Tag Archives: amwriting

Headaches

What Nick was doing that day was even odder than his father’s fall. But it did have to do with someone falling, though Nick’s father fell a much shorter length.

Nick was walking down the street snacking on rice crackers. He forgot how much wasabi they used in rice crackers and desperately needed a drink. As he walked to convenience store two doors down from his office, a man fell in front of him. But it wasn’t as if the man simply tripped and fell while walking relatively close to Nick. It would be more apt to say the man dropped in front of Nick and when he hit the concrete, pieces of the man’s head shot out in all directions, yet somehow completely missed Nick.

As everyone else walking down the busy downtown street panicked at the sight of the man’s quick and unfortunate demise, all Nick could see was the custom hand stitched Italian suit complemented by the hand pressed Italian silk tie the man’s remains was wearing. Nick studied the man’s body for a second and looked down at himself, quickly surmising that the suit would be a perfect fit on him.

His cell phone rang in his pocket as he knelt down to start undoing the man’s tie.

“Nick, it’s your father,” his mother’s panicked voice said on the phone. “He fell and he hit his neck and head. I’m really worried about him. Can you come home and help me bring him to the hospital?”

“Absolutely mom,” he said. “I’ll be right there. I just found this great suit. Once I’m done getting it, I’ll be right home.”

It wasn’t as if Nick was a bad person who often stole things from fresh corpses. Quite the contrary. His boyfriend, Donovan, would tell you that Nick was the kindest and sweetest man he ever knew. The reason why Nick was taking the suit was simply because he wasn’t thinking of the man at that moment. Later on, after he thought a little more thoroughly about the suit in his possession, he would rationalize about how the man wouldn’t exactly be needing the suit anymore and that level of fine craftsmanship deserves to be passed down to someone who would appreciate its quality. A few people who were watching did give him a few odd looks as he stripped the man. But no one approached Nick to question what he was doing. Most actually assumed that he was simply a medical professional and he was doing something that would somehow help this poor man who fell.

Rational thought is hard to come by when people are in shock. This was true for the group of people who watched as Nick Exagrio stole a suit off of a dead body. This was also true for Nick’s father, Pavlo Exagrio.

While he was growing up, Nick and his two older brothers, Jason and Alex, were always told by their father to have someone watching you when you climb up a ladder, even if it’s just a step ladder. And this was true. And Pavlo had a stark reminder of this lesson when he tried screwing in a kitchen lightbulb, standing on a step ladder all by himself. His wife, Carmella, had cleaned the laminate floors earlier that day and the ladder slipped out from under his feet and when he toppled over, he hit his head on his new stove, leaving a deep dent in its door.

Carmella heard her husband fall and rushed downstairs to find him lying on the floor with Zeus, the couple’s golden retriever, licking his face. She noticed him not fighting back against the dog and immediately panicked inside thinking her husband was dead. She rushed to his sides and stood over him, seeing his eyes open and his breathing. The look on his face read somewhere between defeat and annoyance.

“What the hell happened?” Carmella belted out.

“I fell,” Pavlo replied.

“I can see that,” she said. “But how?”

“Off the step ladder,” he said in his typical monotone voice. “Obviously.”

Carmella’s immediate instinct was to call her three sons. She had called Nick last. For some reason, whenever she needed to call her boys, she called them in chronological order. First she called Jason and he took the rest of the day off work to attend to his father. Then she called Alex who was at home sick, but agreed to come home right away as well. Then she called Nick, who was in the process of stealing a suit off of a corpse before he came home.

Jason and Alex got home around the same time and Nick arrived at the house, the same house all three boys grew up in, about ten minutes after his brothers did. Nick wore his new suit jacket, which he wasn’t able to button up at the front. He had already ripped the pants when he tried to put them on outside of his car. Though he often changes his clothes right next to his car (no matter where is car might be parked), he never made a lot of effort to look to see if there would be anyone around to see him change. Luckily for him, no one who saw the corpse drop and saw Nick strip the man saw him try to put on the man’s suit. He left the Egyptian silk shirt behind, as it was stained beyond repair with the man’s remains. The tie was stained as well, but not as severely as the shirt. Nick knew a trip to the dry cleaners would get the tie’s stain right out.

By the time Nick got through the front door, Jason and Alex were already arguing.

“What do you mean you administered the concussion test?” Alex said.

“I asked him if he knew what day it was, what his name was, and if he remembered what happened,” Jason explained. “A standard exam from medical professionals.”

“But you’re not a medical professional!” Alex yelled.

Nick’s entering the room caught both of his brother’s attention. They looked over to their youngest brother, and Alex muttered, “Wow, nice jacket.”

To look at all three of the Exagrio boys, who were all in their thirties by this point, anyone could immediately tell they were brothers. All three had facial hair, though it was clear each of them made an effort to trim their beards as different from their brothers as they could, and thick dark hair on the tops of their heads. Only Jason’s hairline was receding, which is why he kept his head shaved. Nick had just started growing his hair longer and the back touched his shoulders. Alex kept his hair shorter on the sides and longer on the top and it was always neatly combed, even on his apparent day home sick.

“Well it didn’t take you two too long to start at it,” Nick said as he scratched the short stubble along his face.

Alex played with the soul patch on his goatee, a nervous habit he’s had since he could grow facial hair. “Dr. Fucking Doogie Howser here doesn’t think dad should see a doctor.”

“Because he’s fine!” a bit of spit dribbled onto Jason’s thick beard.

“Have you seen the dent in the stove?” Alex shot back. “It looks like it was hit by a car!”

“Stoves are made of cheap materials anyways,” Jason scoffed.

As his two brothers started arguing again, Nick went into the kitchen to look at the dent. It was in the door of the stove, which was closed. Nick figured his dad must had hit it sideways, which wouldn’t be as bad if he hit it head on, like the man did on the concrete earlier that day. It was a pretty deep dent. But Nick always did think his father had a thick skull.

“Nice to see you, Nick,” his mother’s voice said from behind him. Nick realized that he had walked right past his mother when he walked into the kitchen and didn’t even notice her. She was sitting at the kitchen table, playing with an unlit cigarette.

Carmella Exagrio was remarkably slim for both birthing and raising three boys. But she also spent half of her life only eating lettuce making sure she could keep her figure. She married Pavlo very young but would never say how young. Nick heard as young as 19. This was because Carmella wasn’t Greek, and grandma and grandpa Exagrio didn’t approve of non-Greeks in the family. They especially didn’t approve of Italians. Even after his parents eloped, Nick’s grandparents still visited them, though they never said much to his mother. Pavlo always said his heritage wasn’t that important to him, but Nick thought it was funny that all three of Pavlo’s boys had the most Greek names you could give to three modern North Americans.

“I thought you quit,” he said.

“After dealing with your father today I might just take it up again,” she said.

“He won’t see a doctor?” Nick asked.

“He has an ice pack on his head and he took some headache pills,” she said. “He thinks he’s going to be fine. I think he’s an idiot.”

“I know, mom,” Nick said. “Where is he?”

“Lying in the bedroom,” she said. “You remember still which room that is? It’s been weeks since you’ve been home.”

“We were all home last week for Zeus’ birthday,” Nick said.

“Well, Donovan didn’t come,” she replied before starting to chew on the cigarette’s filter. She wasn’t wrong about that. Donovan didn’t come to a lot of the family dinners. But it was Nick who always encouraged Donovan not to come along. Nick didn’t want his family getting close to Donovan. He didn’t see the relationship lasting.

“Right,” Nick said. “Well, I remember where the room is. So I’m going to go see him.”

“You do that,” his mother said. “I’m going to the back porch to tempt cancer.”

Zeus was lying next to Pavlo when Nick walked into the room. This was the moment when Nick realized that Zeus didn’t come running up to him when he walked in the door. Zeus always tried to steal people’s shoes when they came over. Apparently he hadn’t left his dad’s side since Pavlo went to bed.

“Which one are you?” Pavlo asked, the ice pack covering his eyes. He was much smaller than his sons. All three of his boys were close to six feet tall while Pavlo never made it past five and a half feet. Nick noticed the grey patches in his father’s beard were getting larger and lighter in colour. His dad was well over sixty by this time. The image in his mind was the forty-something year old version of his father. To see him this much older almost startled Nick. It’s not as if he hadn’t seen his father in a while. But he just never noticed how old he was looking.

“It’s Nick, dad,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“Go downstairs and tell your idiot brothers that their arguing is giving me a headache,” he said, cracking a smile.

Nick turned and walked out of the room. He stepped down the stairs and stopped on the third to last stair, just looking over his two brothers who were still arguing. “Dad says he’s getting a headache,” Nick said.

Alex shot a terrified glance to Nick. “You see!” Alex yelled. “You see! A headache is a clear sign of a concussion or a hemorrhage or severe brain trauma! He’s going to die of an aneurysm unless we get him to the hospital now!”

“He has a headache because the two of you won’t shut up,” Nick shot back. “He doesn’t need to go to the hospital, but a doctor wouldn’t kill him. He probably just doesn’t want to leave the house. Alex, aren’t you still dating that doctor?”

“She’s a med student,” Alex said. “And, no. That ended.”

Alex’s quarter-life crisis hit him hard. For his thirtieth birthday, he called off his engagement, quit his job, and declared he was going to write a book. Everyone’s still waiting for that book. As far as anyone could tell, all Alex did was work his few shifts at the book store and go home to drink wine. He would often ramble about plot lines and character development and what Hemingway did to write (drink) and what Kerouac did for inspiration (drink) and yet no one ever read a word he wrote. His career before his sudden literary renaissance was as an engineer, just like his father.

“Well, he needs to see someone,” Nick said. “I’m going to try and talk some sense into him and see if he’ll see anyone. In the meantime, take your arguing outside.”

Zeus still hadn’t moved when Nick went back into his father’s room. At the sight of Nick, Zeus’ tail started wagging a bit, though he stayed in place nestled next to Pavlo. “This is the most quiet it’s been since I hit the ground,” Pavlo chuckled. “I don’t know how you shut them up, but thank you.”

“To show your gratitude, you can go see a doctor about your noggin,” Nick said sitting next to his father and scratching behind Zeus’ ear.

“You’re starting to sound like Jason,” Pavlo said.

Jason was the academic of the family. He had completed his PhD a couple of years back, graduated top of his class, married one of his classmates, had a paper published, and earned a tenure at the local college. His degree was in Music History and his area of expertise was in the impact of the mid-west on modern rock, specifically pertaining to the Replacements and Husker Du. He read voraciously. His apartment didn’t even have a TV. There were books lining all of the walls and stacked on shelves to the point where the wood curved in the middle. But Nick wasn’t always so sure that Jason’s mind was that reliable. He remembered a time when Jason insisted that the medical industry was corrupted because of the prevalence of white culture seen in doctors and nurses in North American hospitals. Nick knew something was wrong with this statement. Every doctor he had ever seen was originally from India. Alex finally asked what book Jason read that fact in. Jason pulled up the book on his phone and showed it to Alex, who promptly pointed out that the book was published in the 1970s by a psychedelic collective better known for illegal reproductions of Kurt Vonnegut and Abbie Hoffman books.

“You know, one time,” Pavlo sat up and took the ice pack off of his head. “One time Jason tried to give me a lesson on bridge tensile strength. He read something somewhere about triangle shapes and curved shapes in creating bridge support, so he wanted to tell me all about it. I designed bridges for forty years.” Pavlo laughed.

Nick took the ice pack and felt that it was already getting pretty warm. He offered to go back downstairs and get the other ice pack for his father. Once he was downstairs, he saw both of his brothers on the couch staring at their phones. They didn’t look up when Nick hit the bottoms step. He went into the kitchen and grabbed the other ice pack just as his mother came back inside the house.

“Good cigarette?” Nick asked.

“Thirty years in the making,” she said. “How is he?”

“Annoyed at his children,” Nick said. “Can’t blame him. A house full of people here apparently for him and they all act like he’s not even here. Otherwise, from what I can see he’s ok. I just worry about what’s going on that we can’t see.”

“I do too,” she said.

When Nick went upstairs to give his father the other ice pack, he could hear coughing and wretching. He entered the bedroom to find his father on the floor, vomiting and a good portion of the vomit had blood in it. Nick dropped the ice pad.

“Holy crap,” Nick said. “Dad, are you ok?”

“Obviously, I’m not,” Pavlo said between heaves.

Nick paced around the room and then walked into the on suite bathroom and started rummaging through the drawers. “What are you doing,” Pavlo was able to bark.

“Looking for paper towel,” Nick said.

“Don’t!” Pavlo said through the vomit coming out of his mouth. “Call a goddamn ambulance!”

It took a moment for Nick to compose himself. He was panicking inside. He had never seen anyone throw up blood before. It shouldn’t have bothered him. After all, he had stolen a suit off of a dead body earlier that day. But it was different to see his father like this. Once he composed himself, he ran to the top of the stairs.

“He’s throwing up blood!” he called down. “Call an ambulance!”

The ambulance ride felt like it took hours, but when they arrived at the hospital Nick realized it still wasn’t even dinner time yet. With his father in an examining room, all Nick could do was to wait for the rest of his family to arrive.

His brothers came through the hall and into the waiting room first. They told Nick that their mother is just outside having a cigarette before she comes in.

“Did you tell her it was ok for her to start smoking again?” Alex prodded.

“Why would I tell her that?” Nick asked.

“Well, it’s not like she just up and decided to start smoking again after thirty years,” Alex continued.

“That’s kind of exactly what happened,” Nick shrugged.

“I really don’t think she would have just decided to start smoking out of the blue like that,” Alex said. “Something would have had to trigger this.”

“Probably dad’s fall,” Jason interjected. “Stressors like a traumatic experience such as this can easily drive a person to act irrationally.”

“Stop psychoanalyzing me,” their mother’s voice carried over them. They looked over and saw their mother standing next to one of the white waiting room chairs. She was looking through a stack of crumpled magazines. “Even a real shrink couldn’t figure me out.”

“Mom, you really shouldn’t smoke, you know the health risks involved,” Jason began.

“Shut up,” their mother muttered. “Get off your high horse. Let’s see if your father comes out of here alive. Then you can give me the health lecture.”

“Like you should be giving a health lecture,” Alex pointed a finger at Jason. “You didn’t even want dad to see a doctor. Now look at where he is!”

Nick’s two brothers started arguing again and a nurse had to step in and tell them both to be quiet and sit down or they would be escorted out. The four members of the Exagrio family sat quietly, flipping through magazines and checking their phones, for the first time quiet since they all stepped into the same room together.

Finally, the doctor came out into the waiting room and sat down with the family. “He definitely has a concussion,” the doctor said. Alex tapped Nick on the shoulder and said something about knowing the doctor. Nick noticed what Alex was saying. He didn’t remember the doctor’s name, but he remembered him being in school at the same time he was. He thought that maybe he was in the same grade as Alex was. It would explain why is accent was so light. “But we noticed something else in our exams. He actually has a small blood clot in his right frontal lobe. It’s small enough right now that it’s actually not interfering with any blood flow. But if we waited any longer, he certainly would be suffering much worse. The procedure to remove it is actually relatively simple. Our neurosurgeon will be able to operate on him tomorrow.”

The family was allowed to see Pavlo once the doctor finished explaining the procedure. No one in the family understood most of what the doctor said. Jason kept nodding his head and saying things like, “OK,” and, “Oh, I see,” and, “Yes, I understand.” But no one there really understood. All they knew was that their father, her husband, was going to have his skull opened up and his brain tinkered with because a clump of something is blocking blood from flowing. The doctor saying it was a “relatively simple procedure” didn’t help. As far as this family could tell, there was nothing simple about this.

They all stood in the room around Pavlo, who was awake now, but they all could tell he was feeling pretty weak. He could barely keep his eyes open. Everyone was silent, processing what was going to happen in the next day. No one knew what to expect. What kind of help would he need once he was out of the hospital? Would this cause any other brain damage? How long before he would be back to normal again? The silence hung like a sixth person in the room, looming over the family.

“Feels like a soap opera,” Jason said. “I’m just waiting for one of our evil twins to show up now.”

“Goddamnit, Jason,” Alex said. “This is not the time for fucking jokes.”

“Well, is it better than sitting around dead silent?” Jason asked.

“Don’t fucking say dead in here,” Alex gritted his teeth. “And yes, if it means you shut the fuck up, silence is better.”

This line of conversation was typically for the Exagrio family. If they weren’t arguing, they were completely silent with each other. They weren’t always like this. But adult life changed the three boys. Jason and Alex went to different colleges and Nick completely bypassed post-secondary education and went right into the working world. There wasn’t an instant moment where the three boys felt separated and estranged from each other. It just crumbled over time to the point where they can’t stand being around each other anymore. Which was especially difficult seeing how much their mother loved family dinners. This may have been the real reason why Nick never brought Donovan over for family dinner. Maybe Nick didn’t actually think the relationship with Donovan wasn’t going to work out. Maybe he wanted the relationship to work out and was afraid what would happen if Donovan saw Nick’s whole family together. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Jason stormed out of the room and Nick followed behind. He watched his older brother pull out his cell phone, tap something on his screen, and hold it against his face. They were out of the building before Nick could hear anything his brother was saying. “Yeah, total asshole,” Jason said. “I’m getting out of here as soon as I can. I don’t even know why I bother trying.”

He looked over and spotted his younger brother watching him. “I need to call you back,” he said as he hung up. “Why did you follow me?”

“Not sure,” Nick said. “Alex was being an asshole. He always has to be so negative about everything.”

“Yeah, well, that’s probably the most observational thing you ever said,” Jason said. “And you barely notice that water is wet, so thanks for pointing out the obvious.”

“Why are you being a dick?”

“I’m just fucking done,” Jason continued. “I’m fucking done with all of this. What kind of adult spends this much time with their family?”

“I don’t know,” Nick shrugged. “We’ve always been like this. Even when you and Alex were in school and I was still living at home, it still felt like you were always around. And then when you were around, you just became a different person each time. Like you just kept losing more and more patience.”

“Well, clearly there’s a good reason for that,” Jason said as he pulled out his keys. “I’m just fucking done. I’ll be back when dad’s in recovery. Otherwise, don’t fucking call me.”

And he walked off to his car and Nick was left standing alone outside of the hospital, watching his brother turn more and more into a stranger.

Nick decided against going back inside. Instead, he took a walk to find some food. He didn’t know this part of the city well. The hospital was connected to the local college and Nick wandered around the campus, not recognizing any building and having no clue where to find any decent food. He finally found a pub and he hoped the kitchen was still open.

Half a sandwich and a handful of fries later, Nick’s phone started ringing. Alex was calling and Nick had a serious internal debate inside, considering whether or not answering this call would be worth his time. He stared at the call screen for at least four rings before sliding his finger on the small call logo and answering his brother.

“Yeah,” Nick said.

“Where are you?” Alex barked.

“Some pub on campus, why?”

“Is Jason with you?”

“No, I’m alone.”

“Wait, did you say on campus?”

“Yeah, why?”

“How did you wander all the way over to the campus?”

“It’s not like it’s far.”

“It’s not exactly nearby either,” Alex huffed heavily. “I don’t know how you just wander like that. Aren’t you scared of walking and falling into a manhole or wandering into a bad part of town and getting mugged?”

“Not really,” Nick stuffed a few fries into his mouth. “This pub is pretty good. I had the turkey club.The bacon was really crispy. You should try it sometime.”

“Yeah, maybe I will once our dad isn’t in the hospital anymore,” Alex’s voice progressively raised louder and louder. “What the hell are you doing wandering off anyways? You should be here!”

“Dad will still be there when I get back,” Nick took a long sip of his soda.

“Yeah, well, what if he isn’t? Seriously, come back here. Mom’s been asking about you.”

“Has she been asking about Jason?”

“Oh course she has” Alex said. “She wants all of us here. It’s bad enough with dad lying in a bed plugged into machines. I don’t need mom having a stress stroke because we’re not getting along.”

Nick realized that Alex had a point. He pulled out his wallet and dropped a bit of cash on the table. “I’ll be right there,” Nick said to his brother.

An ambulance screamed by as Nick walked back to the hospital. It was pitch black out and Nick didn’t think to check his phone as he wondered what time it was. The lights from the ambulance left a red hue on everything that he looked at as he wandered past the student dorms and the all night convenience stores whose white lights almost stung his retinas.

Though he wasn’t sure how long he had been walking for. Nick figured it must have been for a while, at least a couple of hours. When he walked back into the emergency room, he saw Jason sitting in the waiting room with an intake form resting on his lap and a brace tied around his neck. There was a decent sized gash on his forehead as well, made all the more prominent by the fact he didn’t have any hair to cover the cut.

“What happened to you?” Nick asked as Jason looked up from his intake form.

“I got sandwiched between two cars,” Jason said. “I got rear-ended by one guy and my car slammed into guy ahead of me. The guy who rear-ended me took off. I’m looking to press full charges. Hit-and-run is a felony if there’s a bodily injury.”

“Where’s you wife?” Nick asked.

Jason sighed. “She had class in the morning, so she wants to keep sleeping,” he said. “It’s alright. I’m going to be fine. You’re all here, so I should be fine.”

This explanation was enough to sate both Jason and Nick. Jason understood that those early morning classes were hard, especially if you didn’t sleep a lot the night before. Nick was assured by Jason’s logic and his insistence that he was going to be fine. In theother room, Nick could hear Alex having a fit. He couldn’t completely make out the words, but he was catching phrases like, “It’s not right,” and, “This should be more important.”

Carmella came back into the waiting room through the door that Nick could hear Alex’s yelling come from. Under one arm, she had her purse tucked. Under the other arm was a bag of tortilla chips from one of the hospital vending machines. She plopped down onto the chair next to Nick and reached into her purse, pulling out a bottle of pills and a bottle of water. “I have such a headache,” she said as she popped two pills into her mouth and swallowed a gulp of water. “This day needs to end already.”

Nick waited for some condescending explanation from Jason about how the day has technically ended already ant is a new day, despite the fact none of us have slept yet. For once, Jason kept quiet.

Through the door that all of Alex’s yelling was coming from was another voice of someone trying to calm Alex down. Nick thought about how whoever was trying to calm Alex down was in for a big shock, He didn’t exactly calm down. He kind of just continues to get more and more agitated until he explodes like a hot water tank with no pressure valve. He usually falls asleep after he blows, too. Doesn’t matter where he is or what else is going on, after he explodes he always seems to find a way to fall asleep.

“What do you mean you can’t look him over for a few more hours?!” every in the hospital could hear Alex screaming this. Nick figured Alex was screaming about getting their father into some other test, maybe to avoid the surgery altogether. “He has a head injury and he’s in a neck brace. He’s obviously seriously hurt, I don’t understand why you can’t see him yet!”

The doors swung open violently, like a car had just sped through the hallway. Only it was Alex standing in the doorway, pushing his way through. Nick only saw Alex for a brief second as the door swung back into Alex’s face. He must have hit the door open significantly hard for it to swing back to hard. Once it hit Alex’s face, it knocked him off of his feet and he feel back first, feet in the air, on the hospital floor.

Jason and Nick didn’t move from where they were sitting, though both saw how hard the door his Alex’s face and, ultimately, how hard Alex hit the floor. Jason’s reason for not immediately jumping up and running to his brother’s aide was strictly medical; after all, he was just in a serious car accident. Nick’s reason for not going to his brother’s aide was less forgivable: he simply didnt know what to do.

“Get up and check on your brother!” Carmella yelled at her able-bodied son, prompting Nick to jump out of his chair and run through the door that just hit his brother’s face.

Alex hadn’t moved from the floor and the doctors and nurses were taking their time walking over to help. Nick figured they were moving about as fast as he would be moving if Alex had just been yelling at him as well. His brother had a gash on his head, very much like Jason’s gash, only Alex’s gash was a little less visible because of his longer hair. It was bleeding a lot more than Jason’s gash was bleeding. The dark trickle of blood down Alex’s face almost looked like a rogue strand of hair hanging in front of his face.

“This has been a bad day for head injuries,” Nick said.

“How very fucking insightful of you,” Alex grimaced. “Now help me up.”

“Maybe the doctor’s should check on you before you get up,” Nick said, looking up at the doctors who had actually stopped part  down the hallway and lined up at the water cooler, each with a little paper cup in their hands. “You know, when they get here.”

“I’m fucking fine,” Alex grit his teeth.

“Isn’t that what dad said too?” Nick shot back.

“Fuck off, I’ll get myself up,” Alex pushed himself off of the ground and got to his feet, stumbling a bit as tried to find his balance. One of the doctors finally made it to where Alex was standing and started asking if he was dizzy or if his vision was blurry. Nick noticed how clean shaven every part of the doctor’s face was, even the top of his head, and how the doctor’s thick accented voice was as deep and dark as his skin tone was. Nick figured the doctor was probably from Zimbabwe, mainly because that was the only country in Africa he could name. He also thought Saint Petersburg was a country in Africa, which isn’t even a country anywhere to begin with, but instead a city in Russia. The name he was mistakenly thinking of was Johannesburg, which also isn’t a country but at least if he guessed that name he would have been in the right continent.

Digging through his jacket’s pockets looking for a serviette for Alex to wipe the blood off of his face, Nick started noticing all of the strange things in he had been carrying with him since he put the jacket on: a bus ticket from Arizona, some women’s hair clips, a receipt for three dozen donuts from his favourite bakery (this very well could have been Nick’s receipt, but he wasn’t totally sure). But of all the things he found in the jacket’s pockets, not a single piece of absorbent paper.

“Why do you have all that weird stuff in your pocket?” Alex asked.

“I didn’t know anything was in the pockets,” Nick answered.

“You bought a jacket and didn’t think to check the pockets?” Alex asked. “Wait, you bought a jacket that had things in the pocket to begin with? Did you buy it second hand? I’m really confused.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly buy it,” Nick mumbled.

Alex was just about to ask what Nick meant by he ‘didn’t exactly buy it,’ when they both heard someone screaming from the end of the hallway. Both brothers looked up and saw who was screaming. It was a man, close to their ages, but looked like he either worked in a manual labour force or simply actually took the time to go to the gym every once in a while (none of the Exagrio boys had even stepped into a gym before). Upon a closer inspection, both boys realized the man was screaming at them. Alex could tell from the way the man looked at the two of them, but it took until the man quite literally pointed at Nick before he realized he was this man’s target.

“That’s my dad’s jacket!” The man screamed.

“You stole a jacket?” Alex asked Nick.

“He wasn’t exactly going to use it anymore,” Nick shrugged.

“How do you know?” Alex continued.

“Mainly because he’s dead,” Nick said very bluntly considering the subject matter.

“You stole a…” Alex tried completing his thought before the absurdity of it all actually caught his tongue and forced him to give up. “You know what,” Alex continued. “He’s all yours,” he called down the hall to the increasingly angry man. “Whatever he gets, he deserves.”

The infuriated man charge down the hallway directly at Nick. Most people would think to run or step away or try to put up some sort of fight. Nick had actually started reading the bus ticket, wondering if the man he stole the jacket from was actually from Arizona and if so we’re all Arizona residents this aggressive?

The man tackled Nick, knocking over Alex in the process, and the two men, now entangled, toppled into the waiting room, almost right to Jason’s feet. Through the tussle, the man was able to get on top of Nick and he laid in two hard punches to Nick’s face before he noticed that the man was actually off of him now, and lying on the ground next to him. He looked up to see his mother standing over both himself and the angry Arizonian. She was holding a wooden spoon. The man was holding his eye and rolling slightly on the ground.

“You crazy bitch!” he yelled. “You hit me in the fucking eye.”

Nick pushed himself off of the ground to see both Jason and Alex already surrounding the guy. Jason had pulled off his neck brace and he had the guy’s shirt bunched up in his fist. The guy was struggling and Alex was trying to hold his arms and legs so they wouldn’t hit Jason. Nick sprang over and helped his brothers hold the guys against the wall before hospital security finally broke up the fight.

The hospital coudn’t exactly kick out the Exagrio boys. After all, all three now had head injuries. They were all technically patients now. Before the boys sat back down, Nick gave back the jacket to the angry Arizonian and apologized for taking it. He decided it was best to leave the apology there and not go into stripping the guy’s dead father in the middle of the street in the middle of the day.

There was actually a shortage of ice packs in the hospital, so the three boys had to tend to their head injuries with bags of frozen peas. Nick wondered if the peas on his head would still be cooked and served to the patients.

Then Jason started laughing. “She still carries a wooden spoon in her purse,” he said.

Then Alex started laughing. “Can’t say I’m shocked about that. She still knows how to swing that thing too.”

Then Nick started laughing. “What else do you think she still carries in there. You think she still has those little candies she would give us when we behaved?”

“No, I gave up giving you those a long time ago,” their mother said.

“Any word on dad?” Jason asked.

“He’s been up and down,” she said. “Doctor won’t let him sleep more than a couple of hours, just in case. But he’s fine otherwise. Doctor keeps talking about how simple tomorrow’s surgery is going to be. I think he’ll be fine.”

She reached into her purse and pulled out her bottle of headache pills. “The three of you. You’re good boys, but sometimes you give me the worst fucking headaches.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Coupland

They pulled me out and all I could think about was my wife. The sweat dripping down my face burned my eyes and I could feel my sticking along my forehead. But I didn’t remember having hair. I had just shaved my head. My hairline was receding so my wife convinced me to shave it all off, saying a bald man looked better than a balding man. Her words convincing me to shave my head and the first time she helped me with the razor cleaning off what was left of my hair gripped my mind as I pushed the rogue strands of hair away from my face.

“Coupland,” I heard a man say. “Coupland, are you with us?”

“His brain’s still submerged,” a woman’s voice said. “We pulled him out too fast.”

Everything was a blur. Like the sun was pulled out of the sky and sitting in front of my face. A glaring light blared into my eyes and it took a few moments before I could make out any shapes.

“Coupland,” the man’s voice repeated. “Coupland, focus on my voice, Coupland.”

“Who’s Coupland?” I mustered enough focus and strength to grit out between my teeth.

“You’re Coupland,” the man’s voice continued. “Coupland Wilson. That’s your name. Is that familiar to you?”

The name was ringing something in my mind. But I was also trying to hold onto the image of my wife. It was slipping. I was losing some of her features. I couldn’t remember her eye colour.

“Where’s my wife?” it was becoming easier to speak.

“Coupland, you don’t have a wife,” the man’s voice said.

“Yes, I do!” I shouted back. “We’ve been married for thirty years! We have two kids together and a grandchild on the way!”

“What’s your wife’s name?” the man’s voice asked.

I didn’t have an answer. My wife’s name, my kids’ names, even the names we were considering for our first grandchild. Or was it our second? It was all slipping. Like waking from a vivid dream and trying to remember all the small details. I was losing more and more of her every second.

My eyes adjusted to the light and I focused in on the two people standing in the room with me. One man and one woman. The man was balding but let the salt and pepper hair on the sides grow out a little. I immediately thought about my hair but couldn’t remember if I let it grow out or kept it shaved. The woman was older, maybe in her 40s, but at that point I could have sworn I was in my sixties. She was holding a clipboard. I recognized them both.

“His pupils are dilating properly,” she shined a bright light into my eyes. “He’s focussing as well. I think he’s finally fully out of submersion.”

“Coupland,” the man knelt down beside where I sitting. “Do you know where you are?”

The name came to me fast, like every important name I was losing was being replaced with the names of what I wanted to forget. “Delton Rec Labs,” I answered.

“That’s right,” the man said. I remembered his name. Michael Gartner. He was the salesperson who sold me the package. I looked to the woman and she busily scribbled notes on her clipboard. I remembered her name too. Doctor Vanessa Taryn. We were introduced just before I went in. She was the staff neurologist. She was there to make sure I came back to reality okay.

“Okay, Coupland,” Gartner continued. “Try to stand up and walk. There is a physician here if you can’t feel your legs. That’s quite common. You’ve been submerged for a while.”

“How long?” I asked.

“Just over…” Gartner’s voice trailed off as he looked at the screens hovering above me. “Three hours.”

Three hours. That’s how much time I actually spent with her. It felt like a lifetime. Dating, living together, marriage, kids growing up, her parents dying, my parents dying. I think she got sick too. Cancer was it? I remember sitting at the hospital with her. Holding her hand. I remember holding her and crying when the doctor told us she was better. I don’t remember what the doctor looked like. All I can pull from my memory is a white lab coat. Three hours. That’s all I actually had with her.

“Not the longest we’ve ever had,” Gartner smiled. “But, we’re hoping the longest without any long-term side-effects.”

Side effects. That’s how I was able to get this package. Virtual vacations were usually reserved for the exceptionally rich. I was far from any kind of wealth. But they offered free vacations for anyone willing to risk being an experiment. They could only improve and enhance the services with human subjects. Rats and dogs didn’t exactly react to the stimuli the same way humans did.

The more that came back to me, the less I wanted any of it and the more I wanted to go back to my wife.

Gartner and Dr. Taryn unhooked all of the medical readout instruments that were strapped to me and I stood up, losing my balance at first and falling to my knees. After a couple more tries, I was able to stand on my feet and I was slowly led out of the room and into another room with a single table and two chairs, one on either side.

Dr. Taryn ran through some questions with me about my life. While she spoke, I remembered filling out a questionnaire with all of the same questions. All questions about my life, where I live, who my parents were. It was all back and I could answer the questions, but some took me a while to find the answer. I had to dig through my memory, figure out what was real and what I was remembering from the vacation. A lot of it was muddling together. The more we talked, the easier it was to place what was real and what wasn’t. But there were definite moments when my real life and my virtual life became indistinguishable.

Because the experiment was a success, they gave me an honorarium. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough that I didn’t have to worry about hustling for a few weeks. I looked around the streets outside of Delton Rec Labs and tried to remember which way was my apartment. I remembered it was a short walk and I recognized a few of the alleys I would sell pills near. After about twenty minutes of wandering, I found my building. It was dark out and one of storefront windows in the building reflected back at me. I didn’t recognize my reflection at first, the dark hair hanging along my forehead, the stubble all around my face, even my eyes looked weird to me. I thought they were blue. But they looked more green to me in that reflection.

There were a lot of cards in my wallet, but the only one I wanted was my keycard to get into the building. I sorted through the credit cards, gym membership card, buyers club cards for the grocery store and IKEA and GameStop, and I found the keycard into the building. It was behind my employee ID. I worked at Delton Rec Lab. That must have been how I heard they needed test subjects. Probably posted over the urinals at the office. This is where the confusion really hit. If I worked at Delton Rec Labs, why was I selling pills?

The answer came when I got into my apartment. They forgot to warn me about the nausea. I got through the front door and instinctively ran to the bathroom, where I didn’t even make it to the toilet before I was throwing up. Most of it got into the sink and I checked the cabinet behind the mirror to see if I had anything that would help this feeling that the room was spinning and my stomach was turning itself inside out. I found nine prescription bottles. Each one was for something different: diazepam, thorazine, fluvoxamine, trazodone, lorazepam, nizatidine, cimetidine, Percocet, and morphine. There was no way I could be taking all of these. I wondered which I was selling.

After cleaning up the bathroom, I wandered around the apartment, remembering where I left everything. I didn’t have a TV, but I thought I did. Most people didn’t own TVs anymore, so I don’t know why I thought I would have had one. Maybe me in the vacation simulation had a TV. I checked out the fridge only to find bottles of beer, a Chinese food takeout box that smelled awful, and some moldy pizza. I felt like I didn’t usually let my fridge, or any part of my apartment, get this bad. Could I have been submerged a little longer than they were letting on? My coffee table had a thick layer of dust, my closet didn’t have a lot of clothes in it, I didn’t even notice a toothbrush when I was in the bathroom.

My pocket vibrated and I pulled out my phone. The call display said Sofia. I couldn’t remember if I knew anyone named Sofia. “Hello?” I answered the phone.

“Are you done playing lab rat?” a shrill voice came over phone.

“Yeah,” I answered. “Sorry, who is this?”

“The fuck?” her voice climbed high. “Did using that virtual vacation shit fuck with your brain? It’s Sofia. You’re fucking girlfriend,” she annunciated slowly. “Where are you?”

“My apartment?” I answered.

“What the fuck are you doing there?” she spat out fast enough that it could have been one word. “You haven’t been there in weeks. Your stash run dry?”

“Yeah,” I played, trying to understand what was going on. It didn’t take long to surmise she meant my pill stash. I guess I just used this place to store my overstock. “Just grabbing a couple of refills.”

“Can you grab some extra thorazine and Percocet?” she asked. “I got some eager buyers.”

Wandering again through the streets, I slowly pieced together which way was Sofia’s apartment. It wasn’t too far from my apartment, but the neighbourhood seemed drastically different. The Delton Rec Labs and my apartment building was in a downtown, urbanized area. There were tall buildings all around and neon lights glowing and LED screens blaring out advertisements for deodorant and tampons and condoms. But those few blocks to Sofia’s apartment was like crossing into a whole other continent. I felt unsafe and it worried me. My memories slowly recollected and I knew I had been here hundreds of times and that I slept more often here than I did at my own place. This time, though, was different. The broken out windows and boarded up doors along the buildings spray-painted with bright coloured tags looked completely foreign to me. The smell of human waste in the alleyways and sounds of snoring and groaning homeless only added to my unease. I thought that I wanted to be anywhere else in the world at that moment.

Sofia’s apartment had thicker layers of dust on all her surfaces than my apartment did. There were empty bottles on the dining room table and all along the kitchen countertops. A baseball bat leaned next to the front door. A thick stench of smoke and body odour hung all around. “What took you so long?” she said as I came in through the doorway.

“Had some problems remembering how to get here,” I said.

“That shit really fucked with your brain, didn’t it?” she continued. “You make more money selling pills than you do working at that place. I don’t know why you don’t just quit, stop playing lab rat for those fucks, and hustle full time. It’s easy.”

I immediately felt repulsed by her. It wasn’t her looks, she was pretty. Her attitude, her aura, her energy, all that new-agey bullshit I never thought I would trust is what bothered me. As more memories and moments flooded back to me, I realized I was less her boyfriend and more her supplier. I had been realizing that, even before I submerged. Maybe that’s why I volunteered. A chance to get away from all of it, even if only for three hours.

“I can’t quit,” I said. “I quit, I lose my benefits, which means we lose our stash. And I don’t think either of us wants to start paying the pharmacist for these pills. Cuts into that profit margin.”

She popped open a yellow bottle and popped a couple of pills and swallowed them dry. “Right,” she said after she finished swallowing. “Definitely need that. It’s too bad. We could fuck all day and hustle all night.”

“Right, romantic,” I said, reaching into my pocket and handing her the pills she asked for.

“What the fuck’s gotten into you?” she took the bottles. “If I suggested that yesterday, or fuck, even this morning, you would have been all over that and trying to rip my clothes off.”

A sudden urge to ask something I had never asked anyone before suddenly came over me. “Do you want to go to the beach?”

“The beach? Are you fucking kidding?” she chuckled. “There’s no beaches around here. I can’t even name where there is a single beach. Who the fuck are you? Are you still fucking dreaming or something?”

No beaches. Somewhere in me, I could still smell the salt water in the air, feel the sun on my bare arms, hear waves running up along the shore. Had I never actually been to the beach before? I looked outside the window and watched the neon lights flicker against the grey sky and wet concrete. These signs never turned off. All night the glow of advertisements breaking through the window, waking people up to enticement of cheap sex, bad food, and useless junk that would be collecting dust or at the bottom of a landfill in just a few days. I didn’t want any of this. I wanted the beach.

My phone rang and I saw the name Gartner on the call display. “Hey, Coupland,” Gartner began. “We noticed some very interesting things on your brain scan and we’d like you to come back for some further experiments. I know this is sudden and unexpected, but we can schedule these tests whenever works best for you.”

I took another look around the apartment, at Sofia, the pills in her hands, I played with the bottle of pills still in my pocket. “How about right now?” I asked.

“Are you sure?” Gartner replied. “I mean, this is highly irregular. Typically we need a week between submersions. But your scans are showing no long term defects or hazards, so we won’t say no so long as you’re sure.”

“Completely sure,” I said, hanging up the phone. I reached into my pocket and threw Sofia my keys and the other bottle of pills. “It’s all yours,” I said. “I don’t want this anymore.”

“You’re breaking up with me?” her eyes didn’t show sadness. They showed anger. We had no emotional connection. I was her hook up. She was my physical outlet. I didn’t like that anymore. I didn’t want that.

“Something like that,” I said, walking to the door. “Take whatever you want from the apartment.”

“What, you’re abandoning it?”

“I guess so,” the truth was, I didn’t want her finding me after this. Whatever would come after my next submersion, I wanted to make sure I didn’t go back to this life. It showed me something. I could be something else. I may have once wanted this kind of life and revelled in it, but something awoke and I knew I needed to find something else.

“So you’ll just live in your fantasy world forever now?”

“Yeah,” I said, walking through the doorway. “Something like that.”

I took a brief physical before sitting back into the chair. The same medical monitoring devices were hooked up to me. I thought that maybe the last time I did this, I would have been nervous. But this time, I was relaxed. I was excited. I was happy.

“So, are we uploading the same program file for my submersion?” I asked.

Gartner smiled. “I was hoping you would ask that,” he said. “There was no program in your submersion. We didn’t simulate or implant anything. That’s what the real experiment was. We wanted to see what would happen if we stimulated your own mind to create what should have been your vacation. In your case, from what it sounded like, you created a whole new life for yourself. That was especially interesting to us. We had never seen that before. Everything you experienced was from your own mind.”

I open my eyes and we’re lying on a beach. The warm sand under my back and scrunched between my toes tells me it’s morning. We fell asleep here. I sit up and watch the water for a moment. Its calm and the waves are slow. The smell of salt water fills the warm air and the sun is beaming down on us.

She rustles a bit and opens here eyes and the peer directly at me. She smiles and I smile back, and we both yawn, stretching our arms still sticky with sweat and caked with sand.

“I can’t believe we slept here all night,” she says. And she’s perfect. Everything about her is absolutely perfect.

“Are you even real?” I ask. “How can someone so… perfect, be real?”

Her eyebrow raises and she chuckles. “What’s that supposed to mean? You think you’re dreaming? Or I’m a figment of your imagination?”

“No…” I trail off, staring at the water again. “I don’t know. Just a weird feeling I guess.”

I lie back down and she rests beside me. Her head nestles in her favourite spot, right where my arm meets my shoulder. “Reassure me this isn’t a dream,” I say. “What’s your name?”

She sits up and looks at me. “What?” she’s smiling. It’s like she never isn’t smiling and I never want her to stop smiling. “You are so weird sometimes.”

“Just humour me,” I continue. “Tell me your name.”

She leans in and kisses me on the check. And, into my ear, she gently whispers her name.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jesus works in a Coffee Shop

“Will that be French-press or drip?” the son of god asked. I almost forgot my order. Not because I was standing in front of the second coming of the messiah. But because I could see crumbs in his beard. He was eating a scone as my wife and I walked in the cafe.

“Uh, drip,” I answer. “And I need a cappuccino as well.” My wife was sitting at the table. It was hard to find a seat at this cafe. Not because Jesus himself was making the coffee. But because it was in a trendy part of town, the only cafe that served fair-trade coffee, and offered almond milk as a cream substitute.

“You got it,” he smiled, punching in my order. As he told me my total, I noticed the praying hands tattoo on the side of his neck. Most of his tattoos were bad, but I thought that one was too ironically self-referential.

The image of Christ from church growing up popped into my head as I carried the coffees to the table. Every painting and dramatic re-enactment always had a pasty-white, blue-eyed, and sometimes blonde guy. But as I looked back to the man who just made my coffee, I realized how wrong those images were.

His long black hair was pulled back into a greasy ponytail, his deep brown eyes were barely hidden by his thick round rimmed glasses, and the black outlines of all of his tattoos still showed despite his natural dark complexion. The sleeves to his flannel were rolled up, showing off the prison-drawings of crosses, wings, halos, and sheep on his arms.

“Oh, how funny,” my wife chuckled as I handed her the cappuccino. I looked into her cup and saw our holy barista drew an Our Lady of Guadalupe in the foam. I was always impressed when the other baristas drew flowers in the foam. There was even one who could draw a sailboat. I had seen images of the virgin Mary in cups of coffee on click-bait articles my evangelical aunt shared on Facebook. This was the first time I had seen an intentional virgin Mary in a cup of coffee.

“Kind of, I don’t know, cheeky, don’t you think?” I asked my wife.

“Cheeky?” she looked up at me and laughed. “Are you an old British man now?”

“You know what I mean,” I blushed a little. “Like, he thinks he’s so cool and wants everyone to pay attention to him. But he works in a coffee shop.  If he’s so great, why isn’t he off saving the world?”

“Last time he tried that, they nailed him to a fucking tree,” my wife sipped her cappuccino. “Probably has some residual resentment from that.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, staring back at the son of god as he took another bite of his scone. “Or maybe he was a little overhyped and all the miracles he performed were just like, you know, drawing shit in the foam.”

My wife took a long sip of her cappuccino. “Yeah, but his coffee is nothing short of divine. The baristas here are good. But no one makes a cup of coffee like Jesus does.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Garrison and the Pub

He patted the old red brick wall, as if someone on the other side might hear and open a secret door that no one else can see. “I swear, it was right here,” Garrison said as he stepped back and looked all around at the aged building, looking like he’s taking stock of every brick. “There was a door here, and it opened to a stairwell. There were maybe a dozen steps and at the bottom of those stairs, that’s where it was.”

“The pub,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “The one where you swear you saw an elf?”

“Are you sure it wasn’t…” Tillie hesitated to finish her thought. “It wasn’t just a little person?”

Garrison looked back to my girlfriend. He rubbed the stubble on his face and used his hand to comb back his dark, greasy hair that grew long enough to cover most of his forehead. “Little person?” he questioned. “You’re thinking of Santa’s elves. Elves are actually tall and slender.”

“You mean Tolkien elves,” I interjected. Garrison and I both loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We met in an English lit class and we worked on a group project studying the Tolkien mythology in the context of the 1960s. Through that project, I got the sense that he liked Tolkien a lot more than I did. And maybe took it a bit too seriously. “Remember, there’s plenty of European mythology with elves who were tiny.”

“Yeah, I know!” Garrison barked. “But I’m not talking about those elves. I’m talking about sharp blue eyes, pale skin, and pointed ears.”

“Okay, so you think you saw Elrond at a pub last night,” I continued. The building we were standing in front of was maybe four stories tall and quite old. I couldn’t tell quite how old, but all the buildings around Camden looked like they might have started pretty old but had some work done for the tourists. There were plenty of pubs around Camden, so it didn’t surprise any of us when Garrison told us we had to find this one cool spot he visited the night before. But when he dragged me and Tillie into the alleyway where he swore the door to the pub was, I had to question how much he drank last night.

“It wasn’t Elrond,” Garrison said. “More like Arwen, and I need to find her again.”

It had been a long time since Garrison met a girl he liked. Tillie and I were starting to think maybe he was asexual. We met plenty of people while at Camden University who came out as gay, bisexual, and asexual. It was never a big deal to any of us and Garrison always seemed quite curious about these other orientations. Maybe it was just to explore his options.

University was tough on him. It should have been the best, party-fuelled years of his life. Instead, he spent most of the parties drunkenly embarrassing himself trying to talk with pretty well any girl who hadn’t already rejected him. Being his flatmate wasn’t easy through those years. There were a few times I was certain he killed himself in the bathroom. He would lock himself in all night throwing up whatever he drank and smoked and dropped and snorted. No substance was off limits for Garrison and I was certain his heart would give out at any time. When he tried telling us he met an elf at a basement pub in the Camden party district, I thought his mind gave out before his heart did.

“Okay, let’s say this pub exists,” Tillie began in her completely wonderful rational sort of way. She was good at talking to Garrison, especially while he was on edge. I always told her she missed her calling as a social worker. But I also knew she was living her passion designing the kinds of buildings that give cities their skyline shape. “We should retrace your steps, make sure this is actually where you found the door.”

“I know this is where I found the door,” Garrison said. “I remember walking out of the same door and stopping for a shawarma at the counter right across the street.”

Garrison pointed to the falafel takeout counter. We walked out of the alleyway and jogged across the street to the closed eatery. Tillie pressed her face against the glass door to look inside. I stared up at the grey sky. It was another cloudy day. I missed the regular sun this time of year back home in the Okanagan. Garrison and I both moved back after we finished our degrees at Camden, the same degrees we could have got at UBC, but decided we wanted to add a worldly adventure to our formal education. That’s where I met Tillie and she moved back to Canada with me, though we made regularly pilgrimages across the pond to visit her family and stop in at our old favourite watering holes.

“This place does keep late night hours,” Tillie said as she moved away from the glass door. “Do you have a receipt from your late night snack?”

Garrison reached into his khaki pockets and then into his windbreaker’s pockets. He pulled out a single, small piece of paper and looked down at it. “I think this is it,” he said. “I paid cash, so all I have is a till receipt showing I paid six pounds. No time or address.”

“The register inside does look old,” Tillie said. She looked down either side of the block. “And you’re sure you had to go through an alleyway to get to this pub?”

“Absolutely,” he answered. “Maybe I just can’t see it because it’s daylight. I need to come back at night to find this place.”

Tillie wrapped her blue cardigan tighter to herself as a cold wind blew by. She kicked some of the street water off of her brown boots and looked over to me. “Shall we pub crawl tonight?”

It was after dark when we finally left the hotel to retrace Garrison’s steps. He hung out in our hotel room the whole time and even ordered room service for us all. Despite having his own room just next door, he didn’t want to leave us. I guess he didn’t want to be alone.

The streets of Camden were as busy as I always remembered them. My finishing school didn’t slow down the party scene and plenty of college-aged kids were still out, drinking until they were slurring their words and walking like they can feel the world around them spinning.

Garrison was taking long swigs from his mickey of whisky as he marched us to his first stop from the night before. As we moved through the night before’s stops, Garrison started blending more with the young college crowd roaming the streets. His walk turned to a shuffle and a stumble. His words made less sense and he needed to repeat everything at least twice. I hadn’t taken a single drink that whole night. I grew past that, started to find it boring and pointless. Garrison was still right in it. This discrepancy between us didn’t dawn on me until we walked through those streets together.

“I don’t fucking get it,” Garrison mumbled, staring again at the blank brick wall. “It was here. We walked exactly what I walked last night. I retraced all of my steps. The fucking shawarma place is even open. Where the fuck did it go?”

“Maybe it’s time we accepted that the pub doesn’t exist,” I said. “Maybe you stumbled into somewhere else and you don’t remember. I don’t doubt that you met someone last night –”

“Yes you do!” Garrison shoved me. “You do fucking doubt it. You doubt everything with me. I don’t even know why you hang out with me still. Why you bring me on these fucking trips, just to rub in my face you have someone else now you get to travel and do cool shit with. And I have fucking no one. I’m not your fucking charity case! I don’t need you to bring me along to shit because you feel sorry for me!”

“I never said I felt sorry for you!” I screamed at him, my fists clenched.

“You don’t need to say it,” he spat back. “Everything about you says that. Well fuck you! I don’t need it. I’ll find this fucking place on my own!”

Garrison walked off. A light drizzle came down and I could feel water dripping through my hair and down my forehead. Tillie hugged me and said, “Why don’t you head back. I’ll keep an eye on him. He didn’t mean what he said. He just needs to blow off some steam.”

“You heard what he said,” I pointed to him. “He doesn’t want us around.”

“He doesn’t want you around,” she stressed. “You know I can talk to him better than anyone else. He’ll open up to me. I’ll get him to calm down, we’ll come back to the hotel, crash, and find some breakfast in the morning and it will be like nothing has changed.”

“I think that’s the problem,” I quipped. “He hasn’t changed.”

“Despite your composed outer exterior, you haven’t changed much either,” Tillie quipped back. “You’re still condescending, conceded, arrogant –”

“Then why are you with me?” I asked, maybe a little too harshly.

“Because,” she looked up at me. “Because despite all your flaws, you’re a good person with a good heart. And I get to see that every time you’re with Garrison. He’s your best friend. And you need him, and he needs you, just like I need you. I’m going to talk him down over a pint and in the morning, things will be fine. I promise.”

I kissed her the way I hoped to kiss her on our wedding day and walked back to the hotel. With my wet clothes still stuck to my body, I fell into the bed and instantly asleep.

The daylight through the window woke me and I saw Tillie sitting on a chair, staring out the window. It was the first bit of sunshine we had seen since we landed and she watched it the way I’ve seen old people sit by the lake and watch the waves crash in and out. She looked to me and smiled.

“So, where are we going for breakfast,” I asked.

“I have something to tell you,” she began. “It was about last night.”

“What is it?” I sat back down on the bed, worried something terrible happened to her or to Garrison. “What happened? Is everyone ok?”

“Everyone’s fine,” she smiled. “You won’t believe it, but, we found it. We found the pub.”

She told me how talking over a single pint suddenly turned into talking over many pints and shots. She couldn’t even remember which pub they were at, but they fell out and decided to try and find the door one last time. And there it was. Exactly where Garrison said it was.

Just like Garrison’s story, there was a stairwell, maybe a dozen stairs, and a basement bar. Tillie went on about all the strange people at this bar and how she had never seen any people who looked like that before. She described small men with large hairy feet, hooded figures with bows and quivers of arrows strapped to their backs, armoured men with swords hilted at their sides, and beautiful pale people who were tall, thin, and had pointed ears.

I started to assume that she had even more to drink last night than she had let on and maybe even someone slipped something into her drink. But she insisted she saw all of these things, ripped right from the books Garrison and I studied in university and Garrison continued to obsess over after we finished school. She even said she saw the elf girl.

Tillie’s account was that Garrison had wandered off once they were in the pub and as she stumbled around for a bit trying to catch up, she finally found him in the corner of the bar, talking to the beautiful woman. But not just casually talking, but instantly talking passionately with her. Like they had been talking for hours by the time Tillie found them. He was leaning in, his hands on the table illustrating a story. She had her hand on her check, and she was giggling and mesmerized by every one of Garrison’s words. Tillie had never seen Garrison talk to anyone like that before, let alone a woman who he was obviously drawn to.

“Where is he now?” I asked. “Did he come back last night?”

“When I was ready to leave, I asked him what he wanted to do,” Tillie explained. “He smiled and he said he was going to stay a while. I’d never seen him smile like that before. I think he was actually truly happy.”

He didn’t come back to the hotel. He didn’t make it to the flight back to the Okanagan. He wasn’t there when I proposed to Tillie or on our wedding day. He was gone. My best friend was gone and for a while, it bothered me. Tillie was right, I did need him. But as time wore on, I realized that despite needing him, I would be ok. I had my memories with him. I could always recount a story of one of our drunken nights together running around the streets of Camden. I thought I was being a bad friend at first by leaving him behind. But, the way Tillie told the story, leaving him behind was the best thing I could have done. What he found in that pub made him truly happy and there was nothing more in the world that I ever could have wanted for my friend Garrison.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,