Joyland

Toronto |

Bleach

by Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

edited by Kathryn Mockler

Lucy hoped to never have to see the suburb she grew up in again and certainly isn’t enjoying her stay. Cars full of teenagers pull up outside the townhouse, and she motions them away, intentionally ignoring the neighbours as she does. The woman in the adjacent unit with her First Choice layered blonde hair with lighter blonde highlights; tsk-ing at her, is probably a teacher, Lucy figures; the husband—likely a retired cop—validates her tsk with a serious nod; their cat, long-haired, probably named something expected, like Pandora or Whiskers, appears right then to complete the perfect picture of their childless suburban glory.

Lucy goes into the townhouse that was raided and bleaches everything. She yells nonsensically whenever anyone talks to her. She watches The Hills on the biggest television she’s ever seen. Interchangeable young men she’s never seen loiter on the front step as though they live there. Maybe they do. She ignores them, too, as much as she can.

She knows now that her stepfather is serving his own sentence, unrelated, and that’s why he has been missing in action. That he’s in a medium security facility somewhere near Kingston, convicted for some kind of white-collar crime. She’s more surprised to not know this information than she is to hear it exists. Her stepfather has run financial planning companies or worked in collections for as long as she can remember—all vague occupations for her to understand as a kid—with stints of obvious pyramid scams overlapping. Most clearly, she remembers when he became obsessed with selling all of their neighbours and relatives beeswax products—it had seemed like an odd match for him even then. In any case, his scheming and scamming was barely a consideration, given his more obvious flaws, where she was concerned.

Her stepfather’s company names and first name changed on business cards every so often, which she never asked about. Given his temper at home, and propensity towards lying even in situations that absolutely didn’t call for it—she recalled him once telling her teacher she was a jump roping fanatic in the lead-up to Jump Rope for Heart, a program she did not want to participate in—she knew it was best not to ask questions. She was certain that the man was evil at worst, useless at best, and would cause more harm than good in any given situation. It annoyed her, now, that she was forced to think about him at all.

She knows her brother’s outstanding charges are violent in nature. She learns that his current charges are drug-related, and is annoyed that if this is what he’s decided to do that he hasn’t done a better job at not getting caught. That now he has other people entangled in his mess, enough so that she’s been called upon to help out—a situation that would have been unheard of had it not gotten this bad.

In fact, there was an incident with a crow bar that landed him in the hospital, 22 stitches in his skull, and even that she found out about indirectly. She remembers the call, their mother in hysterics upon finding out. Lucy had been woken up by the call, was in bed with an already-ex boyfriend at the time. She remembers filling with red rage at the idea of someone hurting her brother and wonders if the outstanding charges are related to this. She assumes they are, and wonders how Jason could be guilty of anything that ended like this.

The townhouse mortgage is in her stepfather’s name; he left money that is unsurprisingly now gone in an account for her brother to manage. Her brother kept living there, along with a bunch of his friends, she finds out. It is clear that only one of them legitimately lives there full-time, has a bedroom claimed and his belongings inside of it. Lucy can’t tell if the other boys have parent’s homes they return to but thinks they likely do. She has a hard time remembering who is who and all of their names. She’s sure she’ll need to be in touch with some of them at some point but is unclear on which one will ultimately be useful to her. She learns that her brother was picked up down the street, in the parking lot of a plaza, that he'd been on his way to the Rogers store there, to pay an outstanding bill in cash.

She thinks about the time Jason came downtown, with a girlfriend she hadn’t known existed, and bought her sushi on Bloor Street. How he’d never paid for anything before, or introduced her to any girl before, and was wearing particularly nice jeans. She wonders if the dinner, and the pants, were bought with drug money. She thinks about how after she left home she struggled working contracts in social services and arts non-profits, to prove that she could survive by legitimate means; unlike the way she’d grown up. In some ways, growing up, they always “had,” but were always teetering on the edge of losing everything, never secure.

She realizes that if the accusations are true, if he is guilty, that his recent life had probably been less of a financial struggle than hers. She thinks about how she had to work to hide a B+ on a report card or a note from a crush from their parents, but that Jason might have been able to pull off a scheme of this level right in front of them.

It turns out her brother's girlfriend—the same one she met over dynamite rolls and seaweed salad—is still around. Jane, she's reminded, is the girl's name. She’s surprised none of her brother’s friends have mentioned his girlfriend in all of this, that Jane hasn’t been in touch herself. While Lucy is at the apartment, bleaching and scowling and watching reality television, Jane talks at her. She says she’s never seen a “girl show” on at the house. She talks about how messy the boys are, how she’s been staying there since a fight she had with her mom, even though most of her stuff is still at her mom’s apartment. She goes on about her mother and grandfather, how she was depressed in middle school, the marks on her middle and index fingers. She barely mentions Jason at all—the only thing Lucy might want to talk to her about (and even then, Lucy thinks, she would probably rather not talk to Jane at all). Jane thinks they’re bonding. Lucy thinks Jane needs more women in her life, and a therapist; she turns up the television.

Lucy hates The Hills but doesn’t want to use her brain and worries that anything else on television runs the risk of upsetting her—violence, crime, family dramas. Jane loves the show, she tells her. Lucy is not surprised; she imagines Jane as one of these girls, vacant, poking at her dinner but not eating it, sending vague text messages about nothing, crying in bathroom stalls of nightclubs, pulling down her micro-dress as the cameras follow her around. Lucy kicks over pizza boxes and beer bottles, then tidies them up, winds cords around videogame consoles. She’s excited to find a root beer in the fridge, only to learn it’s already been opened.

There were dogs at the house once, evidenced by bite marks in fabric and soft foam bones laying about, boxers that Lucy has gathered lived mostly in the basement. The dogs, Tyson and Holly—her stepfather’s take on hilarity—were taken during the raid on the house, no one able to claim that they were the owners. The smell of the dogs has not left with them. She closes the door to the basement, attempting to lock the odour in, rubs her itchy face on her hoodie sleeve. Lucy is allergic to, and not fond of dogs, glad they didn’t have any when she was growing up. They had a cat, in her early years, when it was just her and her mother. The cat was named Karma and died choking on her own vomit while she and her mother were away on a trip. The irony is not lost on her. After that, she wasn’t even allowed to have a hamster or goldfish, her brothers had never even had a small pet, so she wonders how these dogs came about.

The neighbours are full of hatred. They stare at her from their side of the property line of the cookie-cutter homes. The bricks are predictably beige, the cobblestone leading up to them anything but charming: a rectangle of sod beside each walkway and an identical shrub in front of each front window. She’s not sure who they think she is—surely they were never told she existed, the daughter who hated the family enough to leave in the middle of high school, continued to hate them enough to not return to visit. Surely they were friendly once with her stepfather, the master manipulator, always dedicated to keeping up appearances; she assumes they were always suspicious of her brother and his cohorts—likely for the wrong reasons, ones based on stereotyping only. She assumes they have been following the drama as it unfolded, that they may know more than her about the lead up to this particular point in the saga, that they no doubt have a version—true or not—that they tell their friends and relatives. Surely, she figures, they would have heard more than one fight between her brother and stepfather, noticed when police parked out front. Surely, she figures, all of the drama must have been an annoyance to them, why else the stares? Lucy turns to look at the neighbours but looks right through them. She hates them for only having to feel irritation at all of this. Or rather, she would, but she is too exhausted to even bother hating them back.