The seven o’clock news is reporting tragedy, highway tragedy, and Lo and I are laughing.
Bobby MacElwain, aged 89, decided to take a spin on his mobility scooter late this afternoon. It was a bit of rebellious move on his part considering the nursing home has a strict
sign out/sign in policy. MacElwain failed to sign out. Our brave mobility warrior was headed to the Tim Horton’s but he somehow managed to get himself turned around. He ended up on the highway. He made it a quarter mile before the dump truck hit him.
“I want to die like that,” says Lo. Tears of amusement stream down her face. “Let’s make a suicide pact.”
There’s a fruit fly in our mutual glass of cream soda. I guzzle away. Some of the sticky neon liquid escapes through the corners of my mouth. It’s okay because tomorrow is laundry day. It’d be okay even if tomorrow wasn’t laundry day. Lo and I have given up on the human race and figure that ceasing to wash is the most visible sign of protest.
“There was a fly in that.”
“Let’s come up with a better one,” says Lo. She pulls her greasy bangs out of her eyes and holds them up against her forehead. She does this when she thinks. She’s told me it’s a subconscious thing. When she has a clear visual field she can see her thoughts better.
On the screen, a man who attempted to steal a microwave from the downtown 7-Eleven is being pursued by police dogs. One of the hounds bites onto his waistband and the fugitive’s pants fall to around his ankles.
We howl. Lo laughs so hard she almost stops breathing.
My hand shakes and what’s left of the cream soda pours out onto the couch. The couch was a present from Lo’s great aunt. It’s a beige monstrosity with a ‘70s autumn motif to it, complete with cornucopia of maize and tiger-lily. It’s Thanksgiving dinner on upholstery. We’ve spilled so much food on it over the last six months that it’s almost literal. Lo snorts as she watches the pink liquid settle on our only piece of living room furniture and I half heartedly rub at the spill with my sock.
The laughing is beginning to become a problem. Stupidity is generally rewarded with a good giggle, but Lo and I have taken it to the next level — pain, theft, injury, even death, lately we can find the humor in anything. It’s like we’re still 17 and want to drive our cars at 110 miles an hour because we’ve only ever seen car wrecks in the movies and people don’t die in real life.
When the sports come on I reach for the phone. There’s almost never anything funny during the sports report. Once there was a thing about a beer league goalie who took off his skate and tried to stab a referee. Since then, nothing else has ever come close.
Lo eyeballs me as I reach for the phone. Her gaze makes me uncomfortable. “Don’t call him, Tash.”
I ignore her. She doesn’t get it. Harris might be giving the impression that he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore, but that’s only because he gets off on his own heartbreak. It’s the same as how Lo and I get a kick out of living in squalor. Eventually we’ll quit romanticizing hobos and drug addicts and drag the vacuum out.
Harris and I understand each other. We see the world the same way. Global warming is going to kill off all of mankind in about six-and-a-half years, so it’s ridiculous to get angry about a passenger side dent. Harris and I pass on our morals by routinely hitting other vehicles in his sedan and then failing to leave notes. People should love their kids, not their cars.
“At 89 we jump off the grand canyon.”
“ It’s been done.”
“How about a volcano, Tash?” Lo picks up a chip fragment that’s been ground into the carpet and flicks the lint off of it. She pops it into her mouth and scowls at me.
I hold the phone to my ear and motion for her to shush.
“You’re being an idiot,” she says.
Harris lives in the same apartment complex as we do. Complex isn’t the right word because it’s an old house divided into four parts. Lo and I have the basement. The basement is shitty, but it works for us right now. Lo just got fired, and I’m spending most of my free time calling a guy who never answers.
Harris and I never did anything important when we hung out. That was the beauty of our relationship. We would fold his laundry, or clean out his car. I used to think these were crummy dates, but it really says something if a guy can make vacuuming the ketchup chips from between his seat upholstery engaging.
Harris handed me the dust buster and bent under the front seat. I watched while he yanked at a dog-eared paperback that was caught beneath the seat adjuster.
“I don’t care how you’re car looks, H.”
Harris didn’t raise his head, instead he waved his hand in dismissal. “Of course you don’t, but the other girls might.”
“Other girls?” I made my voice sound jokingly alarmed. Harris used to kid around with me a lot. He said a lot of things just to get a reaction.
Harris sprung back from the car and turned to face me. He waved the now cover-less novel triumphantly in the air. He grinned broadly. “There’s always other girls, Tash. Usually I’ve got five or six of them on the go — you know, for insurance.”
I frowned. I tried to make it large and comic. I liked to let Harris know when I was in on the joke. Humor was a quality he admired.
Harris lifted his empty hand and brushed a stray lock of hair out of my face. His fingers brushed against my chin. “Don’t worry, Dude. You’re pretty much my fave.”
“So who’s next in line?” Sometimes, for fun, I would try to imitate Harris’ style of speech. I would add that ironic lilt to my voice. Make it impossible for him to tell whether I was joking, or serious, or both. “Who do you have your eye on, H?” I could never pull it off as well as he did.
“Listen Dollface, the list isn’t for me. It’s for you.”
“I don’t get it.”
“When things get too serious with us, and it starts to scare me, I’ll ditch you for one of the other useless ho-bags on the list and you’ll never speak to me again.” He thumbed through the novel. Every so often he would stop and rip a page out.
“You want me to never speak to you again?”
Harris had the eyes of a hopeful teenaged cripple on a Sunday morning telethon. To the untrained eye they said: Yes, I’ve lost both my legs, but I’m happy to be alive. To the skillful observer they said: I’m only smiling because in some sick way my own miserable predicament bemuses me. “Trust me Kiddo, if you don’t cut me off, it’s only a matter of time before I do something horrifical, and you end up hysterical, in a bloody-ish stupor beneath my windowsill.” With Harris the bemusement really came through. “I’m a sketchy dude, Sweetpea.”
I twirled a lock of hair between my fingers. It’s a trick that Lo once taught me. “Maybe I should just go home then.”
Harris gave an exasperated sigh. He tossed the book over his shoulder. It landed with a soft thump on the floor of the car, where it had begun. “Why must you be so difficult Tash? Can’t you just let us be in love?”
“You just said –“
“I said don’t trust me. You can still trust us. You can trust this. We’ll still go for ice cream. Just be warned that beautiful spazs like you tend to get me into trouble.”
I’m not beautiful but I have shiny hair and innocent eyes and together they sometimes confuse guys.
Harris put one of his hands behind my head and entangled it in my hair. Then he put his mouth on mine, and he left it there for a while, and we kissed. When we stopped his hand was still in my hair and we stood there with our foreheads pressed together.
“I don’t think you’re as bad as you want me to believe, H.”
“Oh Slick,” he said. “You’ve got me all wrong.”
Harris answers the phone on the second ring. I’m surprised that he’s home because he hasn’t been home for weeks now.
“Tash.” He sounds tired. His voice is practically a sigh.
“You’re not making much of an effort.” I don’t mean to sound like a bitch, but the rage comes through the laughing sometimes.
“Tash,” he says again.
“An effort with what?”
“Our big date. We’re in love remember?”
“You’ve gotta stop calling, Tash.”
“I bought a new dress.”
“What if I were to put it on and go stand in the driveway? Maybe we could go to a movie or something?”
“You wouldn’t leave me standing in the driveway, in my brand new dress, crying, would you?”
“I’d feel really badly if you did that Tash.”
“If I did that I bet you’d come outside.”
“I doubt it.”
“I don’t think so Tash.” Harris hangs up the phone.
My dress isn’t new, but it’s black and the colour hasn’t faded yet. It’s missing a button in the back, but a safety pin easily fixes that. Harris has never seen me wear it. I take really good care of it. It’s the only thing hanging in my closet. The other stuff is in heaps around the apartment. One day when I’m rich and everything’s made out of cashmere I’ll hang it all.
I pull my dirty t-shirt over my head and throw it in the corner with the others. My bra is in there somewhere but I don’t feel like sorting through the pile. Lo stares at me from the living room. “Can I borrow your bra? I can’t find mine.”
She chews her pinky nail. “Where are you going?”
“I’m meeting Harris in the driveway.”
Lo picks up one of the couch cushions and heaves it across the room, probably to show me how exasperated she is. It’s hard to tell because sometimes we just throw stuff.
At one point I tried to take him up on the ice cream offer. Harris wasn’t the type of guy who was quick to answer the door. I had to ring the buzzer four times. I almost gave up after the third one, but the more I stared at the peeling red paint around the molding the more it seemed to be telling me to wait. I’ve seen enough movies to know that red paint is usually symbolic.
Harris opened the door open all the way but he stood in the frame to indicate that I wasn’t invited inside. His left hand held a bowl of yoghurt and granola. I strained my neck to see what he was hiding, but his apartment looked the same as usual.
“Not today Kiddo.” Harris raised his bowl at me. “With the cholesterol that runs in my family, eating two sugary dairy-based treats on the same day is just plain asking for it.”
Harris smacked his lips. A moist glob of white goo clung to the underside of his chin. “Tomorrow? I don’t know, Tash. I already had big plans in the works for us tomorrow.”
I pursed my lips. “How big?”
Harris winked. “Getting bigger all the time, Kiddo.”
“Do these plans involve ice cream?”
“They involve movies.”
I gave Harris my best squinty eyed smile, showcasing my feigned indifference and obvious intrigue. Guys like girls who pretend not to be interested, but don’t hide it very well. “Pick me up at eight.” Then I turned on my heel and sauntered down the hall. Guys also enjoy watching girls walk away.
Harris chuckled. My stomach sank. “Don’t worry. We’ll be there.” He crunched his granola. I stopped in my tracks.
“We’ll?” The creaking of the floor boards indicated that Harris was rocking back and fourth on his heels. He tended to do this when he did something particularly clever or evil.
“Movies are a big deal in my neck of the woods. The whole gang’s going. Chris, Andy, Pat, Richie….Nicole.” His voice lingered on her name.
I turned to face him. The grin was still there but it was sloppy around the edges. It looked like he was having a tough time keeping it in place. “You’re really good at disappointing me, H.” And I must have looked heartbreakingly pathetic, because as soon as the words were out of my mouth the grin disappeared completely.
“Good thing you told me. Otherwise I might have worn my date dress. And that would have been really embarrassing.” It wasn’t much of a comeback. I’d wanted to say: telling the truth while you’re pretending you’re teasing is the same thing as lying, but it sounded insane in my head, so I kept my mouth shut.
I was nearly to the stairs when Harris called out after me. “Embarrassing Tash? Classy, cute, dapper. Those are the words I would use to describe you in a dress. Embarrassing? Never.”
The dress is fairly tight, so I’m not overly worried about my unsupported breasts. Rain hits my skin and pools in an uncomfortable way, a sticky way, as if it’s made of syrup. Part of the feeling may be caused by the cream soda on my legs. It seems to be raining more on my face, but after a minute I realize that it’s just the crying. The crying comes like the laughing and the rage. Sometimes I think the three of them together will cancel each other out.
Harris’ window faces directly onto the street. So I walk out into the middle of the road and sit down. This way he won’t be able to miss me.
The crying has been happening at work lately. This worries me because I’m already on probation and if I lose this job Lo and I really will be homeless.
I can understand how the phrase “what doesn’t kill you will probably give you diabetes” may have seemed like a flip comment. But really, how long can you expect to live when you’re drinking a triple shot extra whip caramel macchiato everyday?
A middle aged woman in a red Honda turns onto the street. She stops about five feet from me and honks. I give her the finger and she backs up the way she came.
I glance back towards the house. The light in Harris’ apartment is off.
Lo is standing in the drive.
“He’s not coming Tash.”
I rub the rainwater into my legs and try to get rid of the pop.
I let the snot run freely down my face, my shoulders shake in a way that doesn’t usually happen when I cry, but I can’t seem to make them stop.
“How about this?” Lo says, advancing as far down the drive as she can without getting into the rain. “When we’re 89, we steal a sail boat and make a run for Seattle.”
I wipe my nose on my shoulder. My dress is ruined anyway.
“We’d never make it.”
“That’s the point,” says Lo. “That’s the point!”
“I guess,” I say.
Only, I’m not sure. What’s the point? I look up at Harris’ window. It’s dark, but I know he’s in there.
Cassie Beecham writes stories and plays about ill-fated romance.
She lives in Toronto.
(illustration by Andrea Manica)