Rainbo1 and Marie2 are both watching the same lone pigeon3 walk along the edge of the curb at the bus stop. Its left foot is curled and dead-looking.4 The pigeon walks with a limp, pecking at invisible morsels as late-night taxis with darkened roof signs5 whoosh down the mostly-deserted street.
Visible just over the tops of the buildings on the opposite side of the street are the glittering condos of the Bay and, farther back, Downtown's crowded lightscape.6 The October moon is waxing gibbous.7 The temperature is eight degrees Celsius.
In what might have been a moment of spontaneous synchronization,8 both Rainbo and Marie look up from the pigeon and at each other. Rainbo raises his eyebrows as if to say, How about that pigeon.9 Something passes through or behind Marie's eyes; the lines of her lips grow firmer; she looks away, down the street at a bus that isn't coming.10
Rainbo also looks away.11 The pigeon hops a few times, then takes flight with a sound like playing cards being shuffled.
Above an artificial ceiling of urban light pollution, the stars continue on their course.12
1 Named, by his Mom, after her younger brother Rainbo who, at the age of two, passed away during an outbreak of whooping cough on the Oregon commune where they lived with their parents. Rainbo is wearing: army surplus jacket, blue toque with pom-pom on top. Carrying: wallet (empty), phone (dead), seventy-five cents (in quarters).13 He arrived five minutes ago from a direction he can't specifically recall, at the moment,14 looked at Marie, then pretended not to look at Marie, then glanced at her surreptitiously, considered striking up a conversation, noticed she was wearing earbuds, then spent five minutes gazing idly about, looking for something to focus on, until the pigeon arrived, hopping on scene from parts unkown. Rainbo will continue standing at the bus stop for nearly half an hour after Marie leaves.15
2 Wearing: peacoat, flats, white earbuds16. Carrying: purse, phone. She has been at the bus stop for ten minutes. Shortly after arriving,17 she checked her phone and realized another bus would not be coming until six in the morning. So she texted her boyfriend Mike, hoping he would be awake and that he could come take her home.18 Since Rainbo arrived, she has been doing her best not to acknowledge his existence.19
3 Female, aged seven months. Favourite food: hotdogs.
4 Damaged ten weeks ago in a scrap with a crow who was interefering with the pigeon flock's consumption of half a bagel with cream cheese. She has long since forgotten the details of the conflict, except that it was painful and she does not walk the way she did when she was younger, and that it is hard to keep up with the flock now. In fact, she's completely lost track of them tonight – they're roosting nearby, she's sure, but isn't certain where – so she's resolved to fight off sleep20 (sleeping solo isn't safe for a pigeon in the big city) and reverted to the default mode of her species, which is Pecking At Something.
6 A poor substitute, Rainbo thinks, for the stars he can see back home when he hikes across the street22 and through the trees to a small park near a stream, where the pines block out the houses nearby but leave open enough sky for him to marvel at, usually while under the influence of Cannabis sativa.
8 A phenomenon has been reported whereby fireflies will suddenly, for unknown reasons, coordinate the flickering of their lights so that they throb in perfect synchronization, creating an eerie, monotonous effect. This is called Spontaneous Synchronization. In the case of Rainbo and Marie, though, what happened is, they could each see the other in their peripheral vision, such that they could tell where the other was looking, and also when the other looked up. Objectively, whether Rainbo looked first, or Marie did – that question is unanswerable on any level higher than the quantum.
9 He was hoping for a smile. If Rainbo were to write a book of advice on seducing members of the opposite sex, it would be titled Hoping for a Smile. He has only had complete, legit sex with two girls in his life, each of whom he dated for several months, and with each of whom he broke the ice by making some expression with his face, usually the one where he raises his eyebrows and widens his eyes, as if he's surprised to see the girl in question, which for some reason a certain percentage of the female population finds endearing.
10 The action is completely reflexive.
12 Marie's favourite constellation is Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. She has always wanted siblings.
13 The bar he was at (God, where was it again? More towards the water, or the other direction?) with friends – people he hadn't seen since high school, primarily a guy and a girl who had dated and were still dating, both of whom starred in the theatre department's annual musical production and both of whom are currently pursuing BFAs in Acting – had pinball machines. Specifically, an out-of-order Mars Attacks pinball machine, and an Addams Family Machine, which worked just fine. He got change from the bar, and spent most of the night in relative seclusion, getting quietly drunk on beer and trying to rack up a high score.25
14 Partly because he is drunk, but also because this is only his second night in the city and the place is like a maze to him. Rainbo has never had a good sense of direction, and that isn't helped by the fact that he grew up on a Gulf Island with a total population of 717 souls. The movements and sounds of the city – brake-wheeze and cable-spark of electric buses, herds of humans swarming across busy intersections – are alien to him, and disorienting. He spent nearly an hour tonight trying to find the bar, switching directions every five minutes, never quite sure he was headed the right way and too embarrassed to ask a stranger.
15 His phone is dead, he doesn't have a credit card, and his wallet is cash-free. He is embarrassed about being drunk and in the street at night,26 and doesn't feel comfortable calling a cab over and asking whether he can be driven to an ATM near his destination, to pull out money for the fare, which he is pretty sure he has heard of someone doing.27 The half hour of waiting is spent becoming increasingly uncomfortable due to cold and dehydration, before he finally gives up and flags down a taxi.28
16 Playing 'til I Leave Again: The Collected Singles of the Dock Leaves. Marie has been listening to increasingly obscure Pacific Northwest folk-rock from the mid-sixties to early seventies, narrowing down to the specific scene in which her father participated.29
17 From Kelsey's30 house, where she had stayed the night before, on the pretense that the two were having an intentionally, ironically infantile “sleep-over” party.31 Really, it was a way to avoid going to another of Mike's band practice, and the discussion they would have when he asked her how she thought they played, and she, being unfamiliar (and, he alleged, uninterested in) highly technical instrumental thrash metal, had no significant feedback to offer. Example:
“So how did we sound.”
“What was your favourite?”
“That one where you did the solo was great.”
“I did a lot of solos. Which one?”
“I'm not sure.”
(Cue two hours of insufferable silence.)
19 Because that could mean talking to him, and that could mean liking him,33 and that could start a process – stretched over five minutes or maybe five weeks – leading to the two of them sleeping together. Because she has been thinking a lot, lately, about what it would be like to sleep with a guy who isn't Mike, to talk to a guy who isn't Mike, to watch movies and shop for groceries with a guy who isn't Mike. Because she knows how these things go.34
20 In the morning, she'll experience a pigeon emotion analogous to human regret, and do her best to snatch shuteye in between feeding frenzies.
21 From the after party to a concert that had occurred downtown, DJ'd by the frontman35 from the band that had played, a gypsy-jazz-noise-punk group whose songs mostly have to do with illegal immigration and the meaning of personhood in an increasingly globalized world.
22 Where he's lived most of his life with his mom and her second husband, who is a glassblower by trade. It's a semi-rural area, originally squatted by communal Jesus Freaks in the '60s. Close to nature.
24 She will, but he won't notice.
25 The party was full of his friends' friends, friends they had made since leaving the island, moving to the mainland and starting acting school. They were uniformly extroverted and well-spoken. Rainbo's high school graduating class only had four people in it. Any group of peers larger than that magic number, four, tends to give Rainbo trouble.37 He's used to going to parties where everyone has known each other for almost all of their lives, as well as each other's families, houses, pets, etc.
26 Rainbo's getting-drunk environments, in order of frequency of use (descending):
- Forest clearing
- Friend's basement
- The Owens' house38
- The Duckboot39
- Hayfield attached to organic dairy farm
27 He read about it once, in a book. Rainbo's knowledge of city-living techniques is woefully inadequate. On his first day in the city, he gave away almost twenty dollars in assorted change to people who asked him for money, until one of the people he was staying with told him to stop.
29 Her hands are in her pockets but her fingers are mimicking the chord positions she can – or thinks she can – recognize. When she was twelve, her father bought her six months of guitar lessons.56 This was after he'd been away on an extended two-month business/”giving your mom some space” trip during which he had neglected to contact either Marie or her mother.41
30 Bottled blonde, rides a pink Vespa her parents bought her as a high school graduation present. A militant vegan currently pursuing her BA in Poli Sci at the University. Favourite activities: talking about boys, doing nails, picketing leather goods shops. Marie's main shoulder to cry on re: Mike. Sample dialogue:
“Oh my God, get these cookies away from me. So, have you given him an ultimatum?”
“I'm not okay with the ultimatum thing, Kelsey.”
“You need to draw a line. He won't take you seriously.”
“What do I say? 'Stop trying to make me like your band's music?' 'I'm sick of take-out sushi, you should learn how to cook. And you don't have to pay all the time, it isn't the 50s.'”
“Or else. There have to be consequences. Have you tried using the whip?”
“The pussy whip.”
“Oh God, Kelsey. I can't believe you.”
“Seriously girl, you've got to use what your mama gave you.”
“I really don't feel comfortable about this.”
“You are a lost soul, honey. Give me those cookies. We'll go for a run tomorrow.”42
31 With a supporting story about watching “Ten Things I Hate About You” on Netflix and doing facials. Mike never asked, though. In fact, he didn't even reply after Marie texted him cancelling their plans for that night. This detail sat at the back of her mind, turning sour, so that well after Kelsey had drifted off, Marie was lying awake on the couch, butterflies in her stomach. Eventually she gave up trying to sleep, got dressed, and left for the bus stop.
32 Two months later, after multiple instances of having minor spats and subsequently ignoring each other's apology texts, they will break-up. Marie will be the one who is dumped, although she will later tell herself the separation was mutually agreed upon.43
33 Being alone at a bus stop with a long-haired guy in an army coat at two in the morning would normally make Marie anxious, except Rainbo is a skinny young guy still incapable of growing consistently thick facial hair. Plus it is obvious to her that he is trying very hard not to look at her.
34 Her last relationship, in her first year at the University, went through a long stagnant period before she broke it off by going home with a guy she met at a concert one night, calling her (now ex-) boyfriend the next morning to confess.44
35 Lars Schlippen, who also dabbles in video art installations.
37 Specifically trouble with who knows who, and how. Has a tendency to assume that people are related. Sample dialogue, from that night at the pub, when two girls detached from the main actor party to check on his progress viz. High score on Addam's Family pinball machine.
First girl: “Wow, you're like a pinball wizard.”
Rainbo: “I've been playing this game all night.”
Second girl: “Are you going to get a high score?”
Rainbo: “I hope so.”
First girl: “What happens if you get a high score?”
Rainbo: “My name goes in the machine. Or my initials do.”
Second girl (touching Rainbo's arm): “You should put my initials in.”
Rainbo: "You guys are sisters. That's just a guess, but I'm right, right?"
First girl: "What?"
Second girl: "Excuse me?"
Rainbo: "What's your guys' age difference? Like two years?"
Both girls: "Gross."
38 Rainbo's first girlfriend was Chive Owen, the oldest of three sisters. Their parents, software designers, often left the island to attend conferences. Their house had an outdoor pool. During these times every person on the island between the ages of 14 and 24 would descend on the Owen residence, hotboxing the sauna and fucking in the pool. Rainbo lost his virginity on the diving board.54
39 The Island's sole watering hole. House band: The Roaches, specializing in 60s blues rock. Rainbo has only been allowed to drink there, legally, for a year and a half, but he has already lost consciousness several times in the bathroom, which hasn't been cleaned since Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics.
40 His friend Dolan and his three interchangeable Swedish roommates.51 Rainbo and Dolan bonded in junior high by forming a Sublime cover band and playing Wednesday open mic nights at the Island's most popular coffee joints.54 Given the genesis of their friendship, Rainbo is sort of surprised that Dolan is now half-way through his double major, with an eye on pre-med.
41 Sometimes she wonders – or used to wonder – what sort of regrets her Dad had. Maybe experimental orthodontics55 was not his only passion.46 Maybe there was a good reason why his home office was decorated with framed newspaper clippings from his early twenties, when he played in a folk-rock trio called the Fieldstones.
42 Kelsey will find a note the next morning:
Really sorry, but I have to go and try and make up with Mike.47 Thanks so much for the awesome evening. I'll call you tomorrow.
43 Not long after breaking up with Mike, she will awaken early one morning, just as the sun is coming up, hovering on the edge of consciousness, unable to get back to sleep and unwilling to get out of bed, and the memory of waiting at the bus stop for Mike that night, and the kind-of-cute hippie kid standing there, will float through her brain. She will feel a deep, inexplicable sense of regret at not having spoken to him,48 and will then fall back asleep, forgetting that she ever remembered the moment.
44 Using concert guy's phone. Just in case her cheating wasn't enough to make her boyfriend want to break up with Marie.
45 “Big Mama Reese”
46 He also had a passion for women who weren't Marie's mother.
47 When Marie was little she had a nanny named Mrs. Delue,49 who adored Marie most of the time, except when Marie dragged falled cedar branches into her parents' West End condo (“I want to make a fire!”) or applied fingerpaint to the walls (“I want my bedroom to be pink!”). In these instances, Mrs. Delue would shout at Marie and, once the kid started crying, send her to her room to meditate on her wrongdoings. Mrs. Delue had a soft heart, though; before an hour could pass, she would climb the stairs to Marie's bedroom50 and, by way of apology/consolation, silently wrap her arms around her, until Marie stopped crying, and then offer her something to eat, usually a cookie. Marie apes this method in her adult life. Not long after getting in the car with Mike, as the two of them speed down a mostly deserted thoroughfare, she will lean over and wrap her arms around him. He will barely manage to avoid hitting a light post at 80 km/h.52
48 If there is such a thing as alternate realities – potential, infinite universes branching out from and running parallel to our own – then in another universe Marie spoke to Rainbo (or vice versa). Perhaps the weird feeling of regret Marie will have that morning as she lays in bed is alternate-universe Marie poking through into our own world, using Marie's semi-hypnagogic mental state as a stepping stone, in order to tell her that she made a really bad mistake.53
49 A Dominican widow who only wore white and smoked Benson & Hedges Menthol 120s, cutting the extra-long filters in half with kitchen shears because that's the way she liked them, and who adored Marie while secretly disapproving of her parents' career-focused lifestyle, often telling Marie, “You come live at my house, and I will cook such good food for you that you become fat like me.”
50 Which was larger, square-footage-wise, than Mrs. Delue's apartment.
51 One of whom (either Erik or Lars) will be awake when Rainbo comes back, that night, around 4 AM, and who will be in the kitchen as he rapidly drinks several much-needed glasses of water. Dialogue:
“Oh, hey... you. You're up early.”
“I have a poker tournament.”
“I play online poker. It is how I pay the rent.”
“Wow. You must be good.”
(Sound of Rainbow chugging tap water.)
“Did you just get back?”
“Yeah, I was at this bar somewhere.”
“'This bar somewhere.'”
“I don't know my way around this place, man. I'm a country boy.”
“Ah, yes. 'The Island.' Did you have a good time?”
“There were some people I knew from home, there, but we didn't hang out much. They have new friends now.”
“So I mostly played pinball. Then when I tried to get back here, I got lost, so I waited at this bus stop, with like one other person, this girl who I think I creeped out, but someone came and picked her up. The bus never came so I ended up getting a cab.”
“You are a creepy guy.”
“How much longer will you stay?”
“Two more days. I've got a couple appointments to look at apartments with people. I don't know if I want to live here, though.”
“Why not? You don't like the 'big city'?”
“I don't know. It's hard to find my way around.”
“You will get used to it.”
“I guess. I don't know, man, on the island I like know everybody, and here there's so many strangers. It's so big.”
“Would you live on 'the island' your whole life?”
“No. Well, I don't know. I'm not sure.”
(Sound of Rainbo chugging tap water.)
52 Mike will be even angrier and even more silent – in a way that's difficult to explain – for a while, until he realizes that he could have just died, and so could his girlfriend. When they get home, driven by their brush with oblivion, the two of them will have raucous, walk-funny-in-the-morning make-up sex.54
53 Neither of them will ever know it, but Marie and Rainbo fit together like a key in a lock, teeth and tumblers forming a solid pivot point. In an alternate universe, exactly one year from today, the two of them will play their first show together as the Crippled Pigeon Revue.57
54 Once in a while, still, he'll play an open mic, but since high school, the pleasure is diminished. Those of his friends who are still around to come out and listen know all his songs, his way of joking with the sparse audience of teenagers, ex-Deadheads and kids with violins or woodwind instruments pressured into playing by their parents. The last time he was going to play, he was so depressed at the prospect that he ended up bailing, going home, putting on an Elliot Smith record and getting loaded, solo, on his step-dad's u-brew blackberry wine.58
55 Which was paying for Marie's (undeclared) undergraduate Arts degree at the University, and provided her with a set of teeth so symmetrical that on the rare occasions when she genuinely smiled, observers felt themselves drawn in, as if her high-end incisors were outfitted with tiny tractor beams.
56 She attended reluctantly, at first, until she was able to figure out the chords for a few Woody Guthrie standards,59 at which point her father, when he was around, began to spend more time out of his office hanging around while she practiced, offering advice on rhythm and introductory fingerpicking, and making her laugh with his nasal impersonation of old Woodie's singing voice.
57 In an Eastside coffee shop, opening for a bigger band playing a similar, less pared-down flavour of anti-freak-acid-acoustic-folk jams. The room will be crowded, but as she tunes her guitar down a half-step down,60 Marie will look up, and to the back, and see her father's silhouette.
58 When he looks back and tries to explain what motivated him to leave the Island and go to the city (for only the third time in his life) two weeks later, he will see that lonesome night of sweet wine and sad songs as a catalyst, but explain, more generally, “All I was doing is hanging out at home, drinking a lot. It was so boring. Since all my friends moved here, I was like, whatever. Okay, me too.”
59 Her father knew all the original lyrics – the ones espousing communist ideals – to “This Land is My Land,” despite the fact that he was currently funding his Mendocino semi-retirement with the sale of seaside land parcels on various Gulf Islands (which he invested in before Marie was born) to people building multi-million dollar mansions with green roofs, hay bale insulation and solar-powered driveway gates.
60 For their epic “Mainland Blues (Getting Lost).”