stephen cut her off. Gesturing towards the fluorescent lights on the ceiling, the boy leaned forward and said “it might have you know, made me more opposed to that stuff. I don’t know if you heard what went down at my school. Big drama with police involvement, arrests.”

“I did.”

“Oh yeah, right, your kids go to Meadowridge? Well anyway. Jordan, Tom, both guys I used to compete with, on the field. We all go back, the three of us. A few years ago, they basically just started getting in with this crowd. I guess they were involved in some pretty high level drug distribution. I know, you’d never suspect. They had everything going for them, like everything … Could have done anything with their lives.”

The wispy haired doctor looked sad and reflective, relaxing his eyes off into the distance. “That is tragic,” he said, before looking back to Stephen. “You made different decisions?”
With a nod, the thoughtful boy answered, “Well, I mean, because of my dad I never let myself get into the drug or drinking bullshit. Saw what it does.”

Dr. Bootsman nodded, rubbing his chin, and then while implementing an intense sudden close study of the Meadowridge student’s face, inquired with a tone of suspicion, “Is there anything you need to tell us? I know you’re aware that everything you say is privileged information. Is there anything you need to get off your chest?”
Stephen tipped his Styrofoam cup, emptying the liquefied sugar inside down the rim.
“I mean… Maybe.”

Mary parted her lips, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Maybe…” the boy went on, “I could have said something to the police. I suspected something but I had no idea it was this serious. I thought maybe … Maybe he sold greenery. Which isn’t even going to be a crime much longer.”
“No. Thanks to our Prime Minister.”
“Yes. I mean I’m all for legalizing Cannabis. Anything to keep it out of the hands of our young people. Tax and regulate, put the revenue into something good.”

The psychiatrist nodded at Stephen, noticing a twinkle in the boy’s eye.

“But I had no idea what they were … At least, the accusation. They still deserve their day in court.”
The wispy haired doctor shut his eyes and for a moment resembled a monk.

Before the doctor could follow up, the teenage boy’s phone buzzed again.

“Oh Geez, I’m so sorry. Mom. This is about our King Lear… Rebecca. Can I take it?”

Mary sighed and said that he could. The boy clicked his tongue and drifted out the office doorway with his eyes fixed on the gold encrusted screen. The moment the waiting room door fell shut, the estranged wife of Michael leaned closer to her pharmaceutical supplier and hushed, “Can we discuss meds while he’s out of the room?”
~

Electromagnetism powered the prodding stencil in rapid groupings off Emily’s tanned flesh, staining her shoulder with an impression of Beelzebub. Nearby Michael waited, cramped in a charming lobby, just beyond reach from his wincing girlfriend.

The Heart of Buddha Tattoo Shop was expensively decorated with rare Etruscan art. Michael admired a clay pot from Roman times, impressed by its antiquity. Through the window, the shop supplied a view of Lisbon’s oppressively cramped four story apartment complexes, which were rounded at the corner and sand colored. An olive skinned man played empty pickle jars like drums, thundering out an unsteady rhythm, asking for change. The beige wall behind him had been vandalized with a swastika.

“You have very nice skin,” the tattoo artist told Emily, steadying his electric implement.

“Thanks but hardly anyone believes I’m 22.”

Michael’s eyes lit up with alarm. Emily chuckled peripherally.

“You’re from America?”
“Canada.”
“Ah, bonjour.”
“I don’t speak French.”
“Oh. Canada … Mister Trudeau. Very lovely man.”

The purple haired woman shrugged, “I mean he’s okay.”

The prodding needle climbed to a more sensitive region of her Emily’s neck and she bit down on her lip. Something flew on to the counter and fluttered about the room. The tattoo artist set down the humming needle, swat the fly, then returned and wordlessly resumed.

The session ended and the artist wrapped Emily’s shoulder to absorb blood. Somewhat dazed, she paid in Euros, purchased a bottle of water, then took Michael by the hand outside. Narrow apartment complexes clustered together over land that gradually inclined uphill. Emily took out a pack of Galoises Blonde cigarettes, then lit one before Michael could object.

“I’m sorry,” She offered preemptively, noticing Michael’s frown at the pungent smoke. “You can have a drink if you want. I know we were supposed to quit together.”

The ex-lawyer cupped his eyes. “Oh that’s so sad.”

Emily looked where he gestured. A towering, derelict orthodox cathedral crawled with stray cats.  There were dozens, scaling the walls and rooftop, shedding and clawing and meowing. From the street, Emily waved her arms and called out to the cat colony.

“We have to help them!” she decided impulsively. Holding the cigarette in her lips to free up her hands, Emily descended on the creaking structure to send a gesture of goodwill. The closest specimen, an albino feral with a scar across his face, clawed her back, catching a zipper. Startled, Emily backed off.

Across the street, twelve-year-old boys shouted to the couple in Portuguese.

“What do you want?” Emily replied, straining to see.

One boy held his forefingers to his lips to imitate a smoker. Emily shrugged and gestured to come over. When she gave him a cigarette, he demanded a second. She told him no.
Without thanks, the uncultivated boy sulked back into the alley behind the cat colony.

Emily looked up at Michael, “I always feel like I’m for some reason doing a good deed by giving away cigarettes to strangers who are hurting. But it’s maybe not even in their best interest. It’s maybe just to make myself feel better, hey?”
Michael looked distant, lost in thought. Emily looked down and stepped closer to him.

“Listen, Michael. The smoking for me Michael is not something I can just stop. Plus … We’re on vacation, you know. It’s just not time.”
“I understand,” Michael replied, pausing a beat or two, before proposing in a hopeful tone, “Why don’t we go back towards the hotel … And maybe stop for something to eat on the way? What are you feeling like? What do they eat here? A lot of seafood I guess.”

With each word, Michael’s sweat came in thicker. Emily dabbed at it with a bandana and took him by the hand on a stroll across the harbor facing Lisbon boulevard. The air smelled like fresh rain and chlorophyll and seawater.

“Let’s try here” Michael decided, tugging Emily by the arm towards a building with a sign that read Stanislava Avenida.

They entered through the black door and were greeted by a wide hipped waitress in a flower dress; she said something like “Ola.” Emily replied in broken Portuguese and the waitress switched to English.

Michael and Emily followed the server to their small black seats set facing one another at a stubby wooden table draped in evergreen cloth.

“May I start you off with something to drink?”

Michael flashed an affirmative grin and with military efficiency set about rifling through the menu of alcoholic beverages. “Mari Zeli reserve Pinot Noir 2010,” he picked, from the import section.

Emily asked for water. When the wine arrived the server, a distressed, beady eyed individual with jagged teeth, held it for Michael to examine.
“Merci.” The waiter departed with a snarl that Emily noticed but Michael did not.

Emily watched, sitting across from Michael, as he smelled the drink by stuffing his nose into the bulb like a hound. In one slurp the father of two Meadowridge straight A students inhaled the entire cup and swallowed it down.
“Going hard tonight…” Emily spoke listlessly. Then, “I guess pour me some.”

They made conversation while struggling to interpret the menu. By the time the fidgeting and unkempt waiter returned, Michael was unable to focus, so with googly eyes selected from the menu the “bacalhau a Bras,” by pointing to it. Emily ordered the Spiny Lobster salad and was told in a tone of voice she would characterize as “doubtful and unconvincing” that it was delicious.

Something called the waiter to hurry off, and Michael seized the occasion to enthusiastically pour himself a third glass of wine. With an imbecilic laugh, he splashed himself, staining his shirt pinot red. Emily told him to slow down, but he laughed this off, flushed and sweating like a thermos.

“Why are you so tense?” the failed attorney inquired, his glowing face sagging into his drink.

Emily opened her mouth to say something, but was interrupted by the arrival of the food.

“Merci. Bo Koob.”

“Is everything … To your … Liking?”

Michael did not look up from his drink, and Emily covered her face in embarrassment.

“Michael. Tip this person so he leaves us alone.”

With a five Euro note stuffed in his shirt pocket the anxious server departed. Emily poked at her lobster. “Tense? Well. I’m worried about my cat. I shouldn’t have left him. Seeing those cats in that haunted house.”

Michael scoffed and Emily frowned, “What?”

Swirling his pinot around in his cup in a pitiful attempt to simulate wine appreciation, Michael slid his plate to the side, and replied, “That’s kind of a non-sequitur. I mean why the sudden need to be responsible?”

“You think it’s dumb that I care about my cat?”
“No…” Michael groaned, his voice going up an octave.

“Why that look?”

The ex-lawyer made exasperated eyes, and looked down. “I don’t see how you can claim to care so much about this animal before abandoning it for weeks at a time. It’s inconsistent…”

“This trip was your idea!” Emily stiffened her shoulders and raised her fork, while her voice rose past acceptable decibel levels and the few other patrons in the establishment took notice.

Michael wiped sweat from his forehead and signaled her to quiet down.

“If you’re going to get defensive I can’t talk to you honestly.”

Oblivious to his gestures Emily shot back, again too loud for Michael’s taste, “I don’t like it when you drink!”
The disheveled older man grunted, returning his glance to the deep purple wine. He sucked back more alcohol and savored the delicate flavors, letting them settle on his tongue. “You’re just like fucking everyone else,” he muttered under his breath.
Covering her shoulders with her sweater, Emily cast a dark eyebrow at her boyfriend, warning him to cut out.
“Well Emily. I don’t like it when you tell me what to do. I didn’t sign up for that. I don’t know why you think you can.”

Seething, the purple haired woman popped a smoke from her pack by the filter.

“Emily… Hey, sorry. But you’re going to have to accept me the way I am. This is who I am. If you got it into your head that I’m going to change…”

Before Michael could finish, she was on her feet. Michael trailed off.

A gentle mist smoldered over the sidewalk.  Alone, Emily smoked her cigarette on the Lisbon curbside under fresh afternoon rain.
~
Michael remained seated, breathing through his nose. Blushing, the server returned, and with a hiccup, asked if everything was alright. Michael apologized for his friend’s “hysterics” and managed a tortured grin.

“How is your food tasting?” Michael looked down to the untouched meal.

“I seem to have become ill,” the drunk answered, avoiding eye contact, “But would love to have it packed for later.”

The server apologized and asked if there was anything else he could bring. Michael ordered a second bottle of wine and thanked the server for the excellent service. Out the window, torrential rain fell on Lisbon. Vision blurring, Michael looked down to his Samsung, seeking a diversion.
~

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Michael, Chapter 9

~

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Saturday night a crowd of fashionably dressed R and B aficionados formed into an impatient line, that concluded by a tacky entrance to the seedy downtown Waldorf hotel. This venue was a dive: a Tiki bar, of all things, adjoined to an inn that offered $57 a night rooms, typically to street walker prostitutes or fiends looking to hot box safe from the elements. Situated on the perimeter of East Hasting’s worst blocks, the Waldorf was an unusually grim location for hosting a band as hot and current as The Weeknd.

Along the drab strip, the lineup of hipsters had formed a caterpillar-like cluster of heads glued to smart phones, nervously sucking on vaporizers and trying with mixed success to ignore the nearby open air drug market, bustling with panhandlers, schizophrenics and street dealing entrepreneurs. A palpable sense of unease permeated the block, but proved unnecessary, as police and security had decided to cordon off the length of the strip with barricades and armed guards, protecting the space around the 3 tour buses and their VIP guests.

Blonde haired Lena, in a tight new Chelsea sweater meant to accentuate her nascent bust, hung close to her classmate Alyssa, on a rolled out red carpet.  Excited, she snapped a selfie by the sign declaring, “Venue closed to public for special event,” instantly transforming herself into a vampire through the superficial wonder of Snapchat.

Percussion boomed from around the alley, and a tinted low riding sports car careened past the security barricade.

“Whoa who drives something like that in this neighborhood?”

Lena posted her vampire selfie to Instagram then leaned over the velvet rope, to get a better view of the polished, decked out Maserati, growling as it crawled up the back alley, the echoing subwoofer blasting at a intimidating decibel level.

“Has to be a gang.”

The growling luxury vehicle disappeared behind the police cars. Lena checked herself in her mirror, then undid the top button of her blouse.

“What do you two even have in common?” Alyssa asked, returning to an earlier conversation they had begun during a volleyball practice.

“He likes a lot of the same things that I do. Like how you probably would fall for someone into World Vision, or whatever…?”

“You mean my non-profit work?

“Yeah. I’m sorry if I forgot what it is you do…”

Alyssa presented as an immaculately tanned social justice enthusiast, who chose inexplicably to hide her good looks behind oversized glasses and droll plaid shirts tucked in at the waist. Earlier she had recounted to Lena her own recent student exchange to Argentina, an experience that led to her own hospitalization from an undiagnosed stomach illness.

Alyssa shrugged. “We try to get women into school. Places they aren’t typically educated. Afghanistan, Pakistan… The Muslim world more generally.”

“Why? Isn’t that dangerous?”

“It’s dangerous but worth it… I want them to know what it’s like to feel independent. To dress how you want … For women over there fashion is so much a political statement because of you know, the Taliban. Yes, it’s very dangerous,” Alyssa laughed, wrapping and unwrapping her braided her from her head.

“But no, I don’t necessarily go for guys who are … I mean, there aren’t many. My work isn’t about that. For me.”

Lena lightly slapped her friend on the shoulder, “Very noble, indeed.”

The blonde teenager in the black sweater then had a thought about something controversial, “The thing about Islam though is …” Before she could finish, something caught her attention and she choked. Further up the line, a Nigerian man checked back over his shoulder. Cautiously the young woman settled on, “Some people are gonna be violent in every society.”

Alyssa rolled her eyes and laughed inwardly. The crowd inched forward and the tinted sportscar rolled back out into the alley and again crossed the police barricade, before thundering out onto Hastings. The cops stood oblivious; apparently this “gang” was not on their radar.

Without much enthusiasm, Alyssa added, “…I think that a lot of the reason the terrorist stuff happens is that we’re always over there, ya know, bombing them.”
Shifting her weight from one sneaker to the next, Lena nodded with an indifferent shrug, then perked up, noticing that the security team were now letting men in business suits through a side door.

“What happened with that tour bus. Did they unload already?”

The unoccupied strip of the street where the tour bus had been parked was now empty, and hosted a decrepit man with an ashen face inhaling vapors threw a straw off tinfoil. Noticing his newfound exposure, he simply turned to face a different direction, then returned to the foil.

Lena groaned to her friend, “Why did they choose this venue? Incompetent management…”

“It’s just in vogue to be poor.”

“No, I don’t think so. That will never be true.”

At last the doors opened and the crowd filed in to the cramped Tiki bar with plastic replica palm trees. The fans filed into that veritable haven of urban kitsch, as the two underage friends gave their tickets to the door man, who Lena tried awkwardly to flirt with, moving her tongue around in her mouth; he did not acknowledge her, and impatient, Alyssa pushed her smaller friend by the shoulders, on into the establishment, which was cramped beyond civility.

A lineup began to form by the beverage stand.
“I don’t have ID.”
“Nor do I. Get your boyfriend to buy drinks.”

Lena gasped and jumped high in place, kicking her feet back and in midair grabbing them with her hands like a Spartan.
“I am going to tackle him,” she announced, giddy. “Where is he?”

“Ah,” Alyssa castigated her friend, shaking her head in mock disgust.

Towards the opposite entrance the blonde woman in plaid gestured, and Lena turned to see Stephen, flanked by a classmate, Andrew. Andrew wore a black zip up Fred Perry hoodie and had dark brown hair cut short at the neck but deliberately ruffled on the top, emo style. Stephen wore a crimson red sweater that was loose enough to conceal the details of his developed physique, while still establishing that he was broad shouldered and large.
“What are you benching these days?” Andrew asked, having not yet seen Lena.

“Two fifty.”
“Jesus. Do you juice?”
“Not anymore. Trying for an athletic scholarship, can’t come up positive for that shit.”
Lena’s screams from across the bar broke Stephen’s concentration. In the last second before she rushed up on him he quietly spoke to Andrew a request, grinning sideways, “Don’t judge me.”
The younger girl crushed herself into Stephen’s triangular upper body; he lifted her off the ground, hands on her erogenous zones. While embracing her to his chest, Stephen gave an almost imperceptible nod to Alyssa. In return she was equally aloof and did not smile.
“I can’t really hear anything,” Stephen shouted in Lena’s ear over the disorienting collective din of the bar.

The younger woman put her lips to the side of his head. “I need you to buy me some drinks. I mean you owe me for the tickets.”
Stephen agreed to this, and after asking if Alyssa wanted anything, instructed his escort, the mussy haired Andrew, to watch the girls, and set off for the back of the body odor scented drink line. Before him stood a university age woman wearing skin tight multicolored shorts that he clumsily checked out, to Lena’s notice.

Alyssa cupped her hand over Lena’s ear and asked, “Andrew, and Stephen. Why do these two hang out?”
“I don’t think they’re close or anything. Andrew’s probably the most boring person in the entire school.”

Sensing something, Andrew squinted at the two girls. Although they knew he couldn’t have heard him, both laughed sheepishly. He blushed, not knowing why.

“I’m seriously thinking of going to design school,” Alyssa shouted down at her shorter friend, apropos of nothing.
“…Go for it. I think you’d do great.”
“I think I’ll move to Manhattan maybe.”
“…I’d miss you. But follow your dreams.”
Alyssa shook her head, “You’re just saying that.”
“Anyway,” Lena changed the subject, “Did Jennifer say this about … Josh?”

“She said he raped her.”

“Oh it’s nuts. This college campus rape epidemic. I mean, it’s 2016.”

The prominent red of Stephen’s sweater overtook the two friends as he set down a drink tray with four bottles. Obnoxiously, he interjected, “There hasn’t actually been a single confirmed rape on any college campus. It’s a media manufactured narrative.”

Alyssa turned red, and scowling, barked, “What are you talking about?”

Stephen winked at Lena, then turned around yet again,

“I have one more thing to do. But I’ll leave Andrew here once more with you.”

Lena wailed for him to stop and grasped for the fabric of his hood. He slipped out of reach. Watching her maneuver with wry condescension, Alyssa moved closer to her friend and declared,

“He really is terrible. You’re a fool.”
~~

“Michael!?”
Hiding by the far-right aisle seats, the Cryptkeeper spotted Stephen, and shocked, greeted him with the familial derived alias the boy used for business.
“Dave,” Stephen replied, stone faced.
“No one calls me that. How did you find me here?”
Dave, who had recently shaved his entire head, rubbed off dried skin from his scalp, and scowled with his acne scarred face. Stephen leaned closer. “We need to talk outside.”

“We can talk in here,” Dave answered, slouching into his seat, simulating a macho pose of calculated disaffection. Club speakers blasted feedback. Dave squinted up at the stage, looking for something. Stephen did not budge.
“We need to go outside,” the boy repeated, more forcefully.
“What do you think this is? Kid, really. Know your place. I came down here to see a concert. We’re not doing business anymore.”
Stephen shifted his weight one foot to another, looking down at Dave’s Reeboks.

“No. I have information that you need to be made aware of. And I’m not willing to share it with the general public, take any chances,” the boy flittered his eyelashes over the packed, crowded room.

“It’s for your sake as much as mine.”
The opening band took the stage to general revelry and jubilation. Stephen made his eyes wider to signal frustration.
Dave looked at the boy for a long, searching moment. Whining, the older man shrugged, put down his Coors and stood to follow Stephen outside.
“I’m going to come right back” Stephen told the door man, stuffing five twenties into the grateful lackey’s shirt. The pair exited to the still cordoned off back alley, which was now almost empty, although unoccupied police cars had positioned themselves in a defensive ring.
After looking up and down the alley for ten seconds, and determining no one was within earshot, the red sweatered boy, in a startling paroxysm, lurched towards the older man, pushing himself into his face, “Why aren’t you in jail?”

Dave wilted back and instinctively raised his forearm, as if to block the young man.
“Whoa! Back. Court date on the seventh.”
“What did they end up charging?”
“Not talking about that.”
“You’re not talking to the police are you?”

Dave spat out a violent laugh, diluting his eyes to reptilian dimensions.

“Fuck off, private school boy. I hear you’re going to Harvard next year after all. Paper gangster. You don’t know this world. Best you stop dicking around before you get yourself killed. I mean, that Maserati out back… You have any idea who that was? It’s big time stuff. Heavy shit that you don’t want to know. I’m really trynna protect you…”
As he spoke, Stephen’s face drained of all expression, and became virtually without identifiable emotions. Dave stepped back but his inquisitor forcefully set his hand down on the dealer’s shoulder. Dave pushed the hand aside, then raising one eyebrow, winked to the boy, “Besides, your life is bound to amount to something. What the fuck are you doing with these losers? I mean that. You’re going to Harvard? What you wasting your time for? This isn’t you.”

Stephen breathed in through his nostrils, unmoved, listening, his grey blue eyes fixed on his accomplice’s throat. Unnerved, Dave stepped back. In a friendlier octave he continued to the boy, “I mean, I told you, when you dropped by my crib, ‘bout the gentrification getting out of hand… This city of Vancouver. I can afford it, maybe. But you don’t want to live this life, to do what I have to do to just exist. If you got a way out of this world take it. Believe me, you will be better off.”

The aspiring Ivy Leaguer cocked his head to the side, and smiled about something. Upon noticing the smile, Dave chuckled, relieved, and lit himself a cigarette. Taking a drag, he continued, “In any case. I’m not really gonna be a resource for you in the future, okay?”

Stephen checked over his shoulder, then with a bizarre smile, looked back to Dave and said, “What do you think the city would do if a whole bunch of the rich kids overdosed on fentanyl?”

Dave The Cryptkeeper raised an eyebrow, and wincing on the cigarette smoke, looked at Stephen quizzically. “That would be bad for business.”

“But how do you think the politicians would react? You’re talking gentrification. You think it’s bad now. Imagine if there was a campaign to really get the riff-raff out of this city forever?”

Dave chuckled, and rolled his eyes. “Why would you even say something like that?”

“It’s just a joke homie,” the boy answered, looking back towards the door.

After determining that the fire exit was still closed, Stephen leaned back to Dave, looking once again deadly serious.

“You have no reason to be suspicious of me, Dave. You’re the one who needs my help. When we go back into the club, check your phone.”

“What for…?”

“Personal information on our former colleagues, the ones who got busted with you. A proposal to solve the legal problems they will cause us both. Hours that their families are at work. The garage door and alarm codes. The routes their parents take in and out of the city…”

Dave snorted, his eyes wide as if he’d just registered the implication. Stephen noticed and pulled back,
“I’m not saying you should do anything. I’m not saying anything at all. ”

Dave shook his head. “Okay. Let me consider it.”

“Get back to me when you decide. Don’t use the old number either. I’m not using that phone anymore.”

Stephen patted Dave on the back as the text notification alert buzzed in his pocket. “That’s me. Stay in touch then.”
“Obviously.”

The fire escape opened, and bass heavy rock music flooded the damp alley. Dave stayed behind to finish his cigarette and review the text message, muttering and scratching his flakey bald head.

 

~
Back in the crowded hotel Lena listened to the opening band Chvrches, twenty feet from the stage, straining to see above the sweaty and unruly frat boys towering in the way. Alyssa pressed against her friend, clutching onto her arm. Both girls ignored Andrew, who stood behind, watching the band, and occasionally looking at Lena like he wanted to say something.

Stephen rematerialized from behind the trio, and Lena flailed her arms, squealing.

“Where do you keep going?” Her voice was slurred after one drink. She kissed his lips shamelessly as the female lead singer of ChVrches spoke to the riled up crowd over screeching feedback.

After making out for two minutes, it became clear to Alyssa that the two lovers had resolved to suddenly leave without a word of explanation. Uselessly Alyssa called after them, but they either could not hear or ignored her.

“What the hell was that?” Andrew shouted towards Alyssa, gesturing with bewildered aggrievement after the amorous deserters.

“He’s one of those guys, isn’t he?” Alyssa replied, wrinkling her forehead and looking off at nothing.

The band started the next song. Andrew shouted back, “I don’t know if he is. I don’t know what you mean.”

Alyssa couldn’t hear him over the music. Separated from her friend, she found herself clutching her Versace handbag close against her waist, suddenly painfully aware of the hotel’s sketchiness. After the next song ended, Alyssa disappeared without saying a word to Andrew.

Now the last man standing, Andrew hung around until the end of the warm up band then left the concert alone, holding back tears.

~

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The demented ejaculations of a broken soul

I smoked 4000 joints with a paraplegic mentally retarded man, on my fifteen minute break from the Sev. Then I wheeled him back into his house and fed him his macaroni and put on his Nicki Manaj videos. Then I took his car.
T. Roads be slippery Foo! Drove over my neighbor’s lawn.
Scruffy pinko flew into a rage.
“Come out and face me like a man!”
I swung a wrench into his skull.
He fell to the ground, twitching, spurting blood.
That wasn’t enough for me. I pushed myself onto his chest and wrapped my fingers around his neck, and squeezed until he turned blue.

The throbbing stopped; I took his wallet and got back in the car.

I drove to Seattle. Getting across the border was surprisingly easy. I lied about everything, and they let me in.

To the country of Donald Trump, 2017 (year of our lord!)

Seattle you’d hardly know is Trump country,
aside from the protests here and there. These people are tolerant and progressive and no longer believe that gender is anything but a social construct.

I went to a gym. And went into the women’s change room. And masturbated in the locker room. When a Nun from the local convent came to relieve herself, then became hysterical and called the law makers, I said she was infringing on my civil rights (Im a sociopath)

The police really came after me that night, but I ran real fast.

Escaped from helicopters and faced off with a SWAT team.

I must have killed fifty, maybe a hundred men, I can’t recall, it was such frenzy.

The smell of blood, I can still taste the blood. I developed a taste for blood.

The blood of men of the law. I murdered so many of them, and drank their blood.
I caught HIV that way.
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~
PART 2:
FUCKING

I listen to the crickets, In my kitchen, Far from civilization

~
A tattered, yellowed copy of Rousseau’s “Confessions” has been taken off my book shelf and placed on the bed by I know not who. Flipping the pages, I feel fleeting nostalgia for those lonesome nights of frenetic solo study sessions, lonely winter Winnipeg downtown amongst the poorest in Canada. Throughout university. I don’t think I was ever assigned this book, but I read it and wrote in the margins, excitedly and as if I was referencing it for something.

As the future annihilates the past, society will gradually phase out hard copy, and books will be consumed (if at all) through “smart devices.” I will continue to accumulate books, regardless of how quaint and ridiculous this seems to succeeding generations. I worry that there will be an apocalyptic event that reduces our capacity to access theses devices reliably and I do not want to depend on something so fragile as a tablet for my supply of literature.

The notion that I can, in theory, preserve books, especially hardcover books, generations into the future, and perhaps even beyond my death, has a romantic allure. But actual, physical books are pragmatic. They are also admittedly decorative. I don’t understand the rush to abandon this ritual.

~
A collapse is a rapid, violent simplification. A culling, and a regression. The Aqueducts stop flowing with fresh, quality water; our people shit in the streets. No one comes over to visit no more, unless to trouble you for food, in case you are foolish enough to admit that you are holding some.
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~
The older one gets, the faster the years seem to pass. At least that is how it seems to me. I don’t do nearly enough. But I am a human, and I take my time.

When I meditate these days,
Let’s just say it’s unconventional. I just try to reach the same place. But I get there differently.

I mean there’s a state of mind that I attain, one way or another. I have quite a few ways.To achieve

Serenity, focus, oblivion, parsimony, clarity, nebulousness, perspective

I’m a stoic
a soldier, sometimes
Gargling rocks, breaking glass with my hands
It’s so odd to be alive, to have survived

The violence of the street.

~~

I’m making the most of a difficult situation. There are scraps to eat. I spent all of my money, again. On, it goes.

~

I don’t have a lot of friends. But there are benefits – to that …

~

I guess a few friends. I guess that depends. On what you consider friends…. They call me Peter. Peter Peter girlfriend stealer

Drug-party1
~Cataclysms approach like the Andromeda Galaxy altering the gravity of our own
Filling up the night skies
I sense it.
There is blood on the leaves
I stand back and invite
Long knives to come
~Sex is a drug
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Clouds of ganja floating low against the skin
of ruins of landscapes scorched
razed cities
and spent lives
Sugar stored in cans
That is poured in cups
Filled up to the brim with old musty water
diluted with apothecary sentences

Deep inside my gut

Processes that entertain through repeated stimulation
of the same mechanisms
Makes life meaningful
For a short time

And it just repeats, your feelings forget, return, dissipate, and you
embrace all of the ways you’ll deteriorate with age

Reverencing Bacchus, grimly aware that it could all cease to work
One day it will.
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