“It was amazing. What a feeling. For the first time I was actually proud of my work.”
“I read your last two stories. They were great.”
“The newer ones have definitely come a long way.”
“You’ve come a long way,” said Jon.
“The funny thing is, sometimes when I read my older stories, even the ones I consider well written and worthy of publishing, I find so many holes in them and overall they seem rather flaky on the page; I feel the need to edit them, cut words and shorten them, cut them in half, perhaps even kill some characters…but I don’t. It’s funny because all of the ideas I have now keep me from editing any old work. The pen in my hand is greedier now, but greedy only for now…you know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t.”
“I am very attached to some of my old stories, and even though they are flawed and trapped within my youth, riddled with holes and flaky on the page, I choose to leave them as they lie. My mind today, or perhaps my pride for my work, for how far and long my words have come, doesn’t allow me to sit down and edit a story I wrote six years ago, just so it’ll resemble the ones I write today. I feel that I am much cockier now, in choosing not to edit, in leaving them as they are, reading them every once in a while but changing nothing, perhaps even thinking to myself that literary historians one day will have all of these works, and it’ll be easy for them to see the evolution of my words, my aging upon the page, my lifetime.”
“You’ve always been cocky,” he said, reaching into his jacket pocket for his smokes. For a split second, I thought he would pull out a gun and shoot me, shaking his sinister bald head, swaying inside his thick leather jacket. “You’ve always been cocky!” Bang! Bang! “You son of a bitch…” I got a headache for a split second. I’ve watched too many movies over the years.
“Maybe I’ve always been cocky, but not proud.”
“Ah, you’re still a cock. Pour us some shots will you…”
We drank just as the sun was making an appearance in the backyard. “So many characters,” I said, “It’s ridiculous.”
“Big city,” he exhaled.
“I can never look at an apartment building and not be baffled.”
“All the different people!” I exclaimed, my hands also rising with my voice, “So many different people, in one building, side by side. The differences behind each wall are mind boggling; the variety of lives, the habits…And it’s kind of funny, ‘cause you can live in a building for years and never know, never know who was right next door, or what was going on upstairs, or what they were selling down the hall.” I pointed at the building across the parking lot, “See that condo? Can you even imagine all the kinds of people that live there? Couple of years ago I experienced it all. Well, I got to see it; the variety of life in buildings scattered across town. I was doing fundraising work for a charity, going door to door. It was a strenuous job, with a grasp that tightened one’s hatred to the world; but oh the people I would see! You have no idea. One day, myself and a few other fundraisers, all dressed to impress, were deployed in Cabbage Town. We split up the buildings and got to work. We’d start at the top floor, going from one end of the hall to the other, then down the stairwell one floor, then down the next hall again door to door. I’ll never forget that day in Cabbage Town. It was only my second week of fundraising; we were fundraising for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and even though I was kind of on a roll and had been getting a decent amount of people to sign up, my nerves hadn’t quite yet settled. Anyways, halfway down the building, I think on the eleventh or twelfth floor, I waited at the door of a corner apartment after having knocked several times, swinging my Uniball pen in my hand and slowly beginning to realize that I was drenched in sweat underneath my trench coat and the scarf that was neatly wrapped around my neck. I was about to walk away when the door opened. He was a giant old man and he coughed as he opened the door; the stench of cigarettes and empty liquor bottles reached out from inside his haphazard apartment, grabbing me by the sides of my head. For a moment, I forgot all about the script and what I had to say. ‘What’s this?’ he grunted, and again I came to feel how profusely I’d been sweating.
“I said, ‘Hi, sorry for interrupting, my name is Beni. My colleagues and I are in your area today on behalf of the United Nations High Commission…’ The giant tilted his head at me and inched out of the door, peeking down the hallway. I stepped back as calmly as I could. ‘High Commission for Refugees,’ I continued, ‘So far several of your neighbors have signed up.’
“He said, ‘How’d you get in the building?’
“‘Your superintendent let us in,’ I whispered, glancing to my left down the hallway; I was alone on that floor, and his super hadn’t let us in. We would usually just buzz up to a bunch of apartments, until someone opened the door, out of kindness or ignorance, it didn’t matter to us; we worked for a charity.
“‘I doubt that,’ said the giant, ‘No canvassers allowed in this building.’
“‘Sir, I can assure you, we have spoken to your building management,’ I lied, ‘We’ve been in all the other buildings as well.’
“‘How old are you?’
“‘Twenty two,’ I said, wiping the sweat off my forehead as casually as I could.
“‘It’s not every day that such a good looking young man comes to my door.’
“‘Oh,’ I said, wiping my forehead again, stepping back a bit while chuckling awkwardly. It seemed like he kept eyeing my scarf. His stare hovered from my scarf to my eyes. It was all ‘cause of that scarf; goddamn colourful scarf my mother had bought me, the scarf that held every fucking color in existence, every color in its brightest form…Rainbows had nothing on that scarf.
“‘Come in,’ he said.
“I took one step inside and the stench that had numbed my senses took form and enveloped me from head to toe. My eyes darted about his apartment, from empty cigarette packs and pill bottles, to scattered pieces of gay pornography and articles of clothing and empty trays of microwave dinners that lay around his couch, facing the television like the ghosts of decaying days inside a manmade swamp. Anyways, I tried to carry on with the script, as nervous as I was.
“Here now, I don’t remember much of what I said. I must’ve stuttered on about refugees, and I probably lied about myself having been a refugee, out of war-torn Iran. But I remember clutching my Uniball pen in my hand as I would a dagger or icepick. His stare hadn’t changed a bit, and my eyes also continued to leap about, occasionally glancing down at my feet to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anything.
“He asked, ‘Do you smoke?’
“‘I do, but…’ Before I could finish, he was holding out his large pack of cigarettes, politely propped open, with the winking orange filter of a Dumaurier poking out. ‘Sure,’ I said, taking the cigarette. He then started looking around for a light. ‘Don’t worry, I have one. I’m sorry, what was your name again sir?’
“‘Peter, I’m gonna sing you up. What do you say?’
“‘I’ll give you ten bucks, huh? Huh?’
“‘I can’t take cash. Peter, you do understand, this is a monthly donation, right? I can sign you up for ten bucks a month. I can only take a void cheque or credit…”
“‘Yeah, yeah,’ he said quickly, moving closer yet again. I swear, for a second, I felt the pen jerk forward with my hand. The stench of his apartment seemed to have found its way into the most secret compartments of my lungs, where one’s soul may come and go. ‘I have cheques round here somewhere,’ he said, as he turned away from me and began to move around within the chaos. As I lit the cigarette, I might’ve wondered how long this giant had gone undisturbed. ‘Around here somewhere,’ he said. I’m sure I wondered why I had entered his apartment. It was only my second week of fundraising.
“I said, ‘This is a great cause Peter. I appreciate your support.’
“He came back with a blank cheque. I was busy filling out the form, with the cigarette burning still in between my lips, when he said, ‘If only you were gay…’ I remember laughing, as nervous as I was. ‘It’s not every day that such a good looking young man comes to my door.’
“I said, ‘I’m flattered Peter, but…’
“He said, ‘I give one hell of a blowjob, you know? I can take my teeth out. I love to suck dick and take it up the ass. What do you say?’
“‘I’m flattered, but I’ll have to pass,’ I said, squirming inside my trench coat, damp to the bone, with the Uniball pen turning into an icepick again in my hand. ‘I have a busy day of going door to door,’ I said, as if that was why I’d turned down his offer for a toothless blowjob.
“He smiled and said, ‘I’ll make it quick. You won’t regret it.’
“‘I’m gonna have to pass Peter, but thank you…’
“He said, ‘I’ve been all over the world you know; I’ve sucked dick everywhere I’ve gone. I was about your age when I went to Sydney.’
“‘Australia,’ I muttered, ‘Beautiful place, I hear…’
“‘I blew some bartender behind the bar, my first night there.’
“I said, ‘Wow,’ letting out a laugh and hurriedly filling out the form. I signed him up for ten bucks a month, for which I made twenty dollars in commission. I gave him his copy of the form and thanked him for the cigarette. I’ll never forget his smile; as nervous as I was, damp to the bone, I found his smile to be the sincerest I’d ever seen. I’ll never forget him saying, ‘I can take my teeth out for you. You’ve never gotten a blowjob like this before.’ Ha! The giant gay man, Peter Cutten; what a character! For a couple of years now, I’ve wanted to write a short story about it all. That character deserves a story. Recently, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, thinking about writing it and putting it on my site, along with some other twisted tales.”
“Why don’t you?” said Jon.
“My mother seems to be an avid reader of my work, and so, I tend to leave some stories out. You know, stories concerning drugs and homosexual men. She reads everything, and sometimes she’ll message me after reading one of my stories, saying, ‘I hope this is strictly fictional my dear Sasan, Please, always be safe and healthy.’ Hell, I have no doubt that she loves me. I wouldn’t want my stories to hurt her. You know? She’s so far away. But then, there will always be something to write about, right? I mean…”
At first glance, Jon looked like he was trying to conceal a yawn, but then, out of nowhere he exclaimed, “Ah! You really talk too much. Just write what you see. Your mom shouldn’t care and neither should you. Pour us some shots, will you please?”