Michael Chapter 20

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Chapter 20
~
Emily zipped up her black sweater, with white bats on the sleeves. Michael did up a purple River Island Bomber Jacket, which was loose fitting now because of his abstinence from alcohol and consequent loss of body fat. They went to Michael’s garage where moving boxes were stacked. Emily popped a piece of Nicorette into her mouth and went to the passenger door. Michael waved at her to take the other side and asked, “Would you like to drive?”
“I still don’t have a license.”
“Oh… That’s right,” he retorted in a sing song voice.

“I guess I’ll drive then. That would be the logical thing.”
Emily chuckled, with a confused and drawn out, “Okay then.”
The Audi got onto 152nd street and headed to east Hastings. Like a tourist, Emily marveled at the marginalized transients in the open air drug market, and double checked her doors were locked as they made their way to the Pacific National Exhibit. Michael parked and took out his wallet.

The sun was bright and brought the world into focus, making every detail render more precise and visually striking. The couple walked hand in hand to the crowded entrance. Emily strained to stand up taller, and waved at someone who had reached the front of the line.

Sue! Sue look this way! Hey!”

The high cheekboned woman turned her Japanese face and parted her hair when she recognized Emily and her far older accomplice. Sue had dyed blond hair but the roots were coming in black. She wore a high waist blue skirt over black lace leggings and a partially transparent black shirt. She also had a ruby amulet draped over a thin gold and decorative crown on her forehead. Sue slouched down and waved, smiling, and gestured quickly for Emily to come over: “Shit girl what up? Get your ass over here!”

Emily ran ahead, urging Michael to come along. The ex lawyer lagged, searching through his leather wallet, taking out cash for the door.

“…I’m working on screenwriting now,” the lady claimed, as Michael caught up.
“What about you?” Sue asked, “…Still writing?”
Emily shrugged, “Nah. I didn’t even finish that class.”
“Oh that’s too bad. It was good, Mr. Belserene really opened my eyes to how I could make use of my natural creativity. I now feel writing is my way of life. It’s become who I am.”

Emily smiled brightly, showing off her newly whitened teeth. The cluster of shoulders and heads, eager to visit the vacation destination, moved on ahead, and Emily cut in line after Sue. Michael followed, with a timid look on his face and awareness of being glared at.
“…Do you guys want to do some pure LSD I have?” The fashionable Asian produced a clear bag with multicolored paper tabs.
“Whoa!” Emily cupped her hands over her mouth and looked at Michael. He shrugged, “Okay.”

Emily’s knees gave in as she laughed, “Sure! Let’s do acid and ride rollercoasters!”
“Emily … Zip,” Michael said, noticing stares. Emily giggled, and did a kind of grind-core dance, then started skipping ahead with Sue. As she skipped she quoted Prince and sang, “Sue C… Suzie Sue C… I won’t pay the usual fee.”
~

The trio chose to start off with the towering suspension swing known by the park as the Atmosfear. Emily’s eyes lit up as the sky lit up; Michael clutched his handles, unsure what he would soon be feeling. From above Vancouver all the separate people were briefly visible before the world started spinning.

The ride ended and the trio clapped hands and laughed. The ground became unsteady as they walked off to find another ride.

It was on the Corkscrew that Michael began to see the tracers he’d always heard about. Emily by this point had eyes that were mostly black. As the coaster reached its zenith Michael exhaled a laugh that carried an unmistakable hint of madness. Emily quipped, “I am a golden goddess…”

Suzie C disappeared suddenly and with little explanation other than that she had a lot of laundry to do.

The inebriated couple watched her go and then Emily spontaneously clutch the taller man’s shoulder. Her balance was beginning to fail her. “Let’s sit by the plants,” Michael hushed, his face contorting in unusual ways.
“Michael it’s … It’s all a substance. All of one, this earth, isn’t it?”

Michael caressed a daisy and nodded at the pretty lady whose dyed blond hair breathed in rhythm with the plants, changing color and metamorphosing.
“…Michael, it’s not real. Time, the roller coaster, our skin. Is it a place? Our times stretched out on a strip, like a Mobius strip…”
Emily lit a cigarette and then leapt as someone shouted at her to stop.
“Reptiles…”

Michael watched the discombobulated Emily, deep in his own inner thoughts. Then in an eerie voice he launched into a monologue on reality.
Physics and consciousness complement one another. The world around us is just an illusion of our brain.”

Emily sat on the grass. A wasp landed on her shoulder then flew away. Michael’s soliloquy resumed.

 “Decoherence… It’s all … Experimentation impacts the system. Our monkey paws! We light with lasers and installed measurement systems…You can’t take measurements without interacting with what you measure. Properties thereby modified. Neutrality is impossible…”

As Michael ranted Emily smoked her cigarette, tapping her feet, sitting with her legs crossed in the green. To Michael, Emily’s blood was humming hymns. “Go on,” She said, her head turning around and around.

“Well it’s when one system interacts with a larger system the quantum system loses its original properties and … Becomes classic … Like Schrodinger’s cat … He’s in such a massive system that it can’t be isolated from the world…”

Sounds began to alarm him. Coins dropping and buzzers beeping pounded in Michael’s skull and he clutched his slurpee in both hands and grabbed Emily. She grinned psychotically and followed the unshaved former drunk.
“…Remember Emily! Mental processes are quantum effects! Where does observation end and reality begin?”

Emily leapt into the arms of the noticeably distraught man and kissed him. Then they collapsed onto the grass, licking each other. “It’s all coming apart!!” She exclaimed.

The crowds went by relatively uninterested. Then out of the crowd came Lena, wearing a black tank top over a sport bra and cargo shorts, hand in hand with Stephen, who wore a grey Diesel sweater and jeans, and cologne from Paris.
Lena looked at Stephen and cocked her head.
“is that your father?”
“This way.”
With reflexes worthy of his judo training Stephen grabbed Lena by the wrist and pulled her with him through the crowd until they were hidden from Michael’s view behind the lineup for the Hell’s Gate ride.
“Oh my God did you see their faces?” Lena doubled over. “And who was that skank?”
Stephen took out his Iphone and opened the camera app.
“What are you …”
Stephen snapped photos for two minutes while Lena leaned back and shook her head, smiling at Stephen as he obsessively documented Michael’s public display of affection with a woman half his age.
~

“Sir you and your … Lady friend … can’t stay here. This isn’t a place for what you’re doing,” accused a reverberating voice. Michael thought he detected an accent but could not say what sort, region or demographic. An enigmatic face was rendered invisible, obscured by shadow, hidden in shade cast beneath the brim of a patrol hat.
Michael had no voice. The face turned to brick. Unable to talk, the disgruntled man inched closer to Emily and away from the swelling monstrosity that kept shouting inquiries and orders. “Sir, I will call the police if you don’t leave voluntarily.

Michael struggled against the chemical assault on his neurons, trying to make sense of his perceptions. He managed to grab the skinny girl by the arm, and drag her a matter of inches, then stopped, his robot arms malfunctioning. Emily became a trembling, vibrating little woman, and shrunk into a ball under a scarlet Oak tree, with her fingers coiled tight around her knees. She hushed unintelligible solipsisms. A wasp buzzed nearby.

“…I can’t find my daughter. He’s not looking at it right. Around the wrong way backwards. Around the wrong way, it’s him I’ve seen.” The shaking woman perseverated on hallucinations and babbled to imagined beings. Frozen, Michael entered a torpor, drowsy and practically catatonic.
Watching from the wall of the Asylum of Terror horror show, Stephen told Lena that he had decided it was time for them to bail on the joint.
“Why is he acting like that?” Lena asked, leaning against his strong rower’s chest, half mocking and half concerned.
“He’s high.”
“High on what?”
“… Psychedelics of some kind.”

“Jesus Stephen. Is he going through a midlife crisis or something?”
Stephen squinted and shrugged, then started to push on Lena’s shoulder, urging her towards the gate.
“He’s further along than midlife,” Stephen quipped as he reviewed the photos of debauchery.

They walked on. Near Hastings, the lawn lit up red and blue. A pudgy officer in dark matte glasses begrudgingly stepped out of his VPD Squad car and lumbered in towards the park. A second officer with youthful and handsome Arab features and a dark mustache followed.
“Hey can we just wait out here until they take them away? I still want to go on the flume.”
Stephen chuckled. “I’ve got a flume you can ride.”
“…We’ll … Do that later …”
Under a Sitka Spruce tree of tremendous height she dropped to the grass and tugged Stephen by the elbow to sit down. Together they waited for the police to remove Michael and Emily.
~
“OFF ME! HELP! NO!!!” Emily let out a blood curdling scream as the pudgy officer dug his knee into her back. Metal bracelets snapped on her thin wrists. She bit at his arm and he pushed her face into the ground.

“SIEZURES DREAMS AND SULLEN THINGS!”
The second officer hung back a few meters, lazily writing on a notepad, tending to Michael, who despite his UFO inflated pupils, placidly watched Emily’s failing struggle with the other officer, his face sinking into despair and defeat.
“Are you able to walk?”
Michael said “yes.” He stood up, but then a look of panic came over him and he sat back down.
The officer sighed and walked over to the paramedics who had just arrived.

Michael sunk into a darkness, and became essentially incapable of responding to anyone for the next hour.

~
Time passed and Michael became conscious of his surroundings. He had somehow ended up sitting on a bare, abandoned trail of train tracks, hauntingly alone. He felt a hollow feeling in his bones. Concentrating, he identified a sign: New Brighton Road. As he slowly pieced his surroundings together, shaking off a fugue, he discovered himself to be in the middle of a talisman statement: “…What is aware…
Collecting his faculties, he took the time to freeze himself still, and looked around. City commotion caught his attention and he focused his vision towards the bridge to North Vancouver where traffic had backed up behind a six car accident. The distance of a football field away he strained to see; he cupped his hands over his still whirling vision and saw paramedics pulling a limp mangled victim from a burning vehicle. A monster reflected off the broken windshield, and from the bridge, Michael saw his father’s eyes, and a chill went down his spine.

It’s lonely in hell, it’s lonely in hell!

“To rehab I won’t go!”
Weary feet stomped, and Michael staggered over a swing set and scraped his knee. Out of the corner of his eye Michael noticed the outline of a man. The figure got closer and a champagne glass clinked, as teeth chattered. Suddenly struck with panic, Michael took off running.
He sprinted down the closest street, which was Renfrew, bouncing off the concrete with adrenaline fueled oomph. As the Coliseum approached the voices in his head got louder and venomously accusative.

He covered his ears but the voices would not stop. A symphony of chattering demons raged.

Bitches bones faces in stones

I always make mistakes
I’m not a winner
This is my life and I’m dying

The Pacific Coliseum came into view and the heat took the wind from his lungs; he heard pink. A park bench emblazoned REST IN PEACE beckoned him to sit. Then he tried to remember what had happened and felt guilt, somewhere in his insanity, for not knowing where she had gone.
ss

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My first real girlfriend was a sociopath. To my awareness she never received a diagnosis of “Antisocial personality disorder”. Instead the psychiatrists she saw floated at times “borderline”, bipolar, and schizo-affective. One thought she had an eating disorder. She was emaciated but it wasn’t that she wouldn’t eat. She did a lot of meth when I knew her and she was always smoking cigarettes and scheming at one thing or another.

I was in love with her. She would often attempt suicide. When I was in rehab one time she tried to overdose on her antidepressant. She took an entire bottle of Effexor and a bottle of seroquil. I actually wasn’t able to leave the rehab, since I had no flight back to Winnipeg (the facility was in Nanaimo). My parents at the time were unwilling to let me come home. I’d finished the treatment but the facility wanted me to stay longer because I was not making any progress. I was so depressed that I was dragging the other patients down and the counselors were really quite harsh. When I found out Jen was on life support I told them that I was going to commit suicide and they kicked me out for that so I got my flight back to Winnipeg, having outwitted my parents.

I visited Jen as soon as I could. She was nonverbal, with crazed, delirious eyes. Her dad didn’t like me but when, after three weeks of being a catatonic mute, Jen started to talk again, she told him he couldn’t visit her. Only I could. It made me feel special.

We finished our undergraduate degrees together. I mean she finished her degree in sociology and I studied psychology for a few years while we drifted from home to home leaving a trail of traumatized and victimized friends and family and co workers. We would stay up all night doing drugs and engaging in hedonistic sex. We would steal things from stores. She taught me to shoplift. Sometimes we’d steal from other people we knew. It could have been to get drug money but Jen just enjoyed stealing. She cheated on me many times, and always lied about it. I would on some level know that the need to be staying up all night at a sleazy older guys apartment drinking whisky was suspicious but I trusted her (Fucking why? Desperation). She slept with men and women outside of our relationship and I felt betrayed and would go on drug binges alone to cope with the pain. But I never could bring myself to leave her.

I truly loved her. I wrote songs to her, wanted to be close to her, wanted to hold her at night. During our many turbulent separations I could never fall asleep alone. I would cry at night wishing I could see her face.

Because she was always in trouble. We met in a psych ward, and she was in and out five or six times over the course of our four years of off and on dating. I actually felt that she was the love of my life, but I knew deep down that she was destined to die young and probably in a blazing ball of fire. She was incapable of love in a normal sense but she loved me as much as she could. Which is to say we had a lot of fun together and I think I served a lot of important purposes in her life. We bonded over academics. She introduced me to Anne Sexton and Michel Foucault, Tori Amos and Leonard Cohen, Michel Houllebecq and Milan Kundera, The Sopranos, The Wire, and the epistemology of feminism.

She was sexually a strange creature. She insisted she was in love with me, but she also said she was predominately sexually attracted to women. This actually made for some intricate convoluted drama, in that I never knew what she was really feeling, but by the end of our relationship I had explored territory that I did not imagine I would. I guess she taught me things that I probably couldn’t have learned without her.

I have to say, I’m feeling oddly sentimental right now. Let me be clear: Jen Reimer was not a good person in any conventional sense. She was valedictorian of a prestigious all girls high school, and she scored a gold medal for the highest GPA as an undergraduate, and then she went on to attempt one year of a graduate degree in sociology from Simon Fraser University, before getting kicked out of the school for essentially attempting to publish a totally unfounded rumor about one of her professors sexual proclivities towards children.

This woman was capable of tremendous malice because she had no conscience. I don’t pretend to understand the pathology, the soup of environmental deprivations or genetic quirks that blended to produce this miscreant. I only know that there was only one of her. There will never be another her.

Two years ago, just before her 30th birthday, she overdosed and died. She was in Seattle at the time, dating someone who looked to me like myself, and probably is a super nice guy who was stuck in her vortex. Her father for some reason never published an obituary anywhere. I think he was embarrassed and ashamed, and I don’t blame him; I feel for him. She became a part of me.

She used to tell me “I would rather be hatefully remembered than lovingly forgotten. Who would choose anything else?” I nodded my head like I understood, but I did not.

Somehow I think I still love her, even though she was a monster. I don’t know if that makes me a monster too.

dd

Michael Chapter 19

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Chapter 19

In her bedroom, decorated with pink wallpaper and Cosmopolitan cut-outs, Lena opened the password protected folder on her personal laptop and started ferociously typing with her fingernails painted black.

June 3, 2016
Maybe the sun will shine today. Maybe I won’t be so shy.

 

Everytime I see him I lose control. His spunk is legend; his abilities are legion. I say dumb things when we’re together, but never get any reaction. I have no idea what I’m doing, and he must know. He’s the smartest boy. And the beautiful Adonis. And I can’t name a single thing he cares about. Maybe being the best is what he cares about.


Even with his smell … I get hypnotized. And it’s nothing to do with whatever he puts on (probably Axe). I would spray myself in his sweat.

Last spring was the first time I was alone with him in my life. Rebecca had dropped him at our place and gone to school to rehearse Waiting for Godot. Stephen was waiting for a ride from his mom (his poverty is endearing, and he’s even respectful to her, although she doesn’t give him a car).

On that tarp, the gravity shifted. We sat together on the trampoline and he gyrated as I orbited him. From that curve the sun came closer. I couldn’t breathe. Wondering whether anything would shatter our silence. Couldn’t tell if he was watching me out of the corner of his eye as he smirked. I think he has what you’d call a “Roman nose”, and his eyelashes are my absolute favorite thing ever.

His charisma is electric. The black tarp was electric and I got a shock when I touched my toes to show him how flexible I am. I don’t think he cared.

I kept trying to talk and then stopping, as he ignored my remarks to focus on his phone. I peaked at the screen to discover he was playing the dumbest game I’ve ever seen. He heard me laugh and said nothing.

Finally he shot a glance,, and those ice blue eyes made my heart jolt. He asked me what I was doing that night and I stuttered that I’d be roller blading at Granville park. He said he’d maybe stop by and I told him that I would love that, laughing like a hyena. I wouldn’t have believed that he’d come.

Sure enough though, Derick Paulson chauffeured my crush in a black SUV around sun down. Alyssa and I were looking for pot and when we saw his eyes were glassy and red we asked him for some and he jerked us around for a while, telling us he didn’t want to corrupt the youth. We sat down in the back, and the four of us drove to Kitsilano. I was in the rear passenger seat behind his gorgeous head. He wore a simple black t shirt that showed off his triceps. I made no secret of my lewd fascination with his body, but even as he turned to tell me he was breaking an ethical code by giving us pot, he didn’t make a move or even flirt. We parked at a hydroelectric dam and we smoked up and then when we were done he told me that I shouldn’t smoke pot and I said that it was sweet he was so caring.

Our parents had been associates of some sort apparently, but I don’t know anything about that, and I’ve heard that Michael, Stephen’s dad, is in personal or financial trouble. I could see Stephen one day doing something dumb with money, too. I like that about him too.


I still think that he prefers me to Rebecca. I don’t know if she’ll ever find out what I’ve done. I sometimes want to tell her, the bitch.

Just today he wrote and my heart spasmed. He sent me a text that said, “Do tadpoles grow up?”

We always write in codes for secrecy – Rebecca can’t know what we’re doing. Nor can mom and dad.. Not that they’ll ever look at my phone. But I can’t be too careful. His message was asking if we’d need to use condoms. I told him that tadpoles do not grow up because they’re poisoned. He understood … When we fuck I always let him cum in me because I like the way it feels.

That he has no money of his own is hot. Or is it? Ask yourself honestly Lena… he’ll have money one day but I don’t know if that matters. He’ll still be the same old genius thug.

I like that his friends died and he survived. I like his hard edges. I love his … I love everything about him. I lose sleep thinking about him.


Maybe I like the fact that he’s on his own. All the other guys at school have everything handed to them. And I can tell he’ll probably get to be an important person one day. He’s good at everything.”

~
Lena stopped typing when a commotion erupted on the main floor of her parent’s house. Rebecca yelled at her mom. Lena knew it was her mother Rebecca was yelling at because she couldn’t hear anyone responding. Father would yell back.

“Fucking grow up you drama queen,” Lena mouthed. Feeling the mild let down associated with having to cut her diary entry short, she saved what she had and closed her laptop then clicked her Ipod charging station/portable stereo on. DJ Shadow’s “Right Thing/GDMFSOB” broke into a drum solo and Lena waited for her sister to shout at her from the hall. “I am the disrupter!” Lena growled back at her older sibling before putting the music back on headphones.
The internecine conflict aborted, Lena closed her eyes and wondered which thong to wear on her rendezvous with Stephen.

~
Michael spread out naked on the sand barge on Wreck Beach and dug into the grey crushed rocks. There were no mosquitoes. The summer sun had brought naked people in droves.

Michael ate a homemade snack of sliced pineapple out of a Tupperware container then drank the juice from the bottom. No one was paying any attention. He coughed up some sand that had gotten into the plastic, itching his throat.
He noticed that the ocean water was gross and brown and he started to feel like it wasn’t a good place to be bathing naked so got up. Securing his books and wallet in his backpack, he paused when he spotted a couple of young girls that he decided were worth keeping an eye on. Hanging back like a perverted old voyeur, Michael watched the girls from the furthest stretches of the beach, behind the crowd that was composed of older, uninteresting naked people.

Michael sat back down in the sand to do a full survey. Early twenties, Asian, slim, hairless all over, round asses, perfect skin, athletic. They lay down on their stomachs facing away from Michael, and he could see their vaginas between their legs. Then he noticed his own visible arousal and held his hands over his schlong in a vain attempt to somehow stop it from growing. Backing away awkwardly, he took 12 steps to his Audi, opened the door, and wrapped a towel around his waist.

Michael got dressed in the car and laughed about his erection, realizing that his body was starting to work better than it had in a decade. Then he looked in the direction of the university and saw some students studying in the grass. He wondered what they were studying and then felt gripped by a sudden inexplicable sadness that went deep into his core and told him to abscond.

The ex lawyer pulled in to a University parking lot and put on the guided meditation podcast he’d been listening to. Half an hour passed and he went to a calm place as ultraviolet beams heated the interior of his freshly repaired Audi.
The business cell phone rang and Michael answered it.

“Michael… How’s life?”
“Oh hello Eric. Thank you for returning my call.” Michael paused for a moment as he genuinely could not remember what he’d been wanting to ask about.
The overworked voice on the other line cut right to the point.

“…I understand you’re looking for someone to represent you in the settlement with Mary?”

Michael gazed out the window at a crew of students playing Frisbee. The women had athletic hips and the men were built like basketball or volleyball players. Michael scratched his hairy gut that protruded over the seatbelt.
“I need to figure out how to keep more of my money than she is claiming I owe her.”
“I’ve been over the files, yes. I think I can help you make that happen.”
“Good.”

There was a pause as Michael hyperventilated. Eric changed the tone, “What are you up to these days?”

Still transfixed with the youth, Michael paused to witness a beautiful woman smiling and showing off wide dimples. He realized she wasn’t smiling at him and his heart sunk.
“I may do some traveling. I’m starting over. I’m starting a new life, and I need my money to do that.”
“I understand. I hope you’re keeping things clean.”
“I am now, you know. I am.”
“Glad to hear it. This isn’t something you can afford to fuck up.”
Together with the old colleague divorce lawyer, the pair agreed on an appointment date and then said goodbye. Michael put down the phone and turned the ignition and backed on to the University main drive and drove back towards Surrey.

~
“Why does it hurt to think about the past? The past is an unknown landscape. This whole time I’ve been fighting to keep myself afloat by distraction. Flailing like I’m treading water. I am a forty seven year old man in the personality of a child. But I’ve seen a few transformations in this world around me. I’ve just … Kept myself wrapped in a blanket for so long that I forgot how to feel.”

The cat Sylvester bumped Michael’s face, communicating something. Surrey cars slushed past his mediocre bungalow as he sipped Earl Grey tea with lemon and honey. The drink calmed his stomach, which was sore. He’d been bleeding rectally again.
“I never appreciated how precious a thing this all is. Consciousness and human freedom. I just gave in. But no more. Do you understand, kittens?”
The cat kneaded its talons into Michael’s legs. He winced, a drop of blood spilling onto the floor. The rain pelted the roof quietly. Michael’s phone buzzed.
Free tomorrow 2 pick up Sylv. U around at 2?

The sudden communique from his ex girlfriend made him self conscious: Michael looked in the mirror and decided he needed to shave. Slightly giddy he typed back,
Sure Emily. See ya then J!

The cat wheezed out a fur ball, startling Michael. Shaking himself awake he got up to change the litter box for the last time.

~

In one of West Hasting’s nicer law offices, a copper haired lawyer apologized to Mary for a previous cancellation. “Sorry about rescheduling,” Murphy said to Mary, as she patiently stood waiting to be told she could sit.
The finely dressed man nodded at the empty chair.
“I was actually …” he paused to signal her to keep her voice down, “Interviewing for a separate firm. Don’t tell.”
Mary’s face dropped. “Oh so you’re leaving? Where does that leave me?”

The attorney with the speckled red beard gestured down.
“Relax. We’re all friends here. Believe me, many people would be happy to settle old scores with Michael, so we’d have a lot of willing hatchet boys.”
Mary looked around the office. “Where are you applying?”
“The highly esteemed firm of Robert Fleming.”
“You’re really going places,” Mary replied, tapping her gold polished fingernails together. Murphy looked at the pristine Ocean sparkling beyond the skyline.
“Well let’s not jinx it,” he leaned on to his desk to look at Mary’s printed document.

“Michael’s counter proposal?” His index finger pointed at a highlighted figure.
Mary squinted at the document.
“It’s insulting. I don’t know what he’s expecting.”
The well manicured man looked out the window, and Mary noticed he was now tossing a stress ball back and forth between his hands. A sea plane flew above the apartment buildings, casting a shadow for an instant between the client and attorney.
“It sounds like he expects you to work. Not this moment. There’s enough to last you, based on this projection, maybe six months, a year tops. But then there’s only child support for Bethany for two years, until she’s an adult.”

Mary held up a hand to signal Murphy to listen. Murphy played with a ballpoint pen and leaned back.
“We’ve settled on the property split. I get half of the resale value of the house. He also sells his car. And half his investments are mine. Also, Stephen’s education is paid for, and that could be up to half a million. I haven’t gotten him to agree to that yet.”
“We’ll see what we can do. But about that. Crazy things I’ve heard. Somehow, your husband’s old boss has the mayor’s ear. I almost get the sense Stephen is interning with him.”

 

Mary choked back a laugh. “Stephen? Stephen is interning with the mayor?”

Her smile was for once genuine, and Murphy froze, “Oh hey! Spoke to soon. Don’t let the word spread too far. It wouldn’t be good for him.”

Mary nodded in agreement, looking back and forth, her posture straightening up. “Oh, you’re right. But I always knew Stephen could do … Stephen can do anything.”

“Yeah, well. It probably doesn’t hurt that the mayor is fellow Harvard Alumni. My guess is that Norm got through to him. You’re son is 90% of the way there if he’s already making these sorts of connections.”

Before Mary could gloat, Murphy returned to the subject at hand. “Focus. We also need to think about an alternate plan in case Michael doesn’t play ball. What leverage do you have?”
“I need him to play ball, so I’ll have to find some. The way I see it, he owes it to me for emotional damages.”
Murphy smirked for a second but then shrugged.

“There may be something to that. You remember him ever hitting you?”
“Why, maybe I do.” She winked.
“Give me some time…” He said, checking his hair in the mirror across the room behind Mary.
Mary sighed and took out her phone. Murphy tossed the stress ball at his 20th floor window and it bounced off and landed in his stacks of papers.
“How have things been otherwise with you?” Murphy asked.
“How the fuck do you think?” She snapped back.

Mild shock registered and Murphy reflexively slicked back his gelled hair. Having mussed with it, one hair stood up, and this Mary found amusing.

 

Murphy opened a file on his desktop. “…Aaaaannnnndddd I’m officially at work on it. I’ll tell you what I have whenever I get back from the judge tomorrow. You can let me know if you are satisfied. I can get this going pretty fast.”
Mary held out her limp bony wrist for Murphy to shake and he took it and looked at her in the eye and smiled. His teeth were white as snow.

~
“Eric it’s fine, I can do six fifty. Believe me, it will save me more than what I’d lose if I agree to Mary’s terms. She’s trying to completely own me.”
The doorbell rang and Michael opened it to discover Emily wearing her round flower hat, over top of a black, zipper heavy neo-punk outfit. Her sweater was black and unzipped and had cartoon bats on the sleeves. Her shirt was also black but decorated with silver sparkles. Her pants were skinny, pocket-less black jeans fastened to her small waist with a checkered black and silver belt. Her hair was slightly longer, bleached blond and had my little pony pink and purple streaks. Michael told Eric he’d call back and gestured her to come in.

Michael had shaved, gelled his hair, and put on a casual polo shirt and cologne. He still looked run down, but more rested and put together. He beamed down at the woman less than half his age with a nervous energy in his eyes and said to her, “Hard core will never die.”
“…But you will. Come in?”
“Course.”
Emily pushed Michael aside to lug an empty cardboard box over to the kitchen table. Then she turned up her nose and smelled the air.
“Incense?”
“Yes I’ve discovered the joys of incense. And other things. Expanding my horizons.”

Sylvester materialized to scale Emily’s back and stand on her shoulders.
“Wow… Ah you’re hurting me!”
The cat dug in and Emily squealed. Michael stood and watched, unsure whether to intervene.

Forcing the cat off her new black outfit, Emily swore, “This is why I can’t have nice things!” As the cat scurried away, she looked at her one time boyfriend.
“Gees. Anyway. May I?” The blond woman gestured into the bungalow.

Michael looked at her with a gentle smile and told her to go on. She walked through the hallway to the bedroom, then the spare bedroom, then the back room, and then circled around back to the kitchen. She even checked the bathroom.
“Quite the transformation. Still minimalist but spotless.”
“Well, I told you …” Michael gestured for Emily to sit on the living room sofa, “I told you I’m planning on selling. Figure I can get 640 000. Half of that’s Mary’s but the rest I can use for my new life. Plus I have a few other assets. We’re going to be fighting over that but … You don’t need to hear about my 99 problems.”
Emily took a seat on his sofa and looked to his ipod. “Can I put on some music?”

As Michael walked over to the kitchen and offered to make her a tea he agreed, “Sure. Put on whatever. Green tea?”

With the water boiling Michael nodded. “We can have it outside if you want to smoke.”
“I’m chewing Nicorette now actually.”
“Oh? Working?”
“So far. It’s only been a couple days. I find I have a piece of gum in my mouth from the moment I wake up until the moment I’m asleep. But it works as long as I don’t forget. When it comes time to get off the gum will be the real fight.”

Michael walked over to the couch and gave Emily a fist bump; she smiled and moved over so he could sit next to her.
“How about instead of music first I read you something I wrote.”
“Okay? Like a story?”
“A poem.”
“Oh. Okay. Sure.”
Michael got up and grabbed the tea, then set both mugs down on bamboo coasters.

“I call it: Michaels poem
Michael read in a solemn voice, imitating Edward R Murrow.

Why are we, appointed representatives of the law
Afraid of one another’s naked eyes?
I mark my days in black hummingbird bags
Of stock market corrections

Michael looked to Emily who chewed gum and winked.

Frantic to reach for hurricanes
Motorcades retreat to pursue Palestine
Congolese talon flight, Silent machines

That blink on when heels come off

Having noticed his heart racing, Michael got up from his seat and stood by the counter. Emily sipped her tea and blew on it.

Our autoerotic primus
Divest and shake hands with Janus faced bullish wanderers
Call me AWOL. Bounty hunters stalk my tracks.

“Ahem,” Emily gestured for honey. Michael grabbed a disposable honey packet he’d stolen from Denny’s.

Wandering
With a backpack
Across immense space
Silencing
Lean on your cane
To settle down like dust

Michael’s voice became tender, and he choked on something.

For settling dust is what we are
Take it or leave it, thought is a lot
I’ve got some ripe orange mangoes in the fridge

Here, Michael paused to get up and go to the fridge. He did in fact have mangoes in his fridge and he gave one to Emily. Then he continued,

I’ve chased my desires
And it has eroded my parts
Atom to atom the deck is stacked against a blackbird, rebound

Now I have found I play a second round
Where one thing ends, run into ground

Emily tapped her fingers together. “It’s kind of free verse. Impressionistic, obviously highly personal to you. I felt something. Thank you for sharing that,” Emily leaned towards him, smiling, showing her almost white teeth, which had obviously been treated since her last cigarette.

Finished with his poem, Michael stood up again, unsure what to do with himself.
“I don’t think I’ve ever read anything I’ve written to anyone. I mean, legal documents obviously, but I’ve never done … Poems. Or whatever that was.”
“I’d say it was a poem. Hey, do you know what I want to do today?”

Michael said that he did not.
“I want to go to the PNE. I haven’t been this year.”
“Is it even open?”
“It’s totally open on weekends. Let’s go. I want to ride something.”
Michael liked the sound of this and went to get his keys. Emily told the cat she’d be back soon and left with Michael. The door closed.

Sylvester, feeling abandoned, scratched Michael’s door until paint chipped off.
sss

Michael Chapter 18

~

sss

 

Chapter 18

“Our body shop is closed, I can get you a ref-”

“It’s okay,” Michael interrupted the clerk at the repair shop.

The man tilted his head as Michael stood unmoving, statuesque and inscrutable. The short attendant at the desk repeated the scenario, as Michael’s eyes drifted off towards the solemn Vancouver clouds.

“Sir. I don’t understand-”
“Just keep it for now? Get to it when you get to it,” the aloof alcoholic insisted, scratching his grey stubble.

The mechanic, whose name tag said Robert, went on to tell Michael that there were no loaner cars available just then. Michael waved this off.

“I’m newly retired,” he announced, “Don’t need to be any place in particular.”

“Congratulations,” Rob praised in deadpan, blinking down at the glowing monitor with tentacle fingers that typed slow letters into the dealership computer.

“It’s a ways to get anywhere. You’re sure you don’t need a cab at least?”
“I’m sure. I’m in the mood to explore,” Michael replied.

Through the sad overcast, the city’s clouds broke and briefly cast a glow. With a dancer’s bounce in his step Michael creatively navigated across the freeway with earbuds in his head feeding him Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. After an hour of walking he spontaneously changed direction to ascend a long cement staircase towards the Skytrain.

The nearly unoccupied monorail took Michael to West Georgia area. He got off and headed towards the library. By the entrance he inadvertently came in between a reporter and her cameraman and forced the crew to stop filming. “Photobomb,” he laughed to himself as the daintily dolled up news lady snorted and muttered something about male privilege.

Inside the library Michael felt a flood of sensations that he had not experienced since college. It was vertiginous. He didn’t know where to begin, so took a few random steps and found himself in the philosophy section, remembering that once upon a time he could understand such texts. Daniel Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained”, Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat”, and David Chalmers’ “Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory” all called to him, inviting his inner child to take notes. In a coil notebook, as he sat amongst heroin junkies at the library atrium, he wrote down passages he found memorable or enigmatic.

Then he found Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. Something on the cover startled him into a mild panic. Abraham held a knife to his son Isaac’s throat. Michael felt ill and put the book down.

Discombobulated, he left the philosophy texts in a spot he could remember and went off to wander other sections of the library. Closer to a window a pretty young brunette girl drank a silver can of diet coke and read an LSAT practice test. For a moment Michael imagined Stephen at Harvard with the future US Presidents and Fortune 500 CEOs. The image of Abraham and Isaac re-asserted itself and he had to sit down.

Around noon Michael emptied his mind of philosophy and went to visit the coffee shop. While he waited in line he received a text message from Emily.
You’re political now?

Michael backtracked over his old messages to remind himself what she was talking about. Kayaktivists? What?

He typed a byzantine response, paid for his coffee, then took a seat in the library atrium beneath the columns. After a few minutes she texted him back. At that point he got tired of texting and called her.
Emily answered on the first ring.

“I’m staying at my mom’s now … I’ll get down there next week to pick him up mr fuzzy… My mom will take him for now until I sort my shit out.”
“Sounds good. Are you sure you don’t need me to hold onto him until you find your own place?”
“I have no idea when that will be, so no. But thanks for offering.”
“Okay. I’ll tell Sylvester that you’re picking him up,” Michael told her, before adding, “We’ll have coffee. I’ll pack up the litterbox. You know, Emily, I’m actually putting that house on the market.”
“Where are you moving?”
“I don’t know yet. I was thinking of just traveling for a while.”

Emily was silent for a second, then in a cutting tone, “Yeah that Portuguese experiment did wonders for you.”

Michael opened his mouth but couldn’t think of anything to say. Suddenly it sounded like she was talking to someone in the background. “Just a moment,” Emily said. After a series of hushed whispers, she came back to say, “Michael I have to go. I’ll text you.”
The call ended and Michael returned to his stack of philosophy texts. He read, then paused to contemplate the text. Comfortable at the desk he watched the others on the scene, and wondered about their individual lives.

Losing his patience with Kierkegaard, he checked his email. Norm had written. His heart rate spiked as he opened the message. Once he saw the text, he relaxed. It was positive.
Michael,
Don’t worry about it. I will agree to your conditions. Also, I’d be happy to put in a good word for Stephen.
Good luck with everything, I wish you the best in your future endeavors.
Sincerely
Norm

Michael laughed to himself, and a cute lady with a cherub face, wearing a sundress, smiled at him from across the coffee shop. He felt that life was good.
Michael forwarded the email to his son and wished him congratulations. “Sounds like Norm will talk to the Dean. Fingers crossed!”

~
Stephen pulled himself up and over the chin-up bar then dropped back down to the sand.

“Break,” The coach said. Instantly Stephen jogged to retrieve his Iphone from the gravel and opened his messages. Noticing his father’s email, he deleted it without reading, then opened a new window to text his classmate Jessica.

CU2nite. New caps. Dynamite. Tonite we play.
Immediately after delivering the text he opened a second window and messaged Rebecca to say,
I’m busy tonight but we can meet Wednesday, I’ll have my section of the report finished by then. 
Kennedy, his obnoxious rowing partner, called to him from across the beach. “Killin’ it with the bitches hey brah?”
Stephen squinted at his partner with dead eyes, then gestured for him to wait.
Before finishing his break he opened a third window to read a message from Lena.

I’m busy tonight and tomorrow. Thursday I can meet up. I’ll help you with your homework…

Stephen sent the last text then locked his phone and dropped it into his backpack. The moment he was out of earshot his phone vibrated as a message from Rebecca arrived in his inbox.

~
Rebecca put her checkered Louis Vuitton handbag down on the classroom desk and sat across from Detective Mills. He thanked her for her cooperation and took out a tape recorder.
“Is it alright with you if I record this conversation?”
“Of course.”

Rebecca checked her eyebrows in a vanity mirror as the detective opened an app on his smart phone.
“I understand you’re involved with Stephen.”
“Not involved. We’re going to grad together. Our families are old friends.”
“He’s not your boyfriend?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“I’ve heard otherwise.”

Rebecca blushed. “No. It’s not like that, not serious.”

The detective snorted and looked down at his phone, “We’re investigating all possible avenues. But I will be upfront and tell you that some questions have been raised about his relationship with Thomas and Jordan.”
“Are you investigating him?”
“Not at this time.”
The brown haired lady stopped breathing. Then she hiccupped. “Sorry.”
Rebecca could not help but notice that Detective Mills’ armpits were soaked with sweat.
“Can you ever recall Stephen, at any point, using aliases? Specifically, can you confirm whether he has ever used his father’s name?”

The direct, immediate question was accompanied by a ruthless, no nonsense stare.

The Meadowridge senior twitched, and moved her mouth, saying nothing. The detective locked eyes and encouraged her to go on, with an insistent glare.
“He … Has a fake ID where he uses his dad’s name Michael, I know that.”
“Oh, interesting…”
“You’re not going to get him in trouble for that? I mean lots of kids have fake IDs…”
“No, no. Whatever, he uses a fake ID for liquor, I get it. That’s not going to be a focus.”

Rebecca took a deep breath and thought for a moment.
“Stephen isn’t involved in anything.”

The detective smiled and shrugged. “I didn’t say he was.”
Meadowridge Academy’s buzzer sounded, and the detective held up a hand to signify that they were not done. Flustered, Rebecca wondered why she had chosen to wear this shade of red, as it made her face even pinker than it already would have been under this level of scrutiny by the law.

~

“…And I implore each of you to put your entire self into performing mitzvoth, and when I say that, I mean nichum avelim, that is…” the Rabbi brought his hands together in front of his wizardly beard as he spun an invisible ball. Sniffles could be heard all around, “Comforting mourners.”

Rebecca sat to Stephen’s right in a sea of what the jock had suggestively derided the “doctors, lawyers and bankers” crowd. Her brown hair had been done in a French braid, and she wore a black sheath dress, along with the obligatory dark mascara. Stephen had selected the same suit he had brought to the Harvard interview.

Two simple wooden caskets lay on either side of the podium, which had mercifully been closed. The Rabbi read Psalms as the mourners filed in from the front. Jordan’s mother and father sat in the row ahead of Rebecca and Stephen. Rebecca held her breath and tensed her muscles. Stephen fought to stay awake.
Something startled him from the aisle.
Adonai natan, Adonai lakach, yehi shem Adonai m’vorach.
The voice was guttural and vaguely threatening. It belonged to a bearded gray-haired Clergyman, who stood facing Stephen, holding something peculiar in his hands.

Stephen leaned towards the dark suited man who tore some fabric and gave the teenage boy a piece.
“Pin this.”
Stephen looked to his left at the other attendees to identify where to put the ribbon.

“Have you ever been to a Jewish funeral?” Rebecca whispered after the Clergyman had moved on.
Stephen whispered that he had not.

“Let me fix your Keriah…” Rebecca pulled Stephen by the collar and adjusted the ribbon on his breast. For a split second he checked out her cleavage. She noticed but let it go. The Rabbi told the mourners and attendees to stand. Stephen stood up. They chanted “El Malei Rachamim.
Stephen grit his teeth and swallowed. The now childless father sat two seats away. The poor, shattered man covered his drooping face, then uncovered it to look at the coffins, opening his mouth but saying nothing. He repeatedly gestured as if to speak, as if he had thought of something, then covered his face again. His hands shook violently.

The next seat over crouched his wife. This little pouty woman wept in spasms behind librarian glasses. In a chain reaction other attendees wept in sympathy. Stephen looked for a distraction but found none. His palms sweat and his heart pounded; his face burned red. Rebecca raised an eyebrow and lingered watching him until he frowned at her and gestured away.

The mourners departed and the pallbearers lifted the two caskets for transport. Rebecca looked at her “grad date”. Stephen vividly imagined strangling the Rabbi, among other things. His skin was the color of blue cheese. He looked to Rebecca and put a finger in front of his lips, then without warning, grabbed her by the hand and wordlessly slipped out with the classmate through a synagogue exit. Rebecca made sure no one saw their departure.
The Jaguar waited for them under an overcast sky. They took seats in her blue Jaguar and backed onto the Avenue then exited to Highway 7. “Oh God!” Rebecca gasped for air.

Then they were silent for five minutes, and communicated nonverbally, staring intensely at one another as Rebecca slowed at intersections. Finally, she spoke,
“Well that was rough. Hm. I mean, fantastic service. But it was just so depressing.
Stephen nodded and covered his mouth to yawn.
“You looked like you were getting kind of shaken up,” Rebecca tried.
The rower wiggled his nose and looked at her quizzically, “Really? Did I look like that?” He looked in the dashboard mirror and inspected his eyes.
“Yeah,” She said, “You had this look of acute anguish that I’ve honestly never seen on you before.”
“Oh. Yeah?”
“Yeah. Hey. I talked to the Detective. He’s going to want to talk to you soon.”
Stephen snapped out of his malaise. Eyes on the road Rebecca watched Stephen in her peripheral vision. His micro expressions in two seconds cycled through shock, anger, then something like panic.
“Well! Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
Rebecca squinted and looked back and forth between Stephen and the road, “I’m telling you now. Why do you look so worried?”

Stephen kept cycling through emotions, eventually settling on feigned laughter. His eyes looked mad.
“I’m not worried,” he said unconvincingly.

Rebecca took the exit to Coquitlam. The first drops of rain landed on her windshield.
“Well,” Stephen said, after a loaded silence, “What did he talk to you about?”
Rebecca thought about her wording as she drove. “He wanted to know if you’ve ever gone by the name Michael?”
Stephen’s hair visibly stood on his neck. Rebecca gasped. “Stephen?”
“Did he say why he wanted to know that?”
“No.”
“Did he say anything else? What else did he say?”
“Ah, not much. I’m trying to remember. I can’t remember right now.”
Stephen closed his eyes and pressed his face against the passenger window.
Taking a deep breath, Rebecca changed the subject. “What did you write on the essay section of the English exam, by the way? Where they gave us that passage from Plato? What did you make of that?”

Stephen blinked, and shook his head, “What?”
“The passage that was on the exam. From “The Republic.””
Stephen took a few breaths then said, “…Oh. That was book 9.”
“I don’t fucking remember what book it was…”

Stephen went on, “Yes book 9. Plato was critiquing democracy through his mouth piece, Socrates. I tied it to the Trump thing, and social media, all that. Most people live in a haze and vote based on slogans, identity issues, feelings.”
“Were we supposed to know all that?”
“All educated people should know Plato.”

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “You’re not at Harvard yet you Carlton. I can’t believe you, though. Seriously.”
The blue Jaguar parked at a Greek Restaurant and they went in and waited to be seated. Stephen checked his phone and then put it away, then when they found seats he took it out again, staring at something silently. Rebecca talked about her grad dress for a few minutes. She noticed him digging his nails into his leg and biting his lip. She stopped talking and waited to see how long it would take him to notice.

“… Were you saying something?” He asked after four minutes of silence.
“…It’s not important. Would you like to go? I mean I’m not even hungry and I’m sure you’re tired.”
Stephen cocked his eyebrow and screwed up his lips.
“I … Need to prepare for exams.”
“Oh yeah? I’ve never known you to study.”
“I mean I study sometimes,” the boy said.

Rebecca paid for the drinks they’d ordered and announced that they were no longer hungry. Walking back to the car Stephen apologized for not picking up the tab, “Like a man should.”
“It’s okay. You can pay next time. Are you going to be at Jennifer’s place after grad?”
Stephen’s tone shifted up, “I think so. I’ll be with … Andrew that day.”
“Guess you would have been with Tom and Jordan otherwise.”
“Nah … I mean I’d have seen them.”
“Oh it’s just so messed up.”
“Yeah no kidding.”

The luxury vehicle sped Stephen back to Abbotsford under heavy rain and when Rebecca looked overwhelmed he offered to drive. She refused, which triggered an argument.
“You’re really fucked up Stephen,” she let slip.
“What? Why do you say that?”
“… Oh. You just can’t see it can you. You think you’re just like everyone else.”
“I … My family doesn’t have money like yours.”
“Oh you think that’s what I’m talking about? That’s all you can focus on. How people see you …”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Uh huh.”

The brown haired senior with the French braids dropped off her date and he apologized for his sketchiness, albeit in a tone of voice that made it sound insincere and even more sketchy. Rebecca waved goodbye and backed onto the street in total silence.

Stephen went into Shelly’s house and sat at the table. For twenty minutes he fumed, fighting to stay calm, breathing and thinking violent thoughts. Then he took out his phone and texted Rebecca’s sister Lena, feeling the beginning of an erection swell.

 

siniy_jaguar_xkconvertible_s_otkritim_1600
~

A short tribute to the First World War

August 1914, Toronto, Canada

*

Trevor McKelvey sparked a match off rough sandpaper to hit his wooden tobacco pipe as he lounged at the mahogany table he’d insisted on building himself, and as the brown plant incensed he perused the titles lining his proud oak shelf.

“Ah, the newspaper, that old distraction,” he muttered as the delivery man stopped at his front step to hand over the daily news.

Trevor waited for the man to leave before retrieving the subscription, holding the paper folded until he resumed sitting at the burnt umber table and opening to the headline of The Globe.  A sudden urgency came over him upon reading the headline and he called out to his only son Conor.

“Good evening pa, what’s with the long face?”

“Oh Conor. Sweet Conor. Have a seat by the fire. You have been given a solemn responsibility.”

Conor was rarely allowed by the mantle, as this was papa’s private sanctuary, a place where spirits were enjoyed, tea consumed by the kettle, and the great works of Dickens and Twain were reviewed and considered, in the retired lawyer’s free time. Unsure about the nature of the request, Conor began to untuck his shirt; his father interrupted with a “tsk, you best keep that tucked in.” Conor complied.

Trevor noticed Conor’s tension and realized the son was mimicking his father, sitting straight up and holding his head directly forward.

“Yes, keep your shirt tucked, Conor. Your country, and the land of our forefathers, requires your absolute commitment, now.”

Conor flushed, as pinpoint goosebumps dotted his cheeks. Seconds passed before the 17 year old boy gathered the nerve to clear his throat and ask for clarification. Trevor obliged:

“Something has finally broken in the European political situation. We should have seen it coming; some of us did. Finally it has happened, Conor. The long peace is at an end. There is a war. And you must go.”

~

As the day of conscription marched closer, Conor privately cried himself to sleep in his overstuffed mattress. Boastfully, Trevor assured him that the war would be over by Christmas: “Reckon it won’t be too much strain for the entire British Empire to knock over a clownish buffoon like Kaiser.” Conor silently stood watching Trevor, sipping on British ale.

Conor collected rare coins and hated guns. The night before departure, his wizened Irish immigrant grandma Madeleine, who lived upstairs and presently spent the days drunk and cursing the damn Queen for failing the people of Ireland, moaned, apoplectic, that the upcoming war would destroy the precious boy.

“Nonsense, mother! You mustn’t say such things, you’ll spoil his fighting spirit. He will look back on his proud day of service, where he will make a name for the McKelvey clan, and bring honor to our heritage. No matter how I may fancy my son, the call of country is the highest and the noblest task of all.”

A glass shattered suddenly, and fragments of shards ricochet off the wooden floor. One piece cut into Trevor McKelvey’s neck.

“Mother! Drink your Bordeaux and calm!”

From across the table, Madeleine had knocked over her heirloom decanter. Crimson wine stained the floor.

“Yeh Mahn, yah ruin thar wurlh!”

Conor squinted at the spectacle, doing his best to conceal his mounting distress at his grandma’s outburst while simultaneously puzzling over his father’s peculiar self assurance and stoicism.  Trevor drew closer to the elderly woman and restrained her from further spasmodic outbursts. The white haired woman sobbed, wine dripping over the shattered glass below.

YEH MEN RUIN DEH WORUH!”

“Oh don’t be so dramatic. I wish you wouldn’t drink before dinner time.”

That night Conor settled in, awaiting patiently a sleep that never came. He worried, but told no one. And he wet the bed.

~

“You will wear your uniform with honor, and dignity, and impeccable care. For crown, for country, for God! All stand at attention! You will move only when instructed! On guard, begin!”

The sadistic drill instructor blew a whistle, and the exercise commenced. Conor ran, Ross rifle in arm, with his freshly sharpened bayonet extending from the tip of his gun. An obstacle – a pillow – was made short work off by his blade, bursting into a swelling cloud of feathers.

“Dive! Dive!”

Bullets fired from the British Infantry as they simulated a live fire exercise; the men crawled beneath barbed wire and stayed out of the way of the pill box guns. Smoke rose on either side of the field. He crawled under barb wire.  And noticed, in a horrifying discovery, that one of his fellow trainees had stood up too soon and been shot multiple times by the British trainers. The exercise carried on as the recruit curled into the fetal position and bled out over the wires.

~

Conor retired at night to his quarters, the roach infested dirt cave reserved for the 13th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The third month of the training he settled a routine for himself. This came at the summation of the first two, two ungodly months during which he had cried at night, almost every night. But the other men seemed harder, so he learned to weep silently, as the other men were rather brutal about any demonstration of affection.

~

“Hey, hey. Shhhh … The other lads are gonna get on yer case, bud. Here, take a shot. Schnapps.”

Conor trembled in his bunk bed, and with trepidation and obvious shame, inched toward the gentle stranger.

“What’s yer name?”

“Conor McKelvey. They made me come … They made me come …”

“Ah, little secret bud. None of us want to be here. That’s the truth. But hey, we’re here now. They say we reinforce Belgium, we’re gonna shock Gerry with artillery, it’s our job to break ‘em at this town called Ypres. Just do as you’re told, I guess. My name’s Johnston, Douglas Johnston. Reckon we’re from the same mother country, or we’re close, hey? Cousins thrice removed, me thinks.”

Conor sniffed, and let the alcohol sink in. The face of the man was gentle, with naïve, child like blue eyes.

“We’ll stick together, buddy. We’ll make it home.”

The dimly lit bunk started to seem soothing, beneath the alcohol glow and the yellow stars. In the distance, artillery roared and shook the ground in awe inspiring thunder. After three swigs of the warm bitter alcohol, Conor managed some fitful sleep.

~

April 23, 1915, Ypres Salient.

The opening salvos of the battle were a blur. Men slung their rifles and fixed their bayonets, as dirt stains obscured their faces. The tin helmets seemed decorative to Conor. They could not stop bullets, he realized in horror. The gunfire from the British shot back in an indiscernible bewildering and constant roar.

“Over the top!”

It was like nothing he could have imagined in his worst nightmares. The drum beat of the machine guns, the simultaneous heavy explosions and the smoke, the screams, the absolute animal need to continue moving. Machine gun bullets whipped by and torched the air.

Incoming.

A whistle blew and Conor pulled himself out of the trench then ran alongside the stampeding expeditionary force. Already pounded with artillery, the ground was moguls, and mounds of dirt kicking up beneath bursting shells. Douglas ran meters ahead of Conor, and under the heavy machine gun fire, turned to offer his hand whenever Conor slipped. When Conor tripped over a fallen soldier whose body sunk into an opening in the earth, Douglas grabbed his hand and hoisted him onward.

“Barbed wire!”

Another explosion tore a crater into the earth, and shattered men were tossed all directions. Machine guns tore desperate bodies; screams, blood, fracturing, all in a hellfire melee that admitted only one possible solution: to run.

“STAY LOW!”

The town of Ypres had been completely obliterated by the time the Canadian and British soldiers reached the perimeter. French speaking civilians wandered into the line of fire. There was no preventing the inevitable: Germans and Canadians exchanged bullets, grenades and artillery rounds, and men, and women, and children were killed before Conor’s petrified eyes.

Once the forward motion was halted by a whistle Conor crouched down into the newly dug trench.

An officer took his platoon aside.

“Word up the line is there’s something new. Take precautions. Piss on your handkerchief!”

The peculiar request came from a mustached man with a gaunt face and medical garb. Johnston laughed at Conor, “What’s this? I’m not doing that.”

The medic vacated the scene, looking ghastly pale. Over the bombed out remains of the Belgian town, a green smoke licked the grass and carcasses.

“What on earth?”

“Gas! Gas! Gas!”

~

Conor held the piss soaked handkerchief to his face as Douglas finally accepted the treatment as “better than turning black and blue.”

They had seen the effects. Men breathed in and suddenly the color drained from their skin. Their eyes bugged out of their skulls, turning red, and these men screamed and begged for water. If you gave them water, they coughed up a foamy pink substance. Then, the skin turned black, and their lips peeled off; they died, as if drowning in their own chest.

Johnston muffled a plea. “I can’t breath!”

Conor closed his eyes. Inhaling urine. Thinking about nothing. His skin burned, and the world became enveloped in green.

He thought about pleasant things, the land of his ancestors. The color green. Johnston screamed out that he was sorry; Conor couldn’t see anything, as black swept the crust of this hell.

There, beneath the fire falling from the sky, Conor McKelvey watched Douglas Johnston die. The bullets and explosions were unrelenting but Conor’s stoicism had reached its upper limit. He took a mount of dirt and poured it over the body of his close friend, with his right hand. Being left handed, he used his dominant side to compress the piss soaked towel to his own face, and he closed his eyes and wept as the hell all around him raged.

 

ff

~

Michael Chapter 17

blenz

Chapter 17

A scrubby reporter with a mullet and double chin on CTV told Emily of the Maple Ridge murders. The underweight 22 year old changed the station to VICE News, marginally curious as she was about the epidemic of synthetic opiate abuse among hillbillies in Texas. Her reverie was cut short by a spasm of Tobias, who tore the blinds from the wall, scraping off wallpaper.

“Jesus! Calm the fuck down you spaz.”
“I hate these blinds. They’re haggard.”

Then, as if he just remembered, “Oh, hey, I’m real sorry. I need to work the door at Desmond’s.”
Emily bit her nail, tearing her skin at the cuticle, but swallowed the pain without a sound and processed his insinuation.

“All right if I step out for a smoke?” The trembling woman inquired.

Tobias didn’t skip a beat, and nodded, “Ya but you got to be ready to go in fifteen so why don’t you just wait til then.”
“Fuck Tobes… Takes me longer than that to put my shoes on.”

Tobias, a broad and muscular Hawaiian/ Canadian with tanned beige skin, ignored her complaint, as he examined his face for stubble in the toothpaste stained bathroom mirror.

Emily stood up and folded her arms, frowning, but he ignored this.

“When are you going to be done at the club?” She asked, her pitch lowering in diffidence.
The broad man smirked in a patronizing way and apologized. “You may need to crash somewhere else tonight girl.”

The olive skinned bouncer meticulously fixed his hair. The young woman’s posture broke with the resurgence of her acute fear of abandonment. Seconds passed, and then in an affectless tone, the Hawaiian considered the eyes of his transient hookup and innocently asked, “Is that a problem?”

“No,” Emily answered, regaining her composure. “Not a problem. Text me.” With a cigarette already tucked behind her ear she slipped on her Vans and strapped her purse over her right shoulder to head towards the door. As it shut behind her she muttered to herself that he was a terrible lay.

~
Crestfallen, Emily sat on the curb in front of Blenz Coffee on West Hastings. Her most recent dye job had been disastrous: her medium length hair mutated to blood orange, and so she’d hid as much as she could of it beneath her favorite cap, the one with the flowers. The Vancouver air was chilly, and her only refuge was a white sleeveless t shirt advertising her affinity for death metal. She’d successfully swiped ten dollars from Tobias’ wallet and considered spending it on a caramel latte, since her bare arms were goosefleshed and tingling under perspiration and drizzle and the caffeine and warmth of the beverage promised relief.

The scent of lilacs drifted from the coffee shop, beckoning. Halfway across Hastings Emily stumbled over her untied shoelaces. She recovered just in time to avoid getting run down by an orange BMW. The vehicle honked and the driver swore. Emily looked around to see if anyone had seen. No in Vancouver ever paid any attention.

Inside the Blenz Emily ordered her drink from a shaggy middle aged man who looked stoned. He was sluggish, and she took a deep breath and checked her phone while waiting. The unread messages from Michael numbered in the dozens. She opened the most recent. It was from five days prior.
“We should have listened to the hippies. Kayaktivists. Shell about to tear open the arctic to look for oil, this won’t end well.
Emily typed a reply,
You’re political now?” She sent the message and then paid for her drink.

With five dollars and change remaining, Emily brainstormed her next steps. After going back and forth she resolved to contact her mom. She considered how to word her appeal most tactfully then dialed and cleared her throat.

~
Stephen drove his mother’s Oldsmobile to a Tuxedo Rental store in Abbotsford and parked outside then went in and had his measurements taken by a heavyset blond woman wearing Prada. When she knelt by the mirror he could smell cupcake scented perfume and he held his breath.
“Which school?”

Stephen waited a beat before answering. “Bodwell.”
The lady squinted and looked at Stephen thoughtfully, “What do you think of the new layout?”
The imperturbable boy yawned and stretched, pretending he didn’t hear her. “I’ll pay in cash,” he replied.

The outfitter rang up the sale.
“Receipt?”
“No.”
“Thank you so much. Say hi to Mr. Cooper!”
“You’re welcome. I will.”

With his outfit tucked in a leather travel bag, Stephen drove the Oldsmobile back to Shelly’s place and parked in the garage then walked in to the house and saw his mom sitting alone at the kitchen table. She had a glass of red wine and her eyes were puffy.

“What’s wrong?” The rowing champion untucked a chair.
“It’s nothing, really” Mary tried, halfheartedly.
“Tell me. I’m a big boy.”

Sighing, Mary ran a heavy finger through her sand colored hair and took a deep breath.
“Stephen you’ve always been so strong. I don’t want you to talk to your sister about this … I’m worried that your father is not going to do the right thing. In regards to the settlement.”

Stephen asked her to elaborate and as she did so he watched her attentively, his chin resting in his thick fist. A thud interrupted Mary’s recounting, and she jumped. “Another bird committing suicide,” Stephen observed, gesturing at the window.

“I’m worried about our future,” Mary confided.

When his mother ended her monologue Stephen stroked his chin and contemplated her words.
“I don’t want you to worry about any of that, mom. He’ll take care of you.”

Mary dried her eyes, “I’m not his wife any longer. He really doesn’t have to.”
Stephen held a finger to his lips and told his mother that everything would be all right, as “Vows are vows.”

After a strained silence, Stephen straightened his back, and put his hand over his mother’s trembling fingers.

“I need to head out for a bit.” Mary nodded and told him to make sure he let her know where he would be spending the night. He winked and put on his shoes then went out the front door.

Walking down the cement walkway Stephen saw that the bluebird who had collided with the glass was now laying in the front garden wounded. It rolled over, shaking and dazed; dark red dripped from its ruffled fur. One wing was clearly broken and it’s skull appeared fractured. The bird struggled in the dirt, frightened and in pain, twitching.

Stephen walked past the animal, his cold eyes not lingering for even a second. He got into Mary’s car and backed out of the driveway.

~
Stephen texted Norm as he drove towards Vancouver’s futuristic skyline. Within a minute his Iphone chimed.

Yes the Mayor is willing to meet with you. I put in a good word.

The boy sped through a red light camera as his Iphone blared Drake. Internally Stephen laughed at the wannabe gangster from Canada who, in his own heart, he knew had never killed a man. Just before reaching Hastings he stopped at a red light and turned to his right to see his old gym teacher from Elementary school. The former mentor waved at the boy, but behind his black Raybans, Stephen did not reciprocate. The green light beckoned him forward, then, as he headed towards City Hall and the promise of a leg up in the city’s power structure hierarchy.

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~

Michael Chapter 16

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~
Rebecca simulated reading her laminated black menu as Stephen glared elsewhere. He had not glanced at her. The steakhouse patio on Davie street was bustling with early summer tourists and he’d requested two pints of Guinness extra draught immediately before he’d become consumed in texting.
“They never ID here, hey,” he muttered off handedly after the cocktail waitress was out of earshot. Rebecca narrowed her eyebrows, indifferent to the waitress and the ostensible “Lager and chill.”

The star volleyball player removed her gold and navy-blue aviators. Perplexed, her dark eyes sought desperately for Stephen’s intelligent pupils. He noticed her attempt, so turned away to very deliberately check out the waitresses ass, prolonging the discomfort. Then back to the phone. Rebecca scowled, snorted and finally dug the foot of her heel into his ankle.

“What the fuck?”
“Your friends were murdered today.”
Stephen shrugged, palms up and facing the cotton clouds. His eyes were hidden behind his signature Oakley shades, chosen for their impenetrability and “Delta Force” aesthetic. Rebecca snatched them while he was distracted. She saw his pupils dilate for a nanosecond.

“What’s the matter with you?” The Jiu Jitsu novice tried and failed to yank the pair back from the ladylike fingernails painted black.

“You haven’t said a single thing about anything! Cold blooded murders! Our school!!!”
“I don’t know what to say. It’s the drugs. It’s the crime … It’s poverty, right? Way I see it … Just need to push the bad ones out. To be blunt … They deserved what they got.”

Rebecca’s wavy, highlighted brown hair fell over the coiled grip she’d grasped to steal the PRISM sunglasses, and her delicate fingers coiled and clutched it like a constricting snake. This time, Stephen couldn’t reach her. She stuffed the sunglasses between her ass cheeks.

“Those are fucking invulnerable, you could throw them against a brick wall and they wouldn’t crack,” Stephen snorted with a hint of bitterness. “Well,” the aspiring Harvard freshman added, “Well… Maybe not at your current weight.”

Rebecca scoffed bewilderment. Then she moved past the slight to demand he show his true feelings.

“Aren’t you in shock?”

Her Meadowridge prom date bore down with his grey eyes. “No,” he deadpanned, listening to her hyperventilate, with the oblivious Vancouver trendies ignoring their melodrama.

Over the railing, pedestrian traffic lined the trendy sidewalk. Masses of bodies sideswiped the patio seats, wafting smells of cologne and body odor. A Pit-bull charged from the void, chomping on Rebecca’s left hand “Fuck!” She winced. Blood droplets landed on her table as she examined the wound.

Before Rebecca could reprimand the delinquent owner, drinks arrived with a petite blonde waiter Stephen noticed. “Lovely. Thank you doll.” Cupping his hand over the glass, he told her she should probably put some pressure on the wound. Crestfallen but submissive, Rebecca ignored her foaming black Guinness.

For a minute she eavesdropped on the crowd in the patio. Disgusted with human kind just then, she recaptured her courage and tried to probe.

“Do you … Feel anything? Do you ever feel anything?”

“I’m coping in my own way,” Stephen replied glibly, gesturing to the drink.
“Don’t try that! You don’t even drink! You’ve never even been drunk, not that I’ve seen at least! I don’t….”

Rebecca, in no way just then resembled the senior volleyball star freshman headed for McGill. She shrunk into herself and pitifully ran her hands over the screen of her phone, refreshing Facebook to scroll over quotidian discharges from the void. Then she remembered.

“I’m supposed to…” Rebecca’s voice broke into a pant, noticed by Steve, “… Meet with the police. Detective Mills.”
Stephen rolled his unobscured ice grey eyes. “Okay? He already talked to you though.”
“Fuck are you serious? That was when they were busted. Now … Wouldn’t you think a triple homicide …?” Her voice cracked and she couldn’t finish the thought.

Stephen put down his phone and consumed the beer in one gulp. “What did you guys talk about last time?”

Rebecca sensed the sudden intensity and made her eyes small. To obscure her face more, she pulled the hood of her one piece Bandage Bodycon sweater dress to her forehead. Stephen watched her visible half closely as she bit her lower lip and squinted, motioning that she needed time to get her thoughts together. Stephen would have none of it. He leaned closer to her and his tone hissed, becoming threatening, “… What … Did … McIver … Talk … To … You … About?”

Rebecca fluttered her eye lashes.
“Stephen. Did you ever do drugs with them?”
“Ah, no.”
“Are you sure?”
“Final answer.”

The purple hoodied lady tapped her hands against her glass as she gazed into the deep caramel beer, amused at the fun house reflection.
“… He got his sister killed. God. If there’s a hell …”

Stephen shrugged again. Rebecca finally took a drop into her lips and swished it around.
A few seconds passed.

After Stephen counted to 5, he changed the subject.
“You know Rebecca. You’re … You look a lot like Gal Gadot…”
“AHH!” She gasped and in covering her mouth, knocked her glass onto the dirty floor. Stephen made sure nothing landed on his hemmed Diesel Jeans.

Rebecca’s body shot up to her feet fast enough to give her vertigo. “I just don’t … I don’t know Stephen, I don’t … I think it’s too much.” Hysterically she leaned over the railing and dry heaved. Stephen who tipped back his glass and finished his own Guinness, stretching his arms out in the sun.
“I must go,” Rebecca abruptly grabbed her purse and headed for the door, tears flooding mascara.

Stephen waved that she could head off, as he removed a twenty dollar bill and set it down on the table. Then he quickly examined the uncracked Oakleys Rebecca had sat down on, and thanked himself under his breath the bitch wasn’t as fat as grade 11. Surely they’d have at least been cracked, if this had happened that year.

~
The bony man with acne scars and honey colored chipped teeth had been called the Cryptkeeper, “Dave,” and many other names both more and less complementary during his 37 years on earth. This morning Dave woke up at 11 am, took a swig of moonshine, and put on his New Balance sneakers (embarrassingly a gift from mom), along with a blue and red San Francisco 49ers Sweater. “Hmmph!” Mold wafted off the fabric. The lonely felon wrapped on the washing machine door. Inside the dryer was running and banging metallic rhythms.

Dave leaned his chiseled face on the door.
“Babe! Whatchoo doing mixin’ your blacks with my fuckin’ proper threads?
“Chill out crooked dick.”

Dave’s coughed back a swearword then sniffed back heroin snot and left for the fridge, which was out of Coors but stocked with Bob Marley Iced Tea. Resentfully he grabbed his side-bitch’s favorite flavor and stomped over the sooty carpet in his outdoor runners, then cracked his knuckles and lumbered up the front entrance, emerging to the foot of a Cordova Street sidewalk. His legs were sore, and he forced himself to jog uphill towards Vancouver’s Harbour Center.

At the Harbour Center a silver Lexus SUV stopped to let him cross and he jogged through light traffic to the Granville Square overpass when a woman carrying a big red case, as if for a trombone, caught his eye. He slowed his jog. She struck him as out of place.

“Hold up! I know you?”
The woman was olive skinned. She turned heel and her black dress wafted up to reveal three loose gold bracelets with diamonds fastened to her ankles.
“Girl you got style!” Dave hollered, “Looking to make some extra bling blang? C’mon you Talian’s got it going on! Serious bank, call on the Crypt-”

“Fuck off scrub,” she answered with a flat palm to his face. Her black hair obscured her features as she then took to a jog away from her solicitor and towards the city center. Dave stood frozen, suddenly cognizant of a couple of long shadows over the cement, conjoining with his own lanky shadow.

“It ain’t-”

A small steel triangle flew into his left cheek just as he turned his head and the weight of the silver pistol whip crushed into his lower jaw. The two shadows fully covered his own. Dave’s head snapped down, so he was unable to see the Silver Acura that screeched over the curb. The driver seat wheel bumped and crushed his right foot, flattening the bones in the New Balance runners mom had bought for his birthday.

The back passenger seat flew open and Stephen’s hired goons grappled the now crippled Dave, whose foot had pancaked. In acute shock Dave’s bloodless skin tone sent him hyperventilating while the Mafioso giddily forced “The Cryptkeeper” into a fetal ball in the back seat.

“Fucker’s bleeding all over the upholstry!” Devon yelled from the steering wheel.

Dave coughed, phenomes, unable to produce words. Anthony stuffed the broken footed street dealer against the window and slammed the door behind him as the Luxury Vehicle with California plates sped away from Granville Island.

“We’ll chop this ride anyway, more where they came from.”

The sun broke through a cloud and Devon laughed heartily as Anthony wrapped the Electric tape over Dave’s mouth and the six cylinder engine propelled the three criminals towards the anonymity of Vancouver’s pristine skyline.

The whining subsided as fetal Dave desperately squeezed his broken foot.  His tears eventually stopped. Devon drove fast but not reckless. Dave’s face became completely motionless as the Acura stopped by a deserted sewage treatment facility and the door opened.

“Anything you want to get off your chest before we do this?” Devon asked the duck taped, broken footed man with blood seeping down his shattered chin.

“Don’t bother with that stuff,” Anthony chastised his colleague, removing the silver Colt .45 from its holster, wiping the blood off the sights he’d used to smash David’s teeth.

Together the gangster assassins carried their target to the edge of a “restricted area” hydroelectric dam.

“I… I…” In shock, unable to breathe, Dave collapsed and stared up at Devon with terrified white eyes.

Something about Dave’s eyes drove Anthony into a frenzy. With tightly tied black Russian Combat boots, his leg autonomously went Rambo. With Dave prostrate and already bleeding profusely, Dave’s face folded into a bowl beneath an explosive, Spartan curb stomp. With black Russian Combat boots Anthony kicked the crippled and broken dealer in the face with enough force to liquify all the cartilage in his nose. All his front teeth shattered and many were swallowed or driven into his cheeks; some got caught in the fracturing windpipe.

Devon checked his Facebook, leaning against the Silver Acura. Anthony stomped, and stomped, until what was once David’s skull looked more like a red and grey impressionist painting.

Huffing, Anthony undid the boot and tossed it into the sewer. The pair returned to the car and took off their gloves, then wrapped them in Ziploc bags and then they reversed and drove back towards Vancouver.

“Kid’s gotta pay up but we’ll give him a week,” Devon said, scanning the car radio and settling on Selena Gomez.

Anthony chuckled.

“What?” Devon asked, with a coy and mischievous twinkle in his grin.

“What’s your read on the Harvard kid? He’ll pay?”

Anthony took a moment to think. “I mean I got the sense we understood one another.”

“Yeah, damnest thing,” Devon answered. “I got that sense too. Kid’s like… 17. Blond, gotta be rich. Never known anyone like that before.”

Selena Gomez sang, “Kill ‘em with kindness” over the Acura sound system. Devon adjusted the bass.

Anthony laughed.

“I just love it when we don’t even have to use any bullets.”

“Hey yeah I know. Makes me feel like we accomplished something. Like we’re innovators … Entrepreneurs. Artists.”

The sun shone bright above, at last, and the two associates took a long detour back to their high rise to admire the nice looking women out for their aerobics and jogging.

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