By Jon Paul Fiorentino
Illustration by Matthew Daley
Ingrid, the bar you walked into is undoubtedly my bar. I live across the street for Christ’s sake. They have a special tall glass just for me for my double vodka sodas. You know all this. If you don’t want me in your life then perhaps you should not go to the bar where I always am. Anyways, I was pretty shocked to see your weird face, Ingrid. It was only the second time I’ve seen your weird face since you returned from your work assignment in the United Arab Emirates and it has been hard for me to come to terms with the fact that you are here but you are not here with me. You should know by now that this is all I want.
I was glad to hear about your cousin Maria’s successful liver transplant and I was truly enjoying our conversation, Ingrid. I was happy we could sit down, on that patio, at my bar, and communicate the way people might in the real world. But here’s what happened. And I hope it makes you understand a little bit better about that night.
Around two hours before I headed to my bar, I had ordered pot from my pot delivery guy. I’m sure you recall from our eight-month relationship that I really like to smoke pot on the regular in order to forget that all of those awful things that happened to me and continue to happen to me. Anyways, it was taking, like, forever, so I cancelled the delivery. I had to get downtown by 11pm to meet friends and I can’t properly go downtown to meet friends without having a double vodka soda in my glass at my bar. As you were telling me about Maria and your family’s struggles to find the right donor, I noticed my pot delivery guy bounding up my stairs. He was actually bounding.
I suppose if I weren’t so panicky, I could have said, “Hey, Ingrid, check out the guy bounding up my stairs!” But I did not do that and there is no going back. So when I dropped my cigarette and ditched my drink and sprinted across the street, that’s why. It was the pot guy. I wasn’t trying to get away from you or anything.
So I don’t know how much of the rest you saw, so I will just tell you. I bought three ounces of “White Widow” from Jeremy, the pot guy. And then he bounded down the stairs and I sauntered down shortly after. I was about to rejoin you across the street when suddenly, as things often happen in these kinds of stories, a blinding light shone right in my face. I squinted and quickly realized that it was a police searchlight. I froze just like a guy in a police searchlight. I couldn’t see beyond the cruiser car. I don’t know if you were looking. It seems to me that you probably were on account of the brightness of the searchlight. Ingrid, I honestly did not know what to do. It occurred to me that the police would be able to stop me if I jaywalked. I glared directly at the officer in the driver’s seat and declared, “I am not going to jaywalk!” Did you hear this? I said it really loud. I stepped back onto the sidewalk and gingerly made my way to the corner where I could cross legally. The searchlight followed me. As I crossed the street, legally, at the next green light, the police car did a U-turn (an illegal one I might add) and kept its light on me. I felt like I was on stage, walking toward you, Ingrid. I was exceptionally nervous but there was this strange and beautiful sense of theatre that I thought you might appreciate if you were watching, which again, I assumed you were. But when I arrived on the patio, you were gone. I don’t know when you bailed, but it was crushing to think that you missed this spectacle. Do you miss me?
More things happened, Ingrid. It would be irresponsible not to tell you of these things. I left my bar and I walked toward downtown. The police were still there. But there was no more searchlight. They slowly trailed me for a block or two, until I hailed a cab. And that was that.
I met Jason and Clara downtown at that bar we used to have veggie burgers at. You know the one. I suppose I was a little shaken from the police thing. But if I’m being honest, which I am, I was more shaken by seeing you and your weird face. Because I still love you so much.
Ingrid, I don’t know exactly how to say this because it will sound weird. But the rest of the night had pretty much everything to do with the dude from Iron Maiden. I don’t really know the band, and I don’t think you do either. But I want to say that he was the bassist from Iron Maiden even if I am not entirely sure that’s the case. The bartender pointed him out as “the dude from Iron Maiden,” and so that is what I will refer to him as. He was alone but looking for company. He asked Clara and Jason and I if we knew what a Baby Aspirin was. I assumed he was not referring to an actual Baby Aspirin (which would clearly be some sort of Aspirin for babies). So I said no. And so did Clara and Jason. “It’s vodka, orange juice and triple sec!” he said. “It’s fuckin’ delicious!”
He ordered a round for the four of us as we all took seats up at the bar. The Baby Aspirins, I have to admit, were pretty fucking delicious. Clara and Jason started making out and their hands got real busy on each other. The dude from Iron Maiden said,“Right on.” And his hands got a little busy on Clara and Jason.
I’m not going to lie to you, Ingrid, the dude from Iron Maiden seemed magical. He was like an old mystical dude who just lifted everyone’s spirits. I have never really understood the appeal of any kind of music that wasn’t adult contemporary. But I have to admit that his presence alone made me want to buy an Iron Maiden T-shirt at the very least. But I was still sullen. Sullen because of the events that took place earlier in the night regarding you and your weird face and the police and the searchlight.
The dude from Iron Maiden looked me square in the eyes and said “Do you know what your problem is, bub?” I had to say no. Although I am aware of the problems I currently have. I just didn’t know which one was the one he meant.
“Well neither do I. Because I don’t fuckin’ know you. But if I were to guess, I would say it’s that you are a massive pussy.” Then he slapped me on the back and said, “Live a little!” and ordered another round of Baby Aspirins. The Baby Aspirins were pretty delicious again. He yanked my barstool closer to his and gave me a stern-yet-tender look. “Listen, bub. I will level with you. You know about Iron Maiden, right? You know why we are the number one band in the world, right?” Again, I had to say no. “Magic, bub. We are all card-carrying wizards. Like real-life fuckin’ wizards.”
“Black magic is the key to our success. I am the senior wizard. I can cast any spell and it instantly want most in this world, I will make it happen.”
Ingrid, I have to tell you the truth. I asked him to make you love me like you used to. I asked him to make us be together. The dude from Iron Maiden laughed a deep, echoing belly laugh, interrupting Jason and Clara’s grope session and getting the attention of the entire bar. “I’m no wizard, you idiot! I’m just fuckin’ with you, you fuckin’ fuckwit.” Everyone laughed at me. But honestly, Ingrid, how was I to know? He seemed like a magical wizard in pretty much every way.
Then the dude from Iron Maiden draped his arms around me like a mother condor. “Listen, kid: there are a million things in this universe you can have and there are a million things you can’t have. It’s no fun facing that, but that’s the way things are.”
Ingrid, you know that I have a problem with confrontation, but I could not let this stand. “You stole that from Captain Kirk! That’s what Captain Kirk says to Charlie X in the episode, ‘Charlie X’!”
“That is true. But it doesn’t make what I said any less true. Hey, fuckers, let’s hit the strip club! Strippers and booze on me!” Jason and Clara were ecstatic. I remained hunched over. Still and sullen.
“You guys go ahead. I have some big time thinking to do,” I said.
And so they went. Jason and Clara and the dude from Iron Maiden. Off into the steamy Montreal night. Off to enjoy strippers and booze the way well-adjusted, happy people would in such a context. I realize what you might be thinking, Ingrid. I should have went with him. If only for the life experience or the story. I will not get another chance to spend quality time with the dude from Iron Maiden. I realize this. But I want you to realize something too: I said no to the dude from Iron Maiden. And I said no to strippers. I will always be loyal to you.
Jon Paul Fiorentino’s first novel Stripmalling 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 lives in Montreal where he teaches creative writing at Concordia University and edits Matrix Magazine.