Monthly Archives: March 2015
A couple of crows laughed back and forth. I got up and left my tent. It was around six in the morning. After brushing my teeth and taking a leak, I stood for a moment and looked around our campsite. I could hear Jon snoring up a storm. The shy, early morning light peeked through the trees. This was our second trip to Killarney Provincial Park. I was getting married in a month. In reality, this was my bachelor party, a week-long getaway with my friends. I thought about the adventures we’d had in this park, the trails and the various lakes that had washed my weariness. I thought about the fact that our week-long getaway was nearing its end. We were to pack up and head home to Toronto the next morning. Mulling these thoughts over, while the shy, early morning light caressed my face, I decided to start drinking and smoke a joint. The crows had moved further away, but were laughing still.
I started a fire and boiled some water and made myself an Irish coffee. “Final day,” I thought, sitting back in my camping chair and rolling a joint. I knew that my friends would be asleep for a while. I knew that I’d be good and drunk by the time they rose to start the day. It didn’t take long for my veins to buzz with life. Alcohol had long ago formed a river inside me. I lit the joint and exhaled my first drag toward the treetops. The smoke hovered and danced to the symphony of crackling firewood and laughing crows. I drank and smoked and stared into the fire. “I’m getting married,” I thought and closed my eyes.
From time to time, out in the wilderness, nature forces us to reflect, to look back and retrace our steps. I’d done this many times before. So many times, I’d seen the scattered stories of my life in different fire pits, or stared at a distant memory in the view of some valley. Now, in my early morning high, I thought about Katie. I thought about starting our life together. I thought about us exchanging vows in front of our families and friends. I downed my coffee and pictured Katie asleep at home, our two cats cuddled up against her feet. “Wedding in a month,” I thought.
I made another Irish coffee. “Why not..?” I thought. Everything was changing. These lightheaded moments were all fading. Soon, I’d be married. There’d be no time after this for week-long excursions into the woods. There’d be no room for Irish anything or idle cigarettes and marijuana mornings. I thought about all this as I took the heaviest drags I could off the remainder of the joint and tossed it into the fire. The smoke filled my chest and I coughed. “I will roll another one,” I thought, “Why the fuck not…?”
By the time Samir woke up and came out of his tent, I was drinking my third cup of coffee and smoking my second joint. Jon was still snoring in his tent. Samir walked over and stood next to the fire. We exchanged nods. He yawned.
“Some water left,” I said and pointed at the thermos on the bench in our mesh gazebo tent. I offered him the joint, but he shook his head.
“Too early,” he said. I leaned back and continued to smoke. “I’ll have a shot, though,” he added.
“Let’s,” I said, getting up and stretching my back. We walked to our gazebo tent. We sat down and I poured two shots of whiskey.
“Cheers,” said Samir.
“Good morning,” I replied.
The shot burned its way down. It splashed into my already drunken gut.
“So,” said Samir, staring at me.
“Last day in Killarney,” he sighed.
“Yup,” I said, clearing my throat and reaching again for the bottle.
“Going all out, eh Ben?” said Samir, a subtle smile curving the corners of his lips.
“Last day,” I said.
We nodded and drank. He drummed with his thumb against the bench.
“What do you wanna do?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders and tilted my head.
“Should I wake Jon?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I replied while I lit the remainder of the joint and got up and left the gazebo tent. He followed after me. Not sure what time it was, but I was drunk; drunk enough that I felt like dancing. I stood in the middle of our campsite, my arms stretched out to my sides, caressing the air around me, as I began to sway from side to side. I danced slowly to the beat of some secret melody. When drinking, you should stand to see how drunk you are. Once you know, you should dance.
“Practicing for the wedding?” said Samir.
I smiled, but said nothing. I was dancing with the forest, with the granite cliffs of Killarney. Soon, I’d be on my way, back to the city, back to work. Soon, I’d be married. Soon, a father…A new chapter awaited my arrival. I knew that such a dance would never possess me again. I was well on my way to being a different Ben. I danced with the forest one last drunken time and listened to the crows in the distance, whose laughter would outlive us all.
Spring arrived and rivers flowed in the sewers under the city. The rats emerged from their frozen hideouts. We sat around, like we always did, at the Boiler, our neighborhood pub. It was a run-down joint with dim lighting and a wide variety of villains passing through. The place reeked of rotten beer and rotten souls. We were all criminals in one way or another, with nothing to be proud of, but spring had arrived and that was reason enough to celebrate.
Johnny was sitting across from me, taking silent sips from his beer. Al was sitting beside him, drumming with his thumb against the table. The sun outside had called it a day and the nighttime vultures were peeking their heads into the Boiler. Grime of all kinds; dealers, junkies, thugs and thieves…The Boiler was a den of criminal activity, full of cowboys looking for anything heavy. Every beer was a new scheme, every smile a farce.
“Yo, Ace,” said Johnny and added in a whisper, “You packin?”
I turned in my seat, but said nothing.
Johnny nodded his head and went on, “Down to run a grab?”
“What do you got in mind?” I said.
Johnny smiled and leaned forward, “Junior,” he whispered.
“We’re gonna rob Junior,” said Al, his voice cracking every which way.
“Keep your fucking voice down, you imbecile!” Johnny exclaimed.
I looked down the bar. Junior was sitting where he usually sat, at the table by the door. He was a giant human being, a mountain from every angle. We’d seen him around the neighborhood and in the Boiler for quite some time. He was always alone; a massive man, empty of words…I looked at him and the blankness in his eyes. I’d often wondered what his story was. None of us really knew, but we were all intimidated by him, by his size. Deep down inside, I knew he wasn’t a gangster. I knew he wasn’t hard, but I had no intention of being the one to test him. I was curious more than anything else. Also, I always tried not to mess with people from the neighborhood. I didn’t like to run into people I’d ripped off.
“We’re gonna need another five guys, at least,” I grinned.
“We can take him,” said Johnny, tapping the side of his leather jacket.
“Take him for what? He ain’t loaded,” I interrupted.
“How do you know?” said Al.
“C’mon,” I sighed, “You ever seen him with money?”
“I heard he’s an old school gangster, sleeping on a bed of cash,” said Al and continued, “I heard whoever he was working for retired him ‘cause Junior got a bit bent in the head.”
“Nice story,” I muttered, “You and your sewing circle sure are imaginative, Al.”
“So you ain’t down?” said Johnny.
“Hell no,” I replied, “You’re outta your mind. That guy will crush us…Are you gonna shoot him?”
“If I have to,” Johnny whispered and reached for his beer.
“Man, think of this moment when they send you up the river,” I said.
“Whoa!” he burst, “Who said anything about going away? Nobody’s going anywhere.”
“You’re talking about robbing a dude from the neighborhood,” I said, lowering my tone, my fingers spread and palms pressed on top of the table, “The man is ten times your size. You think he’s just gonna roll over and give it up? Are you gonna fight him, Mr. Poundforpound? He will eat you in an instant. You’re gonna have to shoot him. And then what?”
“At least I’m thinking,” said Johnny, “When was the last time we ran a grab? At least I’m brainstorming things…”
“Things..?” I chuckled, “You’re trying to get us all pinched.”
“You think he’s connected?” said Al.
“I don’t know,” I sighed, “Just leave the man alone.” I turned and cast my eyes down the bar again. I stared at Junior. He was holding something and running his thumb across it while he rocked back and forth in his seat. I couldn’t stop staring at him and I tried to see exactly what he was holding, but couldn’t tell. In front of him, on the table, there stood a tall, half-empty glass of what appeared to be milk. I laughed and turned to my beer. “You two are a rare breed of idiot,” I laughed and added, “How long have we been coming here?” I shrugged my shoulders and tilted my head, “You geniuses are talking about robbing a guy we’ve seen coming here for months now…You haven’t bothered to check him out, but you got your stories.” I turned back to Junior and continued, “I look at him and see someone who ain’t all there. I see a man who looks like he’s survived a hell of a lot more than me. He ain’t got anything I want.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” said Johnny.
“The man is drinking milk!” I exclaimed, “Why do you think we call him Junior?”
“Because he drinks milk..?”
“Yes, Al,” I cleared my throat, “Because he drinks milk, and he’s so fucking big.” Al laughed and snorted. “Yes, it’s funny.” I looked over at Johnny, “He’s got nothing, not even a real name,” I sighed.
The evening dragged on and the Boiler grew louder. I found myself outside, beer-buzzed and smiling, my lungs welcoming the mixture of light spring air and dense Du Maurier. I was tired. I knew they were probably conjuring up another scheme or cursing me to hell and making their own plans. I was tired of their voices. For a moment, I pondered where I would go. Could I find another home…? Live another life…? I tried to think of at least one place I could go to get away from it all. None came to mind.
All of a sudden, Junior emerged from inside the Boiler, like a rhinoceros, like some mysterious beast full of milk. He stood for a moment in front of the pub, scraping the soles of his shoes on the sidewalk. He kicked a pebble and laughed and started walking down the street. I watched him and wondered what jungle had been his home, what mountain he’d escaped from. He walked slowly, almost wobbling from side to side. I wondered if too much milk had something to do with that. I wondered who he really was and why he never spoke. He was about to disappear around the corner onto Doris Avenue, when I flicked my cigarette to the street and followed after him. I had nothing else going on, and I guess the beer in me nursed my curiosity.
I followed him down Doris Avenue, keeping my distance, and through the park, to a worn and withered white house on Horsham Drive. From afar, I watched his giant figure walking around the side of the house. By the time I got there, he was already inside. I stood on the sidewalk and lit another smoke.
Uneasy waves in my gut could’ve been hunger, could’ve been nerves…I clenched my fist a couple of times, my fingers sticking together in the clammy swamp of my palms. “What am I doing?” I thought, but the night was beyond such questions. I dropped the cigarette and reached to my back and pulled out the .38 caliber pistol I had tucked under my belt. I walked around the side of the house, my heavy breaths guiding me to the door. A couple of lights were on in the basement, but the rest of the house was dark. I walked to the back and crouched down by one of the lit basement windows. My heart rattled my rib cage and I tightened my grip around the pistol in my left hand. It was a simple precaution. I wasn’t there to rob him, or kill him. I guess I was just there to get to know him. I stared into the lit up room, which consisted of a mattress on the floor and a whole bunch of children’s toys scattered about. Junior barged in. He was wearing a giant diaper and nothing else. I watched him drop himself on the mattress as he picked up a toy from the floor that looked like some sort of rattle. He shook it and laughed. I was more than ever confused and curious. Who was he…? What was wrong with him…? I wondered to whom this humongous child belonged and how he’d found his way into the Boiler. I watched him for a while, fascinated by his infantile gaze. This was the monster we were all so intimidated of. This was Al’s ‘old school gangster, sleeping on a bed of cash…’ I wanted to laugh. I had so many questions, and I knew that for the most part, they would remain unanswered. I felt sorry for him and thought, “I will talk to you next time. I promise to protect you from the likes of me.”
I spent most of that night staring into the fire I’d built. The wind was picking up, feeding my flames. It took a while for my muscles to relax and my clothes to dry; a lot of silence on my part…My shivering shame demanded silence. I also tried to tune out my friends. They kept resurrecting the incident from that afternoon. Every camping trip had its stories, its jokes and injuries. Every summer, we marked a campsite in one of Ontario’s provincial parks with our gear and our booze. That’s all we needed to call it home for a week. We were at Bon Echo Provincial Park that year, and I knew with a jagged certainty that the incident would follow us for years to come. I could see myself in the flames, embarrassed evermore. I wanted to be alone.
Earlier that afternoon, after a few shots of whiskey, we’d decided to get on the water and canoe to the cliffs across Mazinaw Lake. Truth be told, it was Samir’s decision. Looking back on it now, I feel as if he nagged us into it, the annoying outdoorsman that he was. Regardless, we walked to the lake and carried our canoe to the water. Samir got in the front, as he always did. Jon, the heaviest of us all, sat in the middle, the sun beaming off his bald head and into my eyes as I sat in the back. Our friend, Chris, stood on the shore, the only witness to our sudden failure. I got to paddle once before we capsized, in about three feet of water. I paddled once on my left and next thing I knew we were tipping to the right and into the lake, our canoe upside down in an instant. I heard Chris scream and laugh before we were submerged. His laughter continued for quite some time after that. I wanted to knock his teeth out.
“That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Chris, once we were all out of the water and had carried our canoe back to the patch of grass where it’d been moments before. We looked at each other, drenched and disappointed. Both Samir and Jon had their phones in their pockets. Jon also had a full pack of cigarettes, soaked through and through. My pockets were empty, but the lake struck me in my gut, waves rippled under my skin….Chris kept laughing. I turned and marched back to our campsite. I marched to the squeaking shame of my flip flops. They followed behind me. I could hear Samir and Jon kissing their teeth and sighing for their phones. “Idiots,” I thought.
I changed as fast as I could and started a fire right away. In my mind, I was already assigning blame. “Stupid Samir,” I thought, “Let’s get on the water, let’s get on the water,” he kept saying all day. “Fat ass Jon,” I thought, “Tipped us all over.” I was angry beyond belief and Chris kept laughing. Deeper in my mind, deeper under my skin, where those waves had rippled to, my childhood emerged to remind me of how dangerous water could be. I saw the two year old me in the murky madness of a lake, kicking and screaming and sinking under. I shook my head and lit a cigarette. “Some memories never drown,” I thought.
“From now on,” said Chris, “I’m gonna call y’all the capsize crew!” and he laughed and he gasped. I got up and gathered more wood.
“Man,” said Samir, “I had so many pictures on my phone,” he sighed.
Jon shook his head. I said nothing and just went on breaking branches over my right thigh.
“Fuck! That was so hilarious!” Chris exclaimed, as he unleashed a platoon of giggles around the campfire. Samir and Jon laughed too, but they laughed quieter laughs, defeated laughs, stupid idiots… “So hilarious,” Chris repeated and continued, “I wish I’d gotten it on tape.”
“My phone,” muttered Samir.
I let out a sigh. It seemed as if hundreds of curse words were tied to my tongue and trapped in my throat. There were rants in my chest, confined and breathless under the weight of a black lake inside me. I said nothing and turned instead to my fire, to my cigarettes. I knew at that point that I would stay awake all night and share my shame with the blackness around me.
Samir was the first one to retire. He rose and cleared his throat, “Callin it a night.”
Chris rose next. “Me too,” he said and walked off, following Samir and his flashlight.
Jon and I decided to share a cigarette. Four minutes later he was gone, too…Must’ve been late. I was tired, but alone now. That’s what I’d wanted all along. Not sure how long I sat there, watching my fire going out. It was colder now, pitch black. I felt around for my flashlight on the ground and picked it up as I stood. Somewhat detached and shivering from the cold, I lit the ground below me and started walking down the path through the bush, toward the lake. My breaths got heavier with each step. I tried to exhale my memories. I tried to calm myself by whispering things like, “You can do this! Nothing in there that can hurt you…You’re a great swimmer,” but instead, all of my words came out as unpleasant sighs, groans and grunts. I was walking faster now, almost jogging. I stripped off my clothes, still groaning and grunting like a madman, and ran in up to my waist and slowed to a stop. I watched the rippling waves circle around me in the black water. I held my beating heart in my hands. The moon was out, witness to my redemption…And the outline of the cliffs across the lake, watching me…
“Fuck it,” I said as I closed my eyes and submerged myself in the blackness.
There was a knock at the door. Charlie groaned a couple of times, lying on his back, sweating profusely on the leather couch in his living room. The ceiling fan was playing its usual soundtrack in the summer heat, whizzing and clicking every two turns, all day and night. Knock at the door. Charlie groaned again and got up.
He unlocked the door and flung it open.
“Sam,” he said.
“Hey, buddy,” said Sam, lifting a six pack of beer, “Did I wake you?”
Charlie turned around and walked back to the couch, muttering, “Piece of shit…”
Sam walked in and closed the door. “Beautiful day!” he said.
“Is it?” said Charlie, rubbing his eyes, clearing his throat.
“Smells like death in here,” said Sam, dropping himself on the couch, cracking a beer and offering it to Charlie. “Did you lose your phone or something?”
Charlie took the beer and chugged about half of it. He burped, “What do you want, Sam?”
“I have the day off,” said Sam, sipping his beer, crossing his left leg over his right. “Called you a bunch of times,” he added.
“Everything’s dead,” said Charlie as he chugged the rest of his beer and let out a violent burp.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Charlie.
“Has something happened?” Sam looked around the living room. Charlie said nothing. “You know what we should do?” he said, turning on the couch and facing Charlie, “We should go play some pool. You know, for old time’s sake,” he added.
“Old times,” Charlie muttered, shaking his head.
“It’ll do you good,” said Sam, “You know, to get outta this shithole.”
“Do me good,” said Charlie, holding his hand out, asking for another beer.
Sam handed him another bottle. “I don’t get it,” he said, “What’s the point of staying in like this? People go crazy, all cooped up.”
“To each their own,” said Charlie, closing his eyes and sipping his beer.
“Listen, buddy,” said Sam, leaning forward, putting his beer down on the coffee table, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but you need to focus on yourself. You know what I’m saying?”
“I love her,” Charlie whispered, “I really love her.”
“I get that,” said Sam, “You love her. Great; what has it done for you, though? This love…I mean, every once in a while we all have to go back. We have to let go and forget, you know?”
Charlie lay down again, this time in the fetal position. “Beth is seeing someone,” he said.
“Well, that’s not surprising,” said Sam, “I’m sorry to tell you, but I never trusted her. A whore will be a whore.”
“She hasn’t come home in three days,” Charlie whispered, closing his eyes.
“I just want to know where she is,” said Charlie.
“Does it matter?”
“I just wanna know!”
Sam sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “None of it matters.”
“You don’t give a shit about anything. You don’t understand. Just fuck off…”
“The world doesn’t care!” Sam exclaimed, taking a breath and yelling, “I’m here, aren’t I? How long have we known each other? You think it’s easy seeing you like this? It’s exhausting. Some people just can’t be together,” he said, shouting still, “You’re an idiot if you think she loves you. Jesus, you’ll move on,” he sighed, “You’ll find someone else. Exactly what I told her…”
“Told her what?” said Charlie, opening his eyes and sitting up. Sam leaned back, looking away. “You motherfucker!” Charlie shouted as he got up in one swift motion, grabbing his beer bottle and lunging at Sam.
The bar was getting packed. I kept looking at every new face stumbling in from the cold. Katie was sitting across from me, smiling. Christmas was right around the corner. We had just gotten engaged.
“Strange to be back here,” I said, reaching for my pint and sighing, “Ah, the Duke of Kent.” This was where we’d met, a few years back. This was where I’d learned the ins and outs of being an alcoholic. This was where she’d gotten her fourth job as a bartender.
“Can I just say,” she said, smiling still, “I just wanna say that I’m really proud of you.”
“What do you mean?” I muttered, while my eyes were probably saying, ‘Please, go on. Tell me how much you love me. Tell me I’m the best!’
“When we first met, I was sure something terrible was bound to happen to you. I mean, you were a drug dealer, for god’s sake!”
I looked around us, leaning forward. “No, no,” I said, clearing my throat and whispering, “I never made any money. I just helped people out.”
“You were a mule for a drug dealer.”
“At times,” I replied.
“You were high all the time, too.”
“For the most part…”
For the most part, I often stopped myself from remembering these things. I knew who I’d been. I knew the things I’d done. I was proud of myself, too, for changing, but I still tried not to remember. Katie would remind me every once in a while and I was fine with that. How could I not be?
“They all told me to break up with you,” she said.
“Who are they?” I exclaimed, downing the rest of my pint and slamming the glass on the table.
“Friends,” she sighed, “No one thought it was gonna work between us. You sure showed them.”
“Fuck ‘em,” I muttered, turning in my seat, looking for our waitress.
“I just keep remembering things,” she said, “You’re right; it’s really strange being back here. Everything’s changed…”
“Beer tastes the same, though,” I said.
The place was really packed now. People were squirming by one another, trying to get to the bar. Amongst the crowd, I recognized a familiar face. We made eye contact, but I couldn’t remember her name. I turned to Katie, signalling her to look. By the time I turned back, the girl was already at our booth.
“Chelsea!” Katie shouted, getting up. I looked around for our waitress while they hugged; high school friends reunited…They sat down and the waitress came over and I ordered another round of pints. Chelsea was drinking a gin and tonic. She was a chubby girl with sympathetic eyes. I had met her once before.
It didn’t take long for us to move past the small talk; she congratulated us on our engagement, we shared our Christmas plans…Our beers arrived.
Chelsea said, “I’m in somewhat of a predicament.” Katie and I both leaned in. “It’s embarrassing,” she said, “My brother’s here right now.”
“Nick’s here?” Katie exclaimed, “I haven’t seen him in ages!”
“He’s not in the best shape,” said Chelsea, running her fingers across her forehead, sucking her teeth. For a second, I thought I saw a tear roll down her cheek. Her eyes looked like they were full of tears. “Nick isn’t well,” she said, letting out a deep sigh, her eyes low, her fingers spread on top of the table. “He’s in the washroom right now, doing god knows what.” She started to cry. Katie looked at me, shaking her head. Chelsea went on to say, “I don’t know what do, Katie. He’s a drug addict. He’s depressed. I fear for him.” She grabbed her drink with her right hand and wiped her face with her left, shaking her head, and all of sudden, she added in a different tone, as if trying to rid herself of the brick of sorrow in her throat, causing her to stutter, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, guys.” She laughed, or tried to anyways.
“Why doesn’t Benny talk to him?” said Katie, pointing at me with her eyes. I leaned back, squinting at her, confused.
I said, “I don’t know if that’s…”
“Benny can relate,” Katie interrupted. “He’s been there.”
“You were an addict?” said Chelsea.
“Once an addict, always an addict,” I said, sipping my beer and shrugging my shoulders like an idiot, still squinting at Katie. “I’ve been clean for a while, though,” I laughed, raising my pint, “Except for the booze!”
“Would you mind talking to him?”
“You know, people need to realize things on their own,” I said.
“Babe,” said Katie, tilting her head.
“I really don’t know what to say.”
“Can you at least go check on him?” said Katie.
“Are you serious? You want me to go to the bathroom and see what he’s up to?”
They said nothing. I felt like arguing some more. To be honest, I had no idea what was happening. Before I knew it, I was walking down the stairs to the washrooms in the basement. I entered the men’s restroom, which consisted of two stalls and two urinals.
“Hey, Nick?” I said, clearing my throat and peeking under the stall doors. He was sitting on the ground behind the toilet. He said nothing. “I’m friends with your sister. My name is Benny,” I added, not sure what else to say. I went into the empty stall. “Listen, Nick, they asked me to come and check on you. Really didn’t want to,” I said, leaning back, crossing my arms, waiting for him to say something. He didn’t. “Man,” I sighed, “I remember this one time, in this very washroom, I got so high…” I laughed, looking down at my feet and noticing a tiny bag of white powder on the floor. My thoughts scurried away all at once. I stared at it for a moment before I picked it up. I opened the bag and dabbed my pinky finger inside and had a little taste. Crappy coke, I thought, but I had a second taste just to be sure.