Canada |

Brewster’s Century What?

by Frankie Barnet

So, I was moving in with my parents.

It was temporary. It had to be temporary. Dale made this clear. Dale being my stepfather. Temporary because of “that thing,” he said. That thing being Death Cab, my cat, to whom he was allergic. Death Cab for whom he was making “such a generous exception,” or - so said my mother, “because the rule is no animals allowed in the house except on the table hahahaha.”

But no matter how bad things were getting, no matter how low I felt, I wasn’t a loser. I wasn’t an idiot and I knew a hell of a lot about music: I could play guitar and before I left school to come home I was getting the hang of the drums at a tremendous pace. I was really pretty, or at least I knew how to dress well, or at least when I wasn’t dressed well I knew I wasn’t dressed well and I had sense enough not to hold my head high in the street.

No matter how bad things were getting, no matter how worse they’d get, I knew I’d never be anything like Kelsey R.

Kelsey R being the assistant manager at Brewster’s Century Park, the Toronto bar where I earned 8.50 an hour plus tips. Tips usually worked out to be around 15 dollars a shift, more if you worked nights, which I could, said Kelsey R, “soon,” if I could keep my progress up, said Kelsey R, if I could really focus my energy on learning the menu and work up my wrist strength to carry three plates at a time, said Kelsey R, because I showed potential.  

Kelsey R would not shut up about getting accepted into the Brockville College of Dental Hygiene and Auxillaries dental hygienist's school. Nobody would shut up about it. On Monday Jess C came in with a cake that said in icing across the top, “congratulations!” underlined with a toothbrush. Jess C pulled me aside and explained how this was “a big deal” and “truly wonderful”, as Kelsey R had “come so far” because Kelsey R had faced "so much adversity" as a child.

Jess C told me not to tell anyone but she had heard from Kelly that Kelsey R’s father was a manic depressive who beat her mother so bad she had to live in a permanent home for the brain damaged. She said she had heard that he went to America to run away from his gambling debt but she had also heard that he went to America because of his ties to the mafia or his mistress in Texas. Kelsey R had been raised by her grandmother who had passed away from breast cancer just a few weeks ago.

“Isn't it inspirational that even though she had such a horrible father she has still managed to be in such a supportive relationship with Kent? I mean, they hardly ever fight. It’s kind of funny how your relationship with your father just kinda spills over to how you are with men huh? Like, my dad was a lawyer, and now I’m dating Jeremy, who loves to argue. He argues with me all the time! How do you think you’re relationship with your father has effected your ability to connect with men?”

I snorted.

“Oh,” she had a worried look on her face, “oh my god. Are you a lesbian? Sorry! Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone, I swear!”

The both of us turned awkwardly to look at Kelsey R holding the cake, beaming.

I thought. Well whoop-dee-doo,

Most of the girls at Brewster’s Century Park had boyfriends. But it wasn’t like I wanted to be like them. It wasn’t like I belonged there and was one of them. It was just until I was back up on my feet. Just until I saved up some money and then it would be back to music full time and I’d hardly even remember this blip. Brewster’s Century what?

The boyfriends came in when the girlfriends were nearing the end of their shifts. The boyfriends sat at the bar and watched the girlfriends, the girlfriends came over to the boyfriends and laughed with them. About what? I was never close enough to tell. Not that it would have been my humour, probably. Just because I was working there didn’t mean I wanted the same things they wanted. I was different. I was my own person and I knew a hell of a lot about music. I was great at guitar and at the drums and I could write my own songs and had, in the past, played short acoustic sets in a variety of venues. So there it was. Playing shows with my guitar. I was a musician. And what’s better to be than that? What’s cooler? Having overcome adversity? I don’t think so.

One afternoon Dale came in to pick me up from work and ordered a beer while I finished my cash out. “That girl working at the bar sure is nice,” he said on the way home, about Kelsey R.

But she was not a nice girl. She was a bitch and she had no imagination. She was always picking on me, telling me things like how soup was for sampling not snacking and “you should probably know the table numbers by now.”

“Just smile,” she’d say during the pre shift staff meetings. “Just smile, and sooner or later it will feel like you’re really smiling. Just smile and it’ll trick your brain into thinking you’re happy. Come on, it’s simple. I dare you, smile for ten minutes and just try and not be happy.”

I didn’t have a boyfriend and I was not like her. I was not like her and I was never going to be like her. I was an artist, a poet. And it didn’t matter that I hadn’t ever made any money from my music, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t written a song in a little while. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t playing shows at the moment, or that I didn’t actually own a guitar anymore, that I willfully didn’t own a guitar, that I had sold it, to pay for my bus ticket back home, none of that mattered. Because I understood the meaning of irony. The meaning of patience. The meaning of one day looking back and thinking, Oh yeah, that summer. And now look at me, at The Grammy’s hahahaha.

“That’s it!” said Dale, “That’s damned to hell it!” When Death Cab shit on the sofa.

“What Dale means,” said mom, “is that we think maybe things would be a little easier for you if you could let somebody else look after the cat, just focus on yourself for a little while.”

What was I supposed to do? I had made eleven dollars that day and had nothing else to sell. I posted an ad on craigslist that said, “Large male Tabby cat, neutered. Green eyes, brown fur with black stripes, to a good home, 75$”

I got a reply that afternoon, from a man asking to see a photograph. I borrowed Dale’s laptop and held Death Cab in front of the webcam but he wouldn’t sit still. “Come on,” I told him, “It’s not like I want to do this.”  He looked up at me with this look as if to say, remember that time you played a show at Dusty’s and people began to actually get up from their seats and leave during your acoustic cover of Oblivion? Remember that sound their chairs made as they pushed them back to stand up, the high and sharp squeak on linoleum? Remember when you looked up from whatever foreign shape your fingers were making and caught the sheepish eyes of the few remaining audience members, squirming back and forth in their chairs?

Remember coming home and how I ran to the door? Remember rubbing behind my ear and how I curled around your leg? Remember how you sat on the sofa and tried to call Michael and I crawled into your lap? Remember how Michael said he was busy and probably would be busy for “a while”, remember how I reached up and pressed by nose against your jaw, how you held me and we spent the rest of the night watching Dawson’s Creek together? Remember that?

Mom never thought I would make it as a musician, especially now that I didn’t have a guitar anymore, but she was wrong. That night I was feeling so much I took two knives out from the kitchen and hit them rhythmically against the drainpipe in the backyard until Dale told me to shut up. When I walked inside him and mom were watching Corner Gas, spooning on the couch.

That night I had this dream where I’m turned into an Ikea day bed. My eyes somewhere on the pillow. There’s this couple shopping, and I realize its Kelsey R and her boyfriend, who I recognize from the bar. They walk around hand in hand like they’re in love but they’re not really in love. Not the way that I love music. They keep looking into each other’s eyes and kissing and laughing like they’re in love but they’re not really in love. They buy me and take me back to their apartment strip off their nursing clothes and make all the noises like they love each other but they don’t really love each other, they don’t have the capability.

Things were bad. Things were bad and then they got worse. Things were bad when I played that show at Dusty’s. Things were bad when my mom found out I was failing out of school and then she called to yell at me, saying how I was just like my dad. Things were a little better once I realized that I was too much of a free spirit for formalized education, but then worse again when society continued to nag me relentlessly. I really hated it when society did that.  

The man from Craigslist agreed to pay 50 dollars for Death Cab, as long as I arranged the transport to his house. Death Cab cried as I fought him into his carrier, and continued to cry as we got on the bus.  Some of the other passengers looked at us apologetically, as if they knew how I was feeling, but they did not know. How could they? They were all gigantic assholes.  

We arrived at the stop early, so I waited in a park across the street from the man’s house. From the outside, it appeared to be an alright house: two stories with a wooden fence. There were purple flowers planted along the sidewalk leading to the door. I could see into the living room, there was a couch and a television; the man was vacuuming the carpet. I thought, how pathetic, nothing to do but vacuum. Probably he liked vacuuming. Probably he liked everything, his stupid beige pants and the dumb music I imagined playing from his stereo.

I thought, what is this? Giving Death Cab away to a man who might as well be Kelsey R’s father.

What is this? I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe any of it. Not a word! I didn’t believe Kelsey R knew hardship the way that I knew hardship. No way. Not the way her story claimed. She was a poser. I didn’t believe she had no parents. She probably had tons of parents. She’d made it up, the whole thing. She’d hadn’t even made it up, she’d heard it from a movie or something, and copied the movie because she had no imagination.

I massaged Death Cab’s ears and told him not to worry. “We’re better than this,” I said, “we’re better than this and one day everyone will know.”

I didn’t believe that anyone had ever felt the way that I felt. I didn’t believe that anyone had cried the way I cried. These feelings were my feelings, and mine alone. These feelings were my feelings and I had complete control over them. I would not smile. I would not be happy.