A Shiny Figure Of Granite Wrapped In Black Leather
Once I had this daydream, saw the planet as a human body and all the living organisms inhabiting its skin were extending their demands upon it - harvesting, then burning the hair, strip-mining flesh from the genitals and face, pumping blood from arterial wells, ripping the riches from beneath the skin as its last heaves and jerks of hopeless complaint went limp.
I saw this, then thought of a dream of Corrina had, of seeing the universe from some place beyond, seeing it shake itself, like a dog.
A shiny figure of granite wrapped in black leather.
My favorite luncheonette was gone. The surly cook, the winsome, aging waitress, the very bricks of the building - gone. Some speculator had demolished the entire block for a long stretch of lawn, and a drunk was sprawled on the grass. It'd been a while since I'd seen the old stomping grounds. The thumbworn hallmarks of decades had been pushed aside by an upstart snake-oil couture. All along Queen West the bookstores and haberdashers I'd known had been replaced with trendy boutiques, sushi bars and fancy restaurants. Even The Bev, wateringhole of choice to countless students, musicians and barflys, had been desecrated - dressed up as a sports bar.
The glass studio that had hired me was in the dusty old warehouse where my band had once rehearsed. The workshop was tucked away in the back, in behind stacks of ornate, wooden chairs, carved cabinets and ancient glass panels. A sign in gold leaf on black hung from one of the huge, raw beams that divided the space: beyond that were beaded lamps, carnival banners, and a kaliedoscopic display of glass samples. I liked the rows of stained glass, the wooden trays that held the lead came, the crates of tools. I liked watching the windows being pieced together then lifted off the tables. There was something about it. Something about running the cutter over the smooth surface, drawing out the score, and breaking along it, then taking the piece that remained, adding it to others, joining them together, making something of the broken.
I didn't start off cutting. For the first few days I was stuck in the back room cementing the finished windows, rubbing putty under the lead lines, using my hands like paws. It felt like I was starting my first job - worrying about being fast enough, efficient enough, anxious to do it the right way, the boss's way. I'd quit several jobs over the past few months, but somehow this one mattered. Or at least I wanted it to, if only to have something stable. At the same time, I wanted to get the hell out of the city like I'd planned, just sell the damn house and go. But I kept on at the job.
Tom, the designer, was in charge of showing me the ropes of the stained glass craft, and he took it upon himself to brief me on my co-workers.
"It's like this, Owen. Dina's a serious bitch, but she's an exceptional cutter. Best I've seen. Peg got the job because she knows Dina, biblically. Corrina wore stiletoes and a mini-skirt to the interview. You'll like 'em. And Frank. Frank's a boss, but he hired all of us."
I hoped I'd like them. At least I'd been pleasantly surprised by how punk they looked, and by the music they played.
For a few days the women didn't make any effort to include me, and I made none to fit in. I knew they found me conservative, but I doubt it occurred to them they resembled a group of frat kids. Their endless stories of substance abuse and crackheads cutting off fingers for Satan were occasionally amusing, but hardly shocking. I'd moved among the punk scene when it was fresh and already full of fuck-ups, and they hadn't interested me then, either.
Still, as I sat in the lunchroom eating my tuna sandwiches, I could've at least joined the conversation. It wasn't until the second week that Corrina and I talked. There were flyers on the walls for some local bands, and we got talking about clubs. She'd worked at The Hideaway before it finally got condemned. I told her I'd played there the night Lennon got shot. When she asked what band I'd been in, Corrina actually remembered us.
"I used to come see you guys at the Bev when I was fifteen. It was about the only place I could get served. Hey, we met one time. "
"Really? I, ah, I can't recall it."
"I looked different back then. I was just growing out my Mohawk. Do you have any more copies of the single? I've still got mine, but it's seen a lot of parties."
Then something else came up, or we went back to work, but I kept looking at her, trying to place her in those days. I thought back to that time, just four or five years past. Long ago.
I pulled a box of my old bands' record out of the closet. It hadn't exactly sold out. I put one on the turntable and set the needle in. The sound seemed worse than ever, but the energy was there. The guitar still snarled and the rhythm drove and drove. After the second song I flipped it over, dusted off my bass, and played along. I was surprised by how fast I'd played, and that I still could keep up. I'd forgotten some of the runs, but I could still pick it all with a steady down stroke.
I felt the fat strings under my fingers, watched them throb under the pick, and longed for being onstage, thrashing away in the roar of the amps, sweating every frustration loose. We weren't a great band, our early gigs were awful, but we'd eventually stumbled upon a frenetic, ramshackle ease that obliterated the barrier between audience and stage. On our final gig at The Bev, as Bill spooled out a wild, amphetamine lead, I noticed these girls slam dancing up front. One had a cast on her arm but was digging in anyway. Suddenly, I realized I'd never danced to the band, so I handed my bass to a friend to play, jumped down and slammed it up with the girls.
"What are you playing that old thing for?"
Lee was looking down from the stairs, laughing. She hadn't even liked the band back then. I felt like a kid caught with a porno. I looked up, all embarrased, and we both saw it, the space between us, and again tried to pretend it wasn't there.
The side finished. I took the record off the turntable, put it away in the sleeve, and Lee went back upstairs.
I went back to the closet, got an envelope of photos and poured them out onto the floor. Burton caught it all that last night, moving around behind the amps, shooting every angle. One shot had me in mid-air, wet hair flying, and in the background, at a table looking bored, sat Lee. In another I was at the mike, earnest eyes blazing, grinning even as I sang. I looked back into those eyes, so believing, so damn niave. There was a shot of Danny, sidestage watching the crowd, and there, dancing in front of the stage was Corrina. I recognized the turn of her wrist, she was with the girl in the cast.
As if to spite her, she had the sweetest features: honey-blonde hair, pale, blue eyes, and smooth, alabaster skin. Her mouth was short and pink, with silky, well-defined lips. On one eyelid, an irregular brown fleck sat slightly out of harmony, saving her face from being photo-shoot perfect and dull.
Beneath the thick biker jacket she had a ballerina frame, long and thin, with no hips to speak of. Her posture is what drew my attention. At times she'd make a point of moving with poise, but it was clearly an effort. Unwatched, she'd let her shoulders slump, her hips bow out. From a distance that's where the surface started to crumble. Once I got closer, it was her eyes. The white flecks of the iris didn't sparkle; they dimmed the blue toward grey. The fine blonde brows arched up, but the overall gentleness of her face couldn't negate the impression. Something was gone.
Around four the boss walked in and told everybody to pack their tools and clean up.
Howls and obscenities erupted from around the room.
"Here we go again," said Corrina.
"What's up?" I asked, as we both started clearing our tables.
"Sounds like another lay-off."
We all stood around in the lunchroom waiting.
"Hey, I've got plenty of work lined up," Tom said.
"Well, good for you," Dina sneered.
"I haven't been to Montreal in a while," Peg said, removing her filter mask and ruffling her hair. Of her bi-weekly hairstyles, the latest was my favourite: jet black sides and back, with a close-cropped top in Astroturf green. It looked like a mini-golf course.
Frank looked us over, then put on a big, gap-toothed grin. He had a gleam in his eye. I'd only ever seen him look like that once, while perched atop a two-story ladder, holding a long, delicate window in one hand, during a risky installation.
"Who's thirsty?" he said. "That bar we made the sandblasted panels for invited us to their opening. Drinks and munchies on the house."
At eleven, Corrina and I were still there.
We kept making phone calls to invite friends down for a free beer, but couldn't reach anyone. I wasn't sure if Corrina was getting bored, or just wanted to share the wealth. Maybe I was the uncomfortable one. We'd stopped discussing the shop, but kept talking, kept drinking, trying each imported draft, just as we kept jumping topics, slipping under the skin of our lives.
"You know, we never even knew each other. But I remember you from watching the band. You seemed so passionate, about everything. I wondered where that intensity came from, and why you always disappeared after the shows. You were never at the parties."
"I guess I just hung out with my own crowd. I never could do the small-talk thing. After the gigs I always just wanted to party one on one. But it rarely worked out that way. I usually wound up sitting by myself after Lee fell asleep."
"I've always been used to parties. We lived in England when I was real young. My parents took me along to the art scene parties. They'd put me to sleep in some room. I remember waking up and seeing people rolling at a table covered in pot. So rebelling wasn't easy, but it's my birthright. By the Chinese calendar I'm a firehorse. Supposedly parents of firehorse girls were advised to kill them before they could cause anyone grief."
"My folks were dead straight. Didn't smoke. Didn't drink. Didn't have any fun. I never set out to rebel against them, I just drifted away. My Mom was a real ball-buster, and Dad never did anything about it. I know they loved us, but they didn't exactly express it, and now they wonder why the family's not close. I just lost respect for authority early and learned to believe in my own way. So what if other people didn't like it. Who needs the okay of minds you don't respect?"
The music was loud, I was getting drunk and I kept slipping into my thoughts. As Corrina talked on I felt like I'd missed something.
"Then we moved to the States and I was the only white kid at my school. They threw bricks at me - not because I was white, but because they thought my family were freaks. My father was ridiculed in the local papers. It got pretty crazy at home. I remember the night he tried to cut off his penis. I remember the blood and the howling. I was seven."
Somehow we got sidetracked, by the moment, or maybe by Corrina. Maybe the waitress came by with another round. Again, I felt something had slipped by unseen. As I tried to piece it together I remembered a time I'd taken a call for her at the shop, someone with a deep, husky voice. I told Corrina I thought it was her father. Dina and Peg glared at me. My boot was in my mouth and I didn't know why. Corrina just gave me a wry smile and said, "It wouldn't be my father."
'Why not?' I wondered, and then my mind ran to my own father's impending death.
Maybe it was because as I listened to Corrina talk I was thinking 'she doesn't do this, she doesn't tell much.' But she was telling.
And then I was. The women at the shop liked to poke fun at my cute, domestic life. When I'd decline invitations for an after-work beer, they'd tease me about rushing home to 'wifey'. It wasn't like that at all.
Corrina listened as I talked, then we both sipped our drinks in silence.
"My parents questioned bringing a child into this world, then decided that if all the intelligent people stopped having kids, well then what?"
"Someone once accused me of being selfish for not wanting to have kids. That amazed me," I said. "I mean, if you're gonna have a kid, you already love it, right? So what kind of mind would purposefully bring a child into such a mess?"
Neither of us said anything for awhile.
"It's funny how we were both part of the same scene, but were into it in such different ways," Corrina said. "For you, it really was just the music. I was already selling acid at my high school. I tried heroin when Rick and I moved into the apartment on Jarvis."
I pictured all of those scenes splayed over the screen of her face. As she talked on and on, still looking somehow innocent, I realized I had no idea what living her life had been like, but felt I understood her eyes a bit better.
The bar closed. We walked west down King toward Bathurst Street, past bags of discarded fabric and piles of cardboard tubes outside the garment sweatshops. I peered into the darkened storefront of an industrial wholesaler, at the tired countertop, the faded photographs tacked on the panelling, trying to remember if it was a place I'd once stopped in with my Dad. I couldn't be sure.
I turned from the window. Corrina was standing out in the empty street. She was looking away, poised on the night in silhouette. Above the gleaming streetcar rails her slender legs and hips looked naked, a light breeze stirred her hair. I stepped toward her, then stopped.
Corrina turned and we looked at each other a second, then started walking again. At the next phone booth, I got through to Burton and he said we should come by.
When we reached Burton's warehouse, I called up at his window. He leaned out waving hello, then dropped the keys down in a sock.
Burton met us at the door with a finger pressed to his big lips.
"Shush-Sh, until we're out front," he said. "Val's asleep in the loft."
"Maybe we shouldn't," Corrina said.
"Rubbish. The front's secure."
As we stepped through the kitchen and into the studio I noticed several new paintings had gone up.
"You and Val are keeping busy." I said.
"Slow but steady, droogie."
We sat around on the couches at the back of Burton's space, beneath the big, industrial windows. Burton passed a joint and checked out Corrina as Corrina checked out his cats. I took a big haul on the splif and leaned back into the cushions as the hash swept across my mind. Corrina put the joint in her lips and I watched a blue trail of smoke rise up along a strand of her blonde hair. I looked out at the night sky, at the red letters of the Tip Top neon hovering over the dark lake. Faint voices and the clacking of streetcars moving along the tracks drifted up from the street reminding me of my first apartment, just a few blocks west. I used to sit on the iron fire escape, look out at that view and feel part of the city. I didn't have a view anymore, except of other houses.
"So you and Owen, ah - "
"We work together," Corrina said.
Burton kept giving me this look, glancing over from Corrina, eyeing the situation. But there was no situation, except that it was late, and I was there, not somewhere else.
She spoke of loneliness, and chipped away at my own. We spoke again of parties, how you can feel so remote. We were sitting at the lunch table, on adjacent chairs, while the others were all out of the room. As she spoke, I pictured her at all of those parties, saw her bored and drugged for distraction. Could she see me as well? See why I had always avoided them? Why I had never been into 'the scene'?
She spoke of disillusion and wonder, of what was ahead and behind, of her youth, and where to take it all. I heard those words, knew again how they felt when I had formed them. When it was my tongue and lips that shaped them. I felt again the presence of the years called youth that were never the same once I stopped, glanced back, named them, turned again, and looked forward beyond me.
She was sounding the tone of aloneness, hearing the echo rebound in the vast cavern of the lonely. But I was glad that she knew the night, that someday she might know the stars, might map out her own constellations.
The others came back with their lunches and we folded our talk away, but as we all sat at the table, I felt a subtle rearrangement of space.
The shop began making windows for a church. The panels were long and fragile, requiring two people to move them from the tables, and I found myself suddenly in demand for the length and strength of my arms. At first it was an awkward task. The design used large, irregular pieces and long and sweeping lead lines to create open pools of glass. While moving the first few panels several pieces were broken, but not when Corrina and I moved ours. We'd communicate with a look, a few words, would slide the panel to a proper point of balance, centred on the table's edge, then dropping one side while lifting the other, never losing our rhythm or letting the weight sag, we'd bring the window aloft intact, carry it to the backroom, and maintaining the balance, lay it against a board standing upright.
We both enjoyed that smooth simple act. I'd help with her panel. She'd give me a hand with mine, and soon we moved all of the windows, since no other pairing was as successful.
Gradually, our callings changed, 'Corrina, dear, would you?', as did the tone of sarcasm, 'Oh, thank you, so, Stable Boy.' It thickened as we became more at ease.
The job went on for weeks through the hot summer. We'd bend over a panel and I'd smell her sweat, see it beaded on the flesh of her underarm. Iíd see strands of her hair curled on the back of her neck, her fine collarbone, her muscles moving, would feel her breath on my skin. As I crouched down beside her Iíd feel my cheek close to her thigh.
Then one day the game got called. Not a word, not even a look, someone just walked into a room as we talked, and a curtain was drawn aside. Suddenly the pet names were dropped. We stood there looking at each other, and away.
We're like the leftover dinner plates lying there in the television light. Lee is on the couch, under a blanket, nose and eyes visible under her hair. During commercial breaks, I turn down the sound, cue a song on the turntable, and follow it on my guitar, hitting the TV volume again when the show resumes.
Then I stand there and look around at it all again, glancing from the pressed-back chairs at the quarter-cut oak table, with its matching settings and doilies, to the 50's armchair and the colour co-ordinated Persian rug. I never wanted any of it, but it's all there, and I'm there in it, not knowing why.
In the dishes I see the dinner being made, see myself washing and towelling the plates and cutlery we'll use, see her serving the spanokopita, hear her saying the plates aren't dry enough, see us getting into some sick slapstick of what piece should go on which plate, as I'll dry that one some more, just for her. And suddenly it's a crisis, and she's looking at me, unable to see why I've gotten so angry over such a little thing, but I can, looking around at the rooms.
And I can feel it as I play my guitar, realizing I can't sing out with her there. And I'm trying to learn this song to play at a party where there will be someone I want to sing out to. I look at the rooms, at myself there in the house, see myself there a year before, standing in the bathroom holding the empty case for her diaphragm knowing she was just down the hall, but not with me. I see myself leaving, in a white haze of going, but not knowing where to, until having run out of road, and continent, and then island, I found myself facing open ocean, and myself. Then despite all of the distance, when she found me and called, when she asked could she come see me, could she catch a jetplane out to the coast, I let her. And like some pop song scenario, I found I wanted to go back, because so much had changed - with myself, with her, and we were going to do so much.
But we didn't. And there I was again, in that house, looking out, out from some place where all the fine chairs and fixtures faded grey, as I faded away from caring.
The designer laid the next drawings on my table, said they were the last for the church project, the centrepiece windows, directly behind the altar. We talked over the glass I'd work with, blending from purple on the sides into crimson. He roughed out the area I was to illuminate in red.
"This area represents the Passion," he said.
I went into them like any other windows, worked through the problems of using the imported glass efficiently while incorporating all the finest areas of texture, the existing modulation. I mapped out each piece the sheet would yield before going into the first cut.
Starting at the bottom, I worked my way up through the pools of clear glass and on into the colour. Then it wasn't just a technical matter of balance and integration. I looked at the designer's pencil markings that roughed out the space of red. Should the spot leap out of the darkness, or smoulder and draw the viewer in? That urge won out. I wanted to make them work, make them earn their admission.
As I chose each cut I found myself laughing, if the church brothers only knew who was crafting their shrine. Then I found myself talking to Jesus, thinking "If you knew what they've done with your words. This horde at your feet doesn't love you, they just want to suck on you for safety, hear you say 'There, there, it's okay,' while they twist the knife in their neighbour's side. And here's where you are right now, Jesus, where I'm the one depicting your heart. Do you think I want to love them? The whole grasping, self-serving species disgusts me, and I'm the one making your heart in broken glass for your followers. Jesus, you can't ooze enough blood for this world.'
But I find myself shifting the rose and crimson shards again and again, holding the glass as I contemplate the cuts. And when I go into the leading, I stretch each strand of came with care, caress it into the curves, and gently lay each piece of his heart.
Corrina had bought the dress in New York, a Betsey Johnson original. On a background of black danced colourful cartoon monsters. It flowed over her breasts, hugging them close above her ribs, ran smooth along the flat of her belly, between the peaks of her hips, to the short, so short hem that rode her thighs. She wore it at her birthday party and I watched it all night as I walked around the rooms of her house, looking at photos of her from years before, as she reached up to show me her favorite from a collection of china horses, their bent legs galloping along the long line. All the while I never let on. Of course I had acknowledged the dress, had complimented it, had inquired of its origin, but did my best not to be obvious about its effect. Even once I had gotten quite drunk, I could still look her in the eye, gazing down only when sipping my drink. But then the music stopped, when her boyfriend passed out in his chair, the next record quiet in his hand on his lap, the turntable still, the last guests beginning to leave.
A few of us were sharing a cab. We were gathered at the front door, embracing all around. Corrina and I hugged. I squeezed her tight to me, too tight in my drunkenness.
"Oh, big hug," Corrina said.
"Well, yeah," was all I could manage, as I couldn't say what I wanted to, and I'd missed my chance to sing one of her favorite songs, 'You Can't Put Your Arm Around A Memory.'
Snow drifted down along the brick wall across the street, and blew on the driving wind, white streaks fading in the textured glass. Corrina had just come by with her thought-of-the-day. She'd started making a point of sharing her insights. I could even tell when it was coming. She'd saunter over with a certain look. The latest was especially good, as it was so personal, and sexual.
Corrina had commented on how securely I'd bound some loose metal rods, and then editorialized a bit. At one point Peg had looked up and I thought she'd overheard. Corrina just shrugged it off.
"So what. They probably think we're having an affair already, anyway."
She went on with her admission, then said, "But, you know, Iíve never even told Rick that."
Yet she'd handed the intimation to me.
A glass shipment arrived that afternoon. As the truck pulled up alongside the building, we watched the snow blow down the street, fine waves on the grey asphalt. Corrina was standing at the edge of the dock. I stepped up behind her, grasped her arms and leaned her, just an inch, out over the street. Corrina didn't even flinch, just raised her eyebrow at me as she turned.
As the driver handed up the glass, I passed it on. Then he brought out the first of the long, thick sheets. I took one, stood back to steady it, balancing the ends that stuck out at both sides. I watched as Corrina took the next sheet.
"I'll take that one, too," I said.
Corrina turned and walked over, stood just a toe's length away.
"How do you want to do it?" she said.
"Put your bottom edge against mine, then lay it up flush"
Corrina inched toward me. She slid her knee, then her thigh, beside mine. Her hand came toward my own, delicately placing the glass on my palm. I watched our reflections mingle and shift as the sheets lay together, and I hesitated.
"Are you ready?"
But I didn't want to step back. I wanted to stay in that delicate dance, with our bodies working together, with Corrina aware, and concerned, for mine, wanted her eyes that close, wanted.
I worked my fingers, readjusted my hands, looked back to her eyes. Corrina had a slight smile.
"Yeah, I've got it."
Her pink fingers loosened, slid from the smooth surface, and she stepped back.
I felt us separate, took the weight from my thigh, and went on.
"'A Season In Hell'?," Danny said. He put another stack of books in the box.
Burton passed the joint and I took a deep haul on it.
"How much of this goes into storage?" Burton asked.
"Damn near everything - especially the furniture," I said. "It's not exactly spacious up there. But I'm taking my easle."
"'Lonesome Traveller'?" Danny said.
The pile of boxes on the floor was getting big. Closing each one made me feel more obliged. To leaving the city, to living away from everything, except Lee. And there'd be no Pacific coast to explore. Iíd just be me and Lee sealed up in the cottage, with all those scenes weíd had there.
I looked over all of her things that still had to be packed, at her furniture.
I looked at Danny and Burton. Iíd known Burton since Grade Three, Danny since junior high. What were we doing sitting around on pressed-back chairs?
"'Stormbringer.' Now we're talking. At least you kept something good. Hey, where's 'Bill the Galactic Hero'? I gave you that in Grade Eleven."
"I thought I gave that back to you? Some Christmas?"
"Gee, Owie," Danny said. "Don't you have any fun books anymore?"
I forced a laugh, but I didn't have a ricochet for him.
How many times had I tried to leave? How many attempts over how many years? Even after this place, I'd still come back. All the way from the West Coast, and for all the wrong reasons.
At least I was getting out of that house. Maybe Leeíd recognized my exhaustion. Or having gotten what she'd wanted, maybe she could concede a little. But not the coast. And hadnít we agreed, before Iíd come back, that weíd-. Well, no. We hadnít. Iíd just let myself think we had.
"Why don't we plan a landscape weekend?" Burton said. "I could probably come up in January."
"Sure. Just put some anti-freeze in your brush water," Danny said. "Fuck that. How about a three-day expedition to the 'Key To Bala'?"
Lee and I'd finally compromised. Just a short move, and a shift to part-time work for me. Weíd spend the winter at her parentsí cottage up north, and make up the cash by renting out the house.
Lee'd gone up for awhile to get the cottage ready while I started packing the house. I'd thought I was satisfied. I'd even been excited about it awhile. But in the few days Lee'd been gone, Iíd relaxed.
I heard the front door open, and in walked Lee.
"Hey, join the party," Burton said. "Want a beer?"
"As if?" Lee said. A little smile cracked her thin lips.
I just looked at her.
"How about these swell knick-knacks?" Danny said. "You want me to toss 'em for ya?"
"Oh, give it a break, Danny," I snapped back.
Danny looked at me. We looked at each other. Danny glanced at Lee.
Burton jumped up to derail things, but right then, I knew.
"Lee, you missed the joint. I'd better roll another."
"Oh, Burton. I can't be smoking when I'm - "
"Hey, we got a lot done," I said. "Let's call it a wrap. You guys want another beer?"
They took the hint instead.
Once Burton and Danny were gone I sat down on the stairs. Lee was moving around the house like an animal scenting death. I went and got it over with. I said I was leaving. It was the second time in less than a year, but this time I would. Lee'd already played her last ace. Sure, sheíd won her hand, but I was walking away from the game.
Later, Lee was curled up on her side of the bed. I was holding her, as I hadn't in so long.
"Why now?" she said. "Why are you holding me now?"
'To celebrate?' I thought to myself, that at least we'd gotten out alive. She had what she'd wanted. And I could try to start over again.
It was a Thursday night. Lee said she'd go to her parents' place for the week-end. I said I'd find somewhere to go before she got back.
I'd already made arrangements with a friend of Terri's to crashing at his place every other week, as I commuted for work at the shop. We'd set it all up. Now I'd just have to sell him on the new deal.
Why was I holding Lee? Out of some black respect for all of the years we'd endured? Or was it worse than that? Was I taunting her? Giving her a taste of something she'd wanted? As I'd never gotten what I'd needed - her coming to touch me.
We left the shop and walked up to the Black Bull for a beer. As soon as we were in the door I saw Corrina's boyfriend. Maybe I heard him first.
Rick was sitting in the midst of some other bike couriers sprawled around two or three tables along the far wall. He came right over as soon as we sat down. They were fighting by the time we'd finished our first round.
Peg and Dina found reasons to leave. I went to the bar. I could still hear him, going into the accusations of who she was seeing, how he didn't deserve this, that she was wrecking his whole life. He angered me, but I was smirking. I'd worked with Corrina all afternoon and knew where he was in her mind. It was something of a pleasure to watch him walk into his own exit.
But then I felt a twinge and recalled the moment I had most appreciated him. A group of us were walking up Spadina toward College. It was barely past dusk and a light rain had just stopped falling. The dishevelled asphalt glistened under the streetlamps and headlights of passing cars. I spotted Rick just before he called to us. He was peddling north, coming abreast of us on the eastside of the street. Once he had our attention he leaned the bike into a slow curve. He held the angle of the arc tight and clean as he slipped between two cars in the northbound lanes, hit his apex just below the yellow hump of a traffic median, then crossed the western lanes ahead of a wave of southbound cars. All the while he was smiling. Then he popped his front tire over the curb, and riding high on the pedals, let his momentum carry him over the sidewalk toward us. Under all the leather and bravado, he just needed some appreciation, too.
Even from across the bar I could see Corrina's grip on Rick loosening, as if each new utterance pried at another finger. Then he was gone. Our beers were done, and Corrina wanted to leave.
I remembered something she'd once said; "I think we're both loyal people. You'd have to have left Lee, and I'd have to break up with Rick."
I hailed a cab and held open the door. I got in after Corrina and slid across the seat.
"Do you know the Apocalypse Club? It's west on College," Corrina said to the driver. Then quieter, just to me, "Kind of appropriate, huh."
And suddenly the world was charged again. The people milling around by the street vendors across from The Bull, buskers playing guitars and djembes in doorways, the lights of clubs and shops coming through the thinning leaves of dark trees - Queen Street looked as exciting as it had years before.
The driver was good. He crossed Spadina, went north up Augusta instead, and it was dark and quiet in the cab. As he turned onto College, Corrina leaned lightly against me. I put my arm around her shoulders and she pressed right into me.
"You can let us off at the bank machine," Corrina said.
I paid the guy, thanked him, and stepped out.
Corrina used the machine then came back to me on the sidewalk. I stepped forward, opened my arm, and Corrina slipped her hands around me. Her face glowed in the streetlight as she looked up at my eyes and gently kissed me.
We took a table well back from the stage, out of the lights, deep in the black room, amid the howl of the speakers. We weren't talking much. Corrina had grown quiet as we'd walked the block or so to the club.
I reached out my hand and rested it on Corrina's leg.
Across the room, I saw a friend of Corrinaís enter the club. I watched as he moved through the tables to the bar, then Corrina saw him and leapt up from the table.
"I'm going to get us some drugs."
I assumed the us was meaningless, but when they walked away from the bar I followed them into the womens' john, watched Corrina lean over the small, folded paper he held, watched the brown powder disappear as her thin nose hovered above it.
I went back out to the club. I saw a guy I knew and went over. When the band came on I moved up closer to the speakers, letting the guitars rip through me.
Corrina and I were waiting for a streetcar, huddled in a doorway out of the chill November wind. Standing there, I felt our intimacy again, close and comfortable, as we hadn't been in days, not since the Apocalypse Club.
We watched a woman run across Queen Street.
"Great hair. Wish I had it," Corrina said.
I looked over at Corrina, at her hair, tucked away behind one ear, curled in under her leather collar.
"Nice legs," I said
"How can you tell?"
"She has great legs for jeans. You, you got gunslinger legs."
Corrina opened her mouth and her breath dispersed, there was a ripple in the jaded pool of her face. Her eyes didn't really brighten, but became a little more open.
"Gunslinger legs?" Corrina gaped.
"It's the cowboy boots, even if they are red. From profile, your legs kinda arch back and up to the cap of your knee."
"It's a cool look," I added.
Corrina lowered her eyes, but smiled.
Earlier, at work, we'd talked about what went on that night at the Apocalypse Club.
"Yeah, I was hurt," I said. "But even then I knew I had little right to be."
With a nod Corrina acknowledged that, and a look swept over her face, a willingness to accept absolution. Her hands made gestures of an agitation her face didn't register.
"And outside, after closing," I went on, "As I walked off you called to me. I still felt dumped, but I liked that you said bye. Everybody heard you."
"Oh, good. I thought I didn't even say goodbye. I remember being out on the street, trying to get a cab. Chrome was talking about going to this party and I thought you might go, too. But when we got in the cab we ended up going to Chrome's place. I woke up the next day and felt bad that I'd just split on you."
I didn't really believe her. But I thought about her waking up after crashing at Chrome's, thought of her mind opening onto the day, and thinking first of me. I wanted to believe it.
Corrina stood in silence. She moved her head a little, shifted the glass cutter in her hand. I couldn't tell if she had the words and didn't want to use them, or just had none. So I went on.
"What disturbs me is, well, we were going along real well as friends. There was this verbal intimacy, and I thought I felt some - affection. Corrina, there's six billion people out there whoíll screw you over in a second, but there's only so many you can hug. If we never have the affair, let's not lose that."
"I don't want to. But, I can't let myself get in too deep so soon."
More strongly than her words, I heard the unspoken.
"It didn't occur to me you'd worry about getting too attached."
"I do, though. Something snapped on Friday and said this thing couldn't go."
A gust of wind curled into the doorway, tossing my hair. I looked at Corrina there across from me, and thought of those words again. I watched a strand of hair fall down over her eye. I looked at Corrina and felt loss, saw her setting me away with ease. I want her to regret something, anything, connected to me.
"One shame about us never having an affair, you know, I couldíve written such a beautiful song for you."
"And you can't now?"
"Why should I?"
She had this look, turned just a bit away. Was she offended? Hurt? Could she hear the song? Was she sad that she'd never hear it? I thought of what a creep I was for saying it at all.
"If I wrote it now, it wouldn't be the same song. And I don't want to write that one. I shouldn't even have said it."
"Oh, you're just being a boy."
We got on the streetcar and chatted as we rode east among the crowd. When we caught our connecting bus I marvelled at the mechanics of fate, that it would move me right into her neighbourhood. When I'd talked to Terri's friend about his place I knew it was in the east end, but not that it was a block from Corrina's.
Corrina took me to her favorite grocery store then showed me a shortcut to my street, along the dark corridor of the rail lines. It made me feel vaguely more at home. When we hit the top of my street we stopped, finished our conversation, then Corrina started off home. But I stopped her.
"Corrina, what you said about getting too deep. Well, if you were being honest, that was a really, ah, nice thing to say. And if you weren't, it still was."
"Well I meant it. I mean it."
I walked on down to the house, thinking - nice? It was a nice thing to say? But it was nice. I thought about her guarding herself, thought about her reckless life. She had to protect herself from me? And somehow I still felt touched? Fucking nice.
She said something snapped that Friday. As we sat in the club? When in the night did she go cold? As we stood beside Grace Street and kissed? As she slowly took her lips off mine and gave me her eyes? Was it because I held her so gently? Because I let my fingers stray over her hair, because our hips brushed just briefly? Or was it in the cab, driving along College? When I ran my fingers over hers and she took my hand? As she slid herself into my arms, as our sides pressed close together, as her head lay softly on my chest? Was it because she lay into my arms? Because she put hers around me, laid her hands on my back, let her lips kiss me, set her tongue so lightly against mine? Where in all this was I lost?
Tom and I were north of the 401 on Highway 16, heading up to Ottawa. I was travelling on his invitation, grateful to get out of town, onto any road - another fever I'd caught from Corrina. Barely aware of the passing fields, I was picturing Corrina, driving down the continent to Florida, with Chrome.
Heavy snow streaked into the headlights. Fat, white comets that blazed toward the grill, then faded, before mashing on the windshield.
In the National Gallery, I sat up in the balcony of some room with trees and plants below; above me, glass sectioned off the sky. I sat under the warm sun drifting in and out of sleep.
I meandered through the galleries; rooms, halls, and more rooms, not even noticing, then stopped dead before Klimt's 'Hope 1.' I stood there, mesmerized by the green eyes under the blaze of orange hair, her thin, mocking lips, the smug repose of her hands there on her huge, pregnant belly.
I walked around until I found the library and its couches. I sat and watched the sun. Its bottom curve had set. The orb's surface trembled in the air as mauve clouds of steam drifted across the river. It was sinking, quickly, already a third of the height it was; fattening, rippling against the blue sky, sinking. Cars were moving in lines like water within ice. The orb kept dropping, drooping past the clean, grey line of the land, then just a cap, a smear, a blur, an afterburn on my retina as pale orange shot along the horizon and faded. White clouds floated across the spot, dissipating, as did the light.
Why was I thinking of her? What really was the appeal?
It was her desire I wanted. She'd said, "Sure, I could fuck you,î but then she'd just walked on. I wanted to see that sad vacancy stirred. Somehow I felt I could open her eyes to enchantment again. And myself? What did I think she could give me? Maybe that languid pool she swam in. Maybe I could drink it and drown the belief that anything mattered. Each passion proved me wrong, yet somehow there was still a sense of significance, but not that it could be worthwhile.
Corrina came in at full gallop, straight off the highway, still drenched in alcohol. When she sat at the lunch table, I didn't go over with the others. They called to me, but when I did go over, the distance didn't decrease.
She went into her bag and brought out little gifts for everyone. Most were firecrackers: a pinwheel flower for Dina, an exploding cock for Peg, a burning schoolhouse for Tom. She had a seashell for me. It was a small, white shell with blonde ripples.
By the afternoon we were talking. Corrina asked if I was going right home after work? Would I ride east with her?
She told me more about the trip: about Spanish Moss draping over the main streets of small Southern towns, about bars where women drink free all night, every night. But I still couldn't joke with her, though that's what I liked - making her smile, even if at some bleak admission. She said she'd never laughed so much as those last seven days. It didn't make me smile.
After work we took the bus up Spadina. The last traces of sunlight blazed along the westbound crossroads, igniting flash fires in Corrina's hair. We rode east on College, sitting on the side seat at the back. I was watching the plush pad of her lower lip as she spoke, the slight dimple, the birthmark on her cheek, was watching the two of us reflected on the opposite window, my black and yellow striped sweater looked stupid beside her leather.
We didn't even pause as we came to the top of my street, just said goodnight.
I held the seashell in my palm - pictured her finding it, standing in the ocean air, her hair on the breeze, the surf riding up the sand and uncovering the shell. She stoops down, the sun flares off strands of her hair as they drop from her bare shoulder, her fingers touch the shell, grains of sand settle on her skin as she brushes them off. Then she encloses the shell in her hand, with a thought of me. But thinking what?
Earlier, as we'd walked along the rail lines behind the mall, I mentioned I'd been out in the suburbs the night before, to see my dad.
"Huh, I thought of you as I passed them. 'That's where Owen came from,' I said."
So she'd thought of me. So what?
As I walked on, I could feel her fading, slipping back toward the manswarm. Was it her I feared I'd lost, or all hope for sweetness? I watched the grey clouds of winter part, drift close to engulf me, then disperse, leaving the sky open without me. My hand drew back, my palm had no desire to hold, or caress, or gesture. My fingers could no longer reach out. I folded them back upon anger. But what reason to be angry? What reason to feel loss? Still, I could sense something lurking, like dawn, while I wanted to look at the stars. But all I wanted was night, way out beyond the stars.