Here you are minding your business in your blue fiberglass seat when this totally creepy thing starts happening. You’re checking out the other commuters in your metro car, being discrete: a bunch of used-up looking people on their way home from so many separate days of hard work. You, on the other hand, are just about to begin yours. You’re trying to decide which of the people intrigue you most, but no one’s much to look at, especially the men, and the fact that you have to decide whom to wonder about really underscores the banality of everyone. You sure picked the wrong car today. As usual you can pick out at least two men who think you’re not so bad looking yourself, including this one giving you a prolonged look like he wants to let you know you’re “delectable,” or some other drippy word a commercial would use to praise a chocolate. This is the baseline type of shit you deal with on a daily basis.
"I told you not to come,” she said.
I closed the door and smiled, placing our bags down in the hallway.
“Hi Penelope,” I said.
Ralph and I kept our shoes on. The floors were a tan oak, but with deep grooves and plenty of splinters. I searched for Penelope’s eyes while she twisted hair around her index finger.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey Penelope, good to see you.” Ralph went to hug her and it was awkward, her arms straight as he tried to avoid her large belly. He gave her a smile before he asked, “Do you have something for us to eat?”
“There’s salmon in the freezer,” she said, waving to the corner of the room, “not much in the fridge, I’m waiting for the delivery. Veggies in the garden, grains in the pantry. Why’d you come anyhow?”
I laughed. “You knew we were coming, we drove all the way from Toronto.”
I’d realized one day that it was something I could do and by the next I was doing it all the time—to the traffic warden, to the cashier, to the girl at the video store. And so I must have done it that afternoon too, that afternoon at Café L’Olympique when I first met Mathilde. I’d had the feeling right away that Ryan would like her. I’d found pictures in our apartment of the other women he’d loved and they had been overflowing sorts of women just like this one—not fat or anything, but open-mouthed, thirsty sorts of women.
Minutes after the cathedral tour, I was with this boy at Hesburger on Vilnius Street. Just two casual acquaintances on vacation, as they say. We each ordered the number four: double-stacked burgers with fries and pop. I chose orange Fanta and the boy, who seemed eager to please me, got the same.
He sat adjacent to me; I was on a stupid bench and he got to sit on a chair. But it wasn't like we were at the Blu Astorija Hotel, so we unwrapped the plastic from our big number fours and began to nibble.
Almost every evening, beginning in late April or early May, Isaac sat on the exposed staircase of his apartment and watched the corner of St. Urbain and Bernard gasp to life. The condos around the corner were inhabited by people Isaac might have called yuppies if he didn’t feel so close to becoming a young urban professional himself; they bought organic food at the nearby fruiteries and brought it home in canvas tote bags, talking whip-fast French into their smartphones. There were also people Isaac recognized from school or parties, who passed him by with a wave and walked on in their well-fitted clothes.
“So wistful!” a voice said. “What a vision.”
Isaac looked down the staircase and there was Bronwen, smiling, flashing the gap between her front teeth. Her boyfriend Martin climbed the steps behind her, hoisting a massive, overstuffed armchair.
“Martin,” Isaac said, “what the hell is that?”
I got a job as a purple dinosaur that kids could get their picture taken with, on the corner of St. Catherine’s and Peel in Montreal.
“Why the hell are you doing that?” my brother Otis asked when I announced that I was now fully employed.
“Why?” I replied. “Why?”
Otis spent his days in a hydraulic swivel chair, masking himself from halitosis and TB while excavating pinholes of rot out other peoples’ teeth. He’d hold out a gloved hand and Yasmina would place a glowing orange biolaser there. “Thank you Yasmina,” he’d say in a voice low and muffled.
I made a commission off every photo a child had taken on my purple lap. Kids called me “Barney” and screamed with joy and hugged me with honest and startling love, hugged me like I could save them.
The house was cold. A malevolent kind of cold. Like something haunted. The cold blew in and out of Ravi. It was like the tip of a frozen finger had reached down from the voids of space and was pushing down on him without release. This is the level of cold he felt inside his house. The cold created pressure. Like a front, as weathermen say. A constriction of things.
He’d chop wood during the day to keep warm and to try and build a fire big enough to heat the house. But the cold would not cease. His body absorbed it and made it its own. He’d look toward the fire and instead of feeling warmth the house laughed at him.
Jon Paul Fiorentino's first novel is Stripmalling, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Hugh MacLennan Award for Fiction. His most recent book of poetry is Indexical Elegies which recently won the 2010 CBC Book Club Award for Best Book of Poetry. He is the author of the poetry books The Theory of the Loser Class which was shortlisted for the 2006 A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and Hello Serotonin and the humor book Asthmatica. His next book of poetry is Needs Improvement, which will be out in 2013 with Coach House Books. He lives in Montreal where he teaches creative writing at Concordia University, and edits Matrix magazine.
"The Report Cards of Leslie Mackie" is written in the form of report cards. Please read more to view them.
Present arrives from brother for 29th birthday.
Painting of Gorilla with hands raised, palms-up, sitting in marshy field. Dead and disemboweled Gorillas peppered around swampy landscape, half-sunken into mud like the beaches of Normandy.
Note attached: When are you gonna quit MONKEYING AROUND and GROW UP? Saw this and thought of you—perfect fit for the house. Francis.
See message as commentary on inability to settle down and find high-paying work or meaningful relationship. Carefully crafted jab about failed engagement with ex girlfriend, four exes ago. Note mention of the house, not your house, as if house purchased cheaply from parents doesn’t count.
Painting is monstrous, not even funny in campy way. All gorillas dead or in pain, main gorilla overcome with emotion: horror or pain or madness.
And then she pulled off the highway and rolled into the town there and stopped in front of a bar and said “Get out” and I said “For real?” and she said “Get out” and I got out and she popped the trunk and I retrieved my bag and closed the trunk and without looking back at me she gunned the car and drove away.
This was how it was going to end, in a kind of preordained melodrama, with an egregious stupidity that would manifest itself like this. We had just crossed over from Quebec. The gust of wind kicking up the parking lot dirt was probably Canadian. And now I was here, the first town in New Hampshire, and I was in front of a bar and that triggered a thirst.