The International Writers Magazine: After the Party
The Fine Line Home
It was a screened-in porch; the 5AM cold bit my exposed limbs; the sofa springs bit my back. Who could sleep?
My fingers slid under her shirt. Warmth. The feel of skin. She went by Cranberry Girl or something. Her copper hair smelled of Suave, my mother’s shampoo. I slid my hand across her belly. Smooth. Her eyes popped wide. Blue eyes. Pissed-off eyes.
She shoved my hand away. “Asshole.” She huffed through her nostrils, wet landing on her upper lip, turning away from me.
“What?” I fought last night’s fog of beer and grass. Did we do anything? I couldn’t remember.
“We didn’t.” She read my thoughts.
“Well, you didn’t … you couldn’t.” Sarcasm in her voice hurt.
I blamed the beer.
“Yeah, the beer.” She pushed my hand away. “And your hands are ice.”
“Maybe I can now.”
“Thanks, I’m not into icy dick?” She closed her eyes. That was that.
“Maybe later.” Rebuffed, I sat up, my head rocking. The table covered in empty cans and tipped bottles, some used as ashtrays. The reek of last-night’s beer and smoke. The real ashtray served as a candy dish, half full of yellows and red jackets. Somebody’s birthday party last night – I couldn’t remember. I wasn’t even sure whose house this was. Reaching a handful of caps, I stuck them in the stash pocket of my jeans.
Cranberry Girl’s breathing became that of sleep, long breaths catching on a snore. I eased myself up, buttoned my shirt and tugged on my boots. A rush of blood to my head as I laced them.
I reached into the candy dish again. A garlicky paste at back of my mouth. My throat sore.
Fumbling through her purse, I found a pack of Kools, one left in it. I lit up, hoping to clear the cobwebs, the menthol sure to mess up my stomach. A few rolled dollars – I counted them, then put them back and found a folded chunk of tinfoil. A few white pills. Birth control? I couldn’t tell. These I pocketed.
Closing the screen quietly, I stood on the porch that ran across the front of the old two-storey brick, every house on the street the same.
Head thumping, stomach flipping, I walked up the street into the early grey, dragging on the smoke, shivering in the morning cold, no idea where I was.
The street was Sunday-morning quiet, a dead zone. Cars lined both sides. A girl, tall and thin, another morning-after refugee from another party, her dingy hair wild and matted, arms folded in front of her, crossed the street. “Hey.”
She turned up her collar. “Fucking cold.”
“Got an extra smoke?”
“This is it.” I showed her the half-finished Kool. She took it and puffed away. “Goddamn menthol.”
“I know. I borrowed it.”
“I’m Joni.” She took a few drags.
“Wolf, like the dog?”
“No, just Wolf.”
Joni tossed the cigarette away. “Got any spare change, Wolf? I’m tapped out.”
“Me, too.” I patted my pockets. No jingle.
“Hmm. What’s that?” She nodded at the lump in my stash pocket.
She flashed her teeth, hopeful. “Stash?”
I liked her grin, cute in a back-to-nature way. I reached two fingers like chopsticks and pulled three or four caps and the tinfoil ball.
“Breakfast buffet.” She plucked a red, a yellow and flicked a finger at the tinfoil in my palm. “And that?”
“Not sure.” I unwrapped it.
Joni popped one. “I love surprises.”
I laughed. “Any idea where we are?”
“You really partied, man.”
“This is Scarborough. That’s Broadway up there. Look, I need to get home – spare enough for the bus?”
“I’m tapped out. Really, just got enough for my own bus fare.”
“I got a joint,” she said. “Smoke it with you for bus fare.”
“I’m tapped, really, but hey, I shared.”
“Menthol cigarettes don’t count; besides, it’s my only one.”
No point arguing.
A biker type minus the bike, a remnant of another all-night blast, got out of the back of a station wagon. Three other bodies stirred in the car, all asleep. Snorting snot back up his nose, he looked up and down the street. “Fuck me. Where’s my bike?”
“Beats me,” I said.
Joni shook her head. “Didn’t you come with Eddy?”
“Fuck Eddy.” He ran fingers through his hair. “Anybody got a smoke?”
Joni pulled a pack from her bag. “Sure, man.” She threw me an apologetic smile.
Biker tapped one out, pulled a silver lighter, a flame like a blowtorch. He lit them both up, me watching.
“Need a couple bucks,” Biker said.
Joni pointed at me, and Biker sniffed like he smelled my money. He held out a big hand. Crazy emanated off this guy like stale booze - his jacket buttoned wrong, stubbled chin, bloodshot eyes, dirt under his fingernails.
I pulled out my wallet and my only five. “All I got.”
“You got pills,” Joni said.
“Pills?” He sniffed and wrinkled his nose.
I reached into my stash pocket and produced the candy store.
Biker snapped the fiver and winked. “I don’t take that shit.” He moved on. “Wish me luck.”
No point asking for change back.
“That all your cash?” Joni asked me, taking another red from my open hand.
“Tough break,” she said. “Well, good luck.” I watched her, ass packed in tight denim, as she followed Biker.
Getting home would involve ingenuity. The license plates said I wasn’t out of province this time.
At Broadway, there was a laundromat, a flower shop and a drug store, all closed. Signs in Chinese or something. The only sign of life was an elderly couple strolling into a baptist church. The sign outside advised: Addiction will kill you. Let the church help.
No street signs for three blocks. Buildings with graffiti. Walking west, I made up my own church signs: Get high Sunday, my place – God. Life is fucked; handle with prayer. Book your seat in eternity: smoking or non-. Are you wasted? Jesus saves.
I could flag a cab, stop a half block from my parents’ door, take off through the neighbor’s yard, dodge the steep fare, save the tip. Last time I did, I jumped Howitt’s fence, met their dog and came away savagely bitten.
I was in no shape to run today. Waiting for the bus, I popped two reds, hoping they would take the edge off the chill that bit to the bone.
Twenty minutes before the bus came. I was shaking, teeth rattling. I was ready with tales of robbery and hardship, but the driver was a nazi. He came out of his seat at me. “Nobody rides for free,” he yelled, pushing me off. I took in a lungful of diesel fumes, looking at the smiling realtor on the advertisement on the back.
Out went my thumb and I hitchhiked. Not much better luck. A few cars, a van, then Biker with Joni clamped against him whizzed by on a chopped Harley, Joni flashing a five hundred-mile smile. The reds were good. I reached into my pocket and popped another one.
Another half hour and a mini-van stopped. I ran up, and a tight packed of Japanese tourists got out, armed with dangling Nikons. They wormed around, trying to make sense of a points-of-interest brochure, chattering, snapping photos.
“No capisce,” I told them and pointed up the street. They bowed and smiled and shuffled the way I had pointed. Polite people, those Japanese. Lots of pictures.
Another bus slowed at the next stop. The dyke driving looked as friendly as malaria. I waved her on and kept walking west, freezing.
The waft of baked goods pulled me to a patisserie’s window. Saliva rose above my back teeth. I could go in, snatch a cruller and run like hell. Again, running was no good. I should have taken Cranberry Girl’s money. I dug into my stash pocket. Three white pills in foil, four reds, two yellow, some lint.
The red devils put me on the edge of mellow, any more and I’d fall asleep, freeze my balls off. If the white pills anything better than birth control pills, getting home in an altered state could be fun, even without music. Residual paranoia could be combatted with the reds and yellows. A kind of teeter-totter effect. I took two.
Walking toward the bleak sun, I stuck out my thumb out. One guy with the look of a door-to-door salesman slowed, looked me over, shook his head, then drove off. I wished him a flat.
Another church. People congregating on the steps. The sign read something about working for the Lord, the hours being long, but the benefits terrific. The people looked happy.
I trudged on, moving faster, going for warmth. A philosophical exchange of views sprouted and ping-ponged around my skull: consciousness versus substance, the God concept, universal infinity. The white pills were of the first order.
A bench in a small park offered me rest. Surrounded by a sandbox, swing and climbing bars, I watched the autumn leaves turn incredible colors, purples, gold, orange, the breeze lifting them, turning them, feather light. The beautiful moment broken by a kid’s bleating. His grandmother sat on my bench while the kid rode the swing. The grandmother smiled toothless at me while the kid talked like we were old friends. I couldn’t deal with it – the kid going up, down, back and forth.
I walked and froze along Broadway. An old man in a porkpie hat appeared beside me. I don’t know where he came from. Just appeared. He stayed with me stride for stride. I slowed, he slowed; I picked up the pace, he did, too. When Porkpie spoke, he spoke in limericks. Maybe it wasn’t English; I don’t know. I stopped at a butcher’s window and pointed to hanging sausages. He nodded. I pointed at a fleshy slab of meat hanging, rivers of fat veining through it. He licked his lips and got excited. I opened the door, pushed him in and made my escape.
The knitting needle jabbed between my ribs and I had to stop running. I bent and caught my breath. Porkpie was gone, and I was at the Pape subway stop, the whoosh of a train coming into the tunnel. I picked my way down the stairs, staying clear of the escalator. The moving steps were edged with teeth.
Before the turnstiles, a guy with a grey nest of beard sat with his guitar case open, coins laying in the lining. He was strumming an old Barry McGuire. The eastern world it was explodin’. It brought me back. Sounded pretty good, too. I threw a couple of reds in his case. The guy deserved it.
The next train rattled in, pushing a gust of cold air. Contorting myself through the turnstile, I ignored the security guard’s shout of ‘hey’ and got on the train just as the doors closed.
I didn’t sit, fearing conversation. A fat woman spread across two seats, a mother with a toddler behaving like a speed freak, and a guy reading the paper, the sections strewn across three seats.
The names of the subway stops whizzed by too fast to read. Three or four stops later, I realized in my haste to avoid paying the fare, I got on the wrong train. I was going east, not west.
When I got off the eastbound, I consulted the subway map. Type swam like it was underwater, the neon names impossible to make out. The subway was bad karma. I climbed the stairs, got myself out of there. I just wanted to be in my own bed, the blankets pulled over my head and ride it out.
I walked, hands deep in my pockets. Early afternoon getting colder, cold enough to snow, yet I felt light enough to float.
© Dietrich Kalteis
Jan 7th 2010
West Vancouver, BC
kalteis at shaw.ca
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