For sure, the fear has got me now. I'm lying on my back in the absolute dark of my room, blinking wildly, trying to keep my eyes open, trying to wake up, really wake up. I'm not sure exactly what has scared the hell out of me, but something has, and I struggle to pin it down. In the dream, everything was fine, good even, and the next thing I know I'm explaining to my mother and to a visiting musician friend of mine that I am suddenly and profoundly afraid. They are helpless and confused, listening to me, and my heart is pounding like a gavel on judgement day, but there will be no order in this court. I can't breathe, and my mind is racing, the bad thoughts tripping over each other in their hurry to get out. O god, I am afraid of finding a dead body, I am afraid of someone finding my dead body. I am afraid of heights, and of velocity. I am afraid, every single time I open a closed door that something so horrible is waiting for me behind it. I am afraid of burglars and of fire. I am afraid of the known and of the unknowable. Black holes terrify me. I am afraid that someday soon, gravity will stop acting on us, and then where will we be? I am nervous of the future, and in awe of what secrets may lie buried in my memory. And most of all, I am afraid, at this instant of never again knowing a moment's rest, of never again knowing the bliss of sleeping undisturbed through the night.
How long can this go on, this gut-wrenching, bowel-clenching fear? How many nights on end? I turn, in the unforgiving dark, in my bed, and there is no one there to comfort me. The space between my arm and the switch that could spread light all over this room, push the dark out into the hall, is an unbridgeable gap. I cannot stretch out my hand across the chasm. And so I lie and tremble in mortal terror, hoping and dreading that sleep will come soon and claim me.
I'm lying on the kitchen floor staring at the watermarks on the ceiling when Peat wakes up and staggers out to get a glass of water. He crashed at my place again last night, as he does more often than not these days. I think he fancies himself a professional house-sitter/couch surfer. Unfortunately, his lack of attention to detail and proclivity for fits of prolonged daydreaming have chipped away at the demand for his services. Pets left unfed, orchids killed and flaming toasters have tarnished his reputation somewhat among potential clients and benefactors. I secretly harbour hopes that a dearth of places to stay will encourage him to find his own, or offer to actually move into mine and split the rent instead of occasionally buying a six pack and a loaf of white bread, which he knows I don’t eat, and considering that his contribution to the household. There’s room enough for two in here, which he must have noticed by now, considering the amount of time he’s spent living here in the last month or two. But I will not suggest these things to him. Peat’s aggravating that way. Willfully perverse, in that no matter what is suggested to him, he will generally choose to do the opposite, even if he sincerely does not want to. I suspect it is a matter of principle with him, and if that’s so, it’s one I wish he’d give a little more thought to. It makes no sense to me whatsoever. But then, that’s Peat.
The sun coming through the window is blinding. Peat squints at me. His hair is a tangled nest and sleep has crusted in the corners of his eyes. He is not looking his best, but then, I suspect, neither am I. The events of last night are shrouded in thick fog and hanging on me like a cloak. I cannot tell, from looking at him, what condition our friendship is in today. I allow this to worry me.
"Jesus," he says, "Christ on crutches."
"I couldn't agree more," I tell him. From the bathroom comes the sound of shuddering and retching. Fatty, it seems, has passed her daily hairball.
Peat breaks the first glass he tries to take from the cupboard and utters a long and creative string of curses. He has more luck with his second attempt.
And thus begins our day.
The radio is on, and I'm listening in a noncommital way. I try to listen to the news only when I'm feeling that the strength of my moral fibre can withstand the assault. I don't know what's worse -- the shit that happens, or the shit the newscasters say about it. It's gonna drive me crazy someday soon. I tend to take it really personally, which is why I don't listen very often.
Peat is sitting on the stove, quaffing water and mocking everything the disembodied radio voice is saying. He and I are bad for each other. My cynicism feeds his bitterness, which feeds my world-weariness, which feeds his assholism. I am still lying on the floor, beneath his swinging feet, listening half to him, half to that which he mocks. And then the radio guy says something about prophets and millennialism, and I sit up.
"Shut up," I tell Peat.
"Make me," he says, in this really puerile voice. But then he shuts up.
The radio guy is talking about Nostradamus, and prophets in the Bible, and modern-day seers as well. People who have predicted natural disasters and world wars. Edgar Cayce and so on. And how no one pays them much mind, thinks they're flakes or freaks or some combination of the two. But he says it's interesting how much of what they've said has come to pass. And then he says that none of these seers has ever made a prediction that stretches beyond the year 2000. Everything just sort of stops there.
Peat whistles through his teeth. "Whoa," he says. "We'll be 30."
"Goddamn it," I say. "My dad just made me buy an RRSP that matures in 2003."
"The queen of bad timing strikes again."
"It's just millenialism," I say. "I'm sure the same thing happened at the turn of the last millenium."
"That'll be some New Year's Eve, eh?" Peat says.
"I hate New Year's Eve," I remind him.
"Me too," he agrees. "want me to take you out for breakfast?"
I guess that means our friendship is in pretty much the same condition it was in yesterday, which is fine with me. He and I exist in this weird kind of limbo, where every word, every action reeks of maybeness. Neither of us will admit to any kind of affection beyond the platonic, although it seems to me we constantly tread the thin line that keeps us from being lovers. I give this some thought as I head to my bedroom to struggle into my uniform for the day. Second-hand jeans that fit like pyjamas and a shredded t-shirt my dad bought in the seventies. It's got a picture of Pierre Trudeau on it, framed by the words “fuddle duddle.” Peat tends to see himself as my rescuer, my knight in shining plaid. About a year ago he helped extricate me from a particularly messy situation, the drama and heartbreak of which I was enjoying a bit too much for my own good. Anyhow. That set things up in this damsel-in-distress mode. Peat's really into the nobility of the thing, which is fun for both of us, up to a point, and then it just makes me mental.
This line of thinking spurs me to other interesting thoughts. This whole archetype relationship thing. Is this a result of being a part of the therapy generation, this constant analysis and theorizing and pigeon-holing? Or is that just me? And if I know these are the dynamics of my relationship with Peat, what keeps me coming back for more? There are no easy answers for these questions, I decide. Or maybe there are, and I'm just not the girl to find them.
The sun is relentless through my bedroom window. And although this exacerbates my hangover, it cheers me, too. Because, little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter, and this is the teasing beginning of spring. Yes, it might be six degrees and sunny today and minus ten with flurries tomorrow, but the variety gives me hope, at least, which this year was a precious commodity.
I can hear Peat brushing his teeth in the bathroom. He is humming through the toothpaste foam. The song is not one I recognize, even factoring in the distortion. This has become a morning sound I have grown used to, almost without noticing, I guess. I find myself missing it on the days he’s not around, even though it’s not particularly melodic or beautiful. The humming is quintessentially Peater.
I am dressed and ready to have breakfast bought for me, but Peat is not a great self-starter in the morning lately, so I know I have time to kill. I sit on the edge of my bed and light a cigarette. Fatty is stretched out flat on her back on the bed, all four legs sticking up stiffly like butts in an ashtray. She might be dead. I entertain this notion. It worries me a little, but then I notice her stomach heaving gently as she breathes.
I turn my attention from her to my latest project. Squares of brightly coloured paper litter my bedroom like outsized confetti. Scraps of royal blue, pumpkin, violet and magenta wink at me from the hardwood floor. My bedside table hosts a collection of origami boxes in varying shapes and colours. Yesterday I had Freya, my ten-year-old neighbour, in for tea, and she taught me how to fold them. I quickly became obsessed. Actually, I am becoming fetishistic about boxes, bottles, containers of all shapes, sizes and materials. Over the last month or two, a strange collection of vessels has begun to invade my apartment. I sense it is the impending end of the millenium and all the attendant hysteria fostering this in me. It occurs to me that soon enough, no one will have anything solid or real or valuable that they want to put in boxes. Nothing worth saving. No keepsakes. Everything will be contained in hard drives, on CDs, in memory banks. But not human memory. The thought of entrusting things of value, precious things like stories, letters, photographs and music to machines freaks me out more than a little, frankly.
I draw deeply on the cigarette, and then let the smoke out in a slow, steady stream. My mouth feels charred from last night, the acrid taste of smoke like a friend from the wrong side of the tracks: exciting and dangerous and altogether bad for me. This is not a good habit. I know this. This is not something I want to do all my life, or even for too much longer. But for now, I do it. It's part of my disguise. I get up from the bed and open the window. The roar of Saturday Chinatown traffic enters my ears like something alive.
The world continues to turn. I decide to accept this as a good thing. I tap the ash-end of my cigarette against the window screen. The light wind that filters through into my room picks the ashes up and blows them back at me. I barely notice. My attention is snagged by a slow-moving character shambling along the sidewalk below my window. A very small and withered old man, with a face lined and shaded like a walnut. He is shuffling by, hardly lifting his feet. I hold my breath and listen to the sound his ragged pant cuffs make as they drag on the concrete. He is bundled in a navy overcoat, the sleeves of which dangle past his fingertips. One arm swings carelessly at his side, like the pullrope of a church bell. The other is cradled against his torso. From that sleeve sprouts the gleaming wooden handle of a rice-paper parasol, painted a gay and garish orange. The parasol is open. He's carrying it tipped back over his shoulder. It affords him very little protection from the sun, but I sense that is not why he carries it. The sight of him and his parasol produces a bittersweet aching in my chest. There is something grand and imperial in his bearing. He seems to me self-contained and tightly focused. I wonder what wise old thoughts are running through his serene little sunburnt head. He turns abruptly to the left as I watch, and begins to shuffle off the sidewalk and onto the road. The traffic is heavy on Spadina Avenue this morning, and he is wandering heedlessly out into the street. I want to call to him, warn him of the danger, but my voice catches, stalls in my throat. The air is filled with a cacophony of screeching tires and bleating horns and cursing drivers. I am fascinated by his progress, by his incredible luck. He is insouciant, his lazy pace never alters, and he makes it to the other side of the street unscathed. I pull myself up, straighten my posture and salute him from my window. This he does not see, but I am thankful to him for his small, brave act of beauty, and I feel it is the very least I can do for him.
The night I met Peater was ill-fated from the start. There was a slew of cosmic hints vying for my attention that day, not the least of which was a small container of cream that had gone all gluey and stringy like melted cheese, and which Mona dumped blindly into her coffee at breakfast. Do without, I told her, smugly slurping my black coffee, redefine the boundaries of felicity. Look before you leap, she countered. Even breakfast can teach a cosmic lesson. In any event, I ignored this and the others studiously, much to my present chagrin. But I was out of my head at the time. There was a sign on my forehead that read “gone fishin'.” I feel I should let myself off the hook a little for the utterly uncharacteristic way I acted that day, and for the days that came afterward in quick succession. And when I finally snapped out of it, much too much later, I was not alone. I had a stunning hangover and a case of the pawnshop blues that stuck to me worse than a rub-on tattoo. Mona and I were out on a systematic mission of destruction and debauchery. Single-mindedly, we left the apartment we shared then and rampaged our way into and out of every club and pub and bar that would have us. We finally got booted out of some dive after I leaped up on the bar and yelled “I'm a slut and I don't care who knows it,” which was only partially true. I hadn't had much opportunity for whoredom lately. All that, of course, was about to change. If I had known that, as we staggered home, drunk and useless, I would never have looked up. It's not something I do often. It gives me vertigo. The tops of buildings in this city I have lived in most of my life are beyond my realm of experience. This makes me a laughing stock among certain of my friends, but it keeps nausea in check, and so it goes.
Anyhow, that night, for some reason I am currently at a loss to identify, I looked up, for the first time, at the windows above Frank's Bakery. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a barefoot longhaired boy scrawling frantically in a notebook. I want you to understand that I cannot account for what happened next. I tore off my camp hat, fell to one knee with accidental grace and shouted “Dance with me now and I'll love you forever.” Of course he looked up from his notebook and down into the street. There I was, wavering on one knee, and Mona, doubled over with horrified laughter. “The door is open there,” he said, “come on up.” This taught me a valuable lesson. I no longer make promises I have no intention of keeping. Well, up we went.
I climbed the stairs ahead of Mona, clutching my poor, black camp hat. The staircase was narrow and steep, my least favourite combination. I kept sort of laughing under my breath and shaking my head the whole way up the stairs.
And Mona was behind me, poking me in the back and saying I can't believe we are doing this. But you know, there must be fifteen or twenty things per day that one or the other of us can't believe. And yet they happen anyway.
At the top of the stairs stood the boy. He was broad-shouldered and brown-haired. Levi shorts he had clearly had since Christ was a kid hung decaying off his hips. His legs were tanned and strong looking. His t-shirt was thin and purple and sprung out. It billowed around him like a flag. It seemed we were entering another empire altogether. He smiled a crooked smile as we approached, and spread his arms wide, either in welcome or to show he had nothing to hide.
"Hey there, little fella," I said. I was pretty drunk. Generally I don't greet strangers that way, but like I said, I was absolutely not in control of many of my faculties.
Behind me, Mona‘s chant was like a mantra, "I can't believe this. I just can't believe this."
I wasn't sure why she was finding it so hard to believe. She and I have this warped double-dare type relationship, where we're constantly goading each other into doing and saying ridiculous things. Of course, in retrospect, this was beyond ridiculous and well into the realm of the stupid.
"Hey yourself," said mister long-hair. "C'mon in."
We did. The apartment was classic Queen Street West nouveau-pauvre. It was positively glutted with candles. They stood on every available surface, and in the neck of every empty bottle. The furniture was largely makeshift. Three wire crates, commercially used for transporting eggs, were magically transformed into a couch, with the help of a long rectangular foam cushion and some pseudo-exotic batik cloth, definitely purchased no farther from home than Kensington Market. There were six or eight mismatched chairs placed around the room. Straight-backed wooden kitchen chairs and understuffed easy chairs with sagging springs. Those looked to me as if they had been plucked from the garbage. They were pretty good finds, but some were in varying states of disrepair. The sheer number of them gave the room a flavour of group therapy. The air was thick with the scent of jasmine incense. Four dilapidated press-board bookcases lined the walls. These caught my interest. I squinted at the spines of the paperbacks collected there. Kerouac, Henry Miller, Salinger, Casteneda, Kierkegaard and so on, all the usual suspects. Everything in this place was suddenly depressingly familiar. All at once my head cleared and I wondered what the hell I was doing.
But that wondering was brief. Long-hair handed me a beer, which I accepted gratefully. I shook off the gathering gloom, had a deep drink and introduced myself.
This longhaired boy was not Peater. Rather, he was Peater's roommate and erstwhile friend, Dug.
"Quite a place you've got here," I said, slurping my beer.
"Have a seat," Dug offered, gesturing toward the bouquet of chairs.
"Don't mind if I do," I said, plunking myself down into a space age metallic green armchair. The edge of hysteria I had felt only moments before was abating, and an air of banality was creeping in. Mona was over in the corner, examining some lousy paintings which were masking-taped to the wall.
"Do you like those?" Dug asked, handing her a beer.
"They're interesting," she hedged. "Did you do them?"
He nodded smugly. "They're part of a series I did called why must woman always suffer. They were hanging at Sid's coffee house until Sid got busted."
Mona rolled her eyes wildly. Dug did not notice. His eyes were half-closed and he was babbling on about the interconnectedness of ancient akashic records and the role of the artist in the market place or some damned thing. I began to suspect he was an asshole, but unfortunately, that didn't stop me wanting to kiss him. Mona wandered away from him as quickly as she could, and seated herself on the arm of my chair, sipping desperately at her beer. She tugged at my sleeve.
"Let's go," she whispered. "Let's just go while he's busy yammering. He won't even notice we've gone. He might not even remember we were ever here."
"Forget it," I said.
"Great," she said. "You've got that look on your face. Come on, it's for your own good."
"Mona, my dear," I slurred drunkenly, " when have you ever known me to do anything because it's for my own good?"
Any answer to that she may have had was swallowed by the sound of a slamming door, and a chorus of voices as inebriated as my own rising up the stairs. Suddenly the apartment was infested with people.
"Hey presto," I said to Mona. "It's a party."
"It's more like a nightmare," she groaned back at me. She slumped down into a chair of her own, and guzzled her beer in resignation.
The newcomers were dressed to the heights of slacker grunge deluxe anti-fashion. Everything they wore was rumpled and dirty and somewhat holey. There were four or maybe five of them. It was hard to tell. I was hammered and they all pretty much looked the same.
One of them, a sweet young thing with long red hair and a goatee of absurd length installed himself on the arm of Mona's chair and instantly engaged her in conversation. I felt much better about everything, seeing that. At least I knew she was occupied, and I wouldn't have to feel guilty about keeping her out against her will. It could all be blamed on the little red-haired boy.
By this time, Dug had managed to pull himself away from his paintings and was headed my way with another beer. I quickly drained what was left of the one I was holding and prepared myself for the fresh onslaught. There was a small, timid voice at the back of my head that had a few sensible things to say about the situation in which I had placed myself, but I shoved it rudely aside and smiled charmingly at Dug. I was on the verge of trying to pick his brain, when we were interrupted by one of the new arrivals. He was gangly and cute, with sandy touseled hair and shifty hazel eyes.
"Hey Dug," he said, patting Dug on the head. Dug scowled and ducked away. But the boy was undeterred, and patted him again. I laughed a choking laugh under my breath.
"Who's your friend?" the boy asked. Dug looked at me, clearly at a loss. Naturally, this should have told me everything I needed to know about my future with Dug. Of course, I ignored it. I stuck my hand out in greeting to the boy.
"I'm Stellah," I told him.
"Peater Moss," he told me. "How long have you known Dug?"
"I haven't yet," I said. Peat raised an eyebrow in surprise and amusement.
"Well," he said snidely," perhaps I should leave you two alone then."
I was about to protest, realising I was enjoying his company more than Dug's so far, but Dug cut me off.
"Perhaps you should, Peat."
Mona and I are in a very old house, maybe a castle. We're standing on a sort of balcony made of stone, looking down on an overgrown, ivy-encrusted courtyard. We are deep in conversation; there is a problem we are trying to work out, something we want to get to the bottom of. I glance down into the courtyard. There is a figure there, moving through the ivy and wild roses. I recognize my sister. She is getting close to the centre of the courtyard, and I know I have to warn her. There is something there I have encountered before - a grave, I think. I recall it vaguely, the ornate stone lid, the ponderously slow mechanism...there’s a pressure point, that much I know for sure. If you stand on the lid in a certain spot, the mechanism begins to work, and the lid lowers into the ground, taking you with it. and I know there is a certain way to walk over it so that you don't even know it's there. But if she doesn't do it right, she will descend slowly, terrifyingly. I know my sister, and if this happens, she will be completely freaked out. She won't be hurt, even if she goes down in the grave, but it will scare the shit out of her, and that will be far worse. I want to warn her, but I keep getting distracted by this problem Mona and I are trying to solve. She is getting closer. If only I could call down to her, reassure her that it won't hurt, tell her not to be afraid. Why can't I? Why don't I just interrupt Mona for a minute and call down to her? I don't do it and the last thing I see is the intricately carved stone lid sinking slowly, and the look of utter horror on my beautiful sister's face.
When I woke, it was with a dry, fuzzy mouth, a thrumming headache, and a sense of things having changed beyond my control. And the dream, which I pushed aside. I was in an unfamiliar place, but I could hear someone in the kitchen making coffee, and that, to me, seemed familiar enough. I decided to see about getting some coffee in me before attempting to dissemble anything. Dream, reality, whatever. And then all at once it came to me. Jesus Christ! What was I doing in this bed, in his bed? What a bad idea. What a horrifically ill conceived notion. I peeled back the clumpy quilt that covered me, and found, to my unending relief, I was fully clothed, right down to my combat boots. I struggled off the futon and staggered to the kitchen, planning to face Dug and my destiny, hoping to get help in piecing together the events of the night before.
But Dug was not making coffee. Peater was.
"Good morning sunshine," he said, as I scowled. He poured coffee into a chipped CBC mug.
“How do you like it?” he asked.
“Not much,” I said. “It’s an evil nightmare. I’m a bit of a mess.”
“I meant your coff ee,” he said, and smiled with his eyes.
“Black and bitter,” I replied. “Like my soul.”
“Rough night?” he asked. I just groaned and rubbed crusted sleep from my bloodshot eyes. He started to laugh.
“You’ve got exquisite timing, you know.”
“Says who?” I demanded, not at my charming first-thing-in-the- morning best.
“Well, last night, just as Dug was pulling out the big guns and putting the moves on you, you passed out snoring in the arm chair. The look on his face was absolutely priceless. What an asshole.” Peat chortled into his coffee, which he had liberally laced with cream and sugar. All this solidified my cranky mood. The desecration of coffee, his comment about me snoring, a terrible sinking feeling of embarrassment for the whole sordid night, his calling Dug an asshole - even though, and I knew this even then - Peat would know better than I Dug’s social rating.
“So where is Dug,” I asked, in as casual a voice as I could muster.
“He’s at the station,” Peat told me, and snickered again.
“The police station?” He gave me a pitying glance. He was a smug bastard, I decided, and slurped my coffee faster, wanting to shake the dust of this place off my heels as soon as possible.
“The television station,” Peat said. “He hosts one of those low-budget, high-art community cable shows.”
“I thought he was a painter,” I said, as splinters of the night before returned to me.
“He thinks he is, too,” Peat said, and brought his mug up to his mouth. His eyes were like mine, green and gold and wide, and we looked at each other for a beat, and I remembered Dug’s awful, awful paintings. I smiled for just a second, and then we were laughing like crazy, Peat was spitting coffee all over the kitchen and himself, and then he was actually rolling on the floor, just howling, and pounding the linoleum with his fists, which seemed weakened with mirth, and I thought, you smug bastard, I like you. He pulled himself together finally, pulled himself up off the floor and filled both our coffee cups. He hopped up onto the stove and sipped his coffee and watched me for a little while over the rim of his mug. I leaned against the blue formica kitchen table and felt a little awkward, and yet a little comfortable, and then a little more awkward as he continued to watch me in silence. And I let it go on until I actually felt itchy, and then I spoke.
“What?” I said.
“Hmm,” said Peat. “Nothing really.”
“What?” I repeated.
“Well,” he drawled, and messed his hair up a little more, and shifted his eyes away from me, “what’s a girl like you doing with a bottom-feeder like Dug?”
“Nothing yet,” I said, a little taken aback. It was a pretty good question, I guess, a great question, the only question, in re trospect.
“Never mind,” he said. “Not my place to ask.”
“Research,” I told him. He smiled when I said it and tilted his head. The light through the kitchen window caught in his hair, burnishing it, and I had a strange feeling. You know when you suddenly become utterly conscious that what is happening to you, an isolated and extraordinary moment, suspended, dangling is one of those moments you will remember all your life, every part of it? It’s a sudden and fleeting sense of real life, played out exactly the way you always expect it would. It was the rich, almost intoxicating aroma of strong, morning coffee. The way it burned a pleasant path ed down my throat, and the absolute clarity of my fingers wrapping around the warm ceramic mug. The perfect, brilliant quality of midmorning light in the room and the grainy, gravelly timbre of our voices, so recently asleep and now vividly awake. The sense of having maybe found someone who speaks the same language. I had one of those moments, knew it, embraced it and then let it slip quietly away.
“Research,” he repeated. “on what?”
“Attraction-repulsion theory,” I said glibly. “And the cancerous rot of the soul.”
“I think that’s redundant,” he said, affecting a mock scholarly tone. His mouth curved in a grin, but his eyes for a flickering second turned it into a grimace. “Cancer and rot being roughly the same thing, or having the same lingering effect, certainly in the soul, and also in the body –
“ And again, fleetingly, there was almost something in his eyes, in his face, in the sudden sag of his shoulders for me to take and hold on to, and then there wasn’t. The scholar was back, and smirking, and saying “I believe you’ll find this book of interest, I wrote it myself, it’s really quite good,” and handing me a dog-eared copy of Sex And The Single Girl.
"Ready for brekkie?" Peat asks from behind me. He has caught me saluting, but does not mention it, so I, grateful, decide not to tease him on his use of cliche so early in the morning.
"Ready," I say, and butt my smoke out in the cracked saucer I bought for a quarter at the Salvation Army, and keep on my bedroom floor for precisely this purpose. I turn away from the window, from the man and his parasol. And there is Peat. And I am not sure what to make of him, what to make of myself, whether anything at all can be made of us.
My mind for a moment wants to wander to thoughts of Peat and I as raw materials for something else, something other than what we are, maybe bigger, perhaps smaller, but I stop. Pull back. Recall these are the kinds of thoughts that lead Peat and I to say aggravating, instigating things to each other. The kinds of thoughts that were dragged out over drinks last night, and really shouldn't join us for breakfast. Peat has a mind like a steel trap, and I have a mind like one of those sticky pads restaurants use to catch mice. Peat's mind snaps at anything that gets too close, takes it in, holds it captive, bleeds it to death. Mine, on the other hand, sits patiently and waits until something tries to tiptoe unnoticed across it. And then it gloms on, and the ideas - or whatever - lie there screaming, tearing their insides out trying to get free or dying of exhaustion, or starving to death, or expiring from terror. For Peat and I, feeling tender today, thoughts have no place at breakfast.
He smiles at me when I turn, an engaging, concillatory smile. I return it without thinking, which is how I hope to get through this day. You there, brain. While you live under my roof, you'll live by my rules. Lay off the thinking.
Peat is wearing what he always wears. Raggedy jeans bought for ten dollars in Kensington a very long time ago, and a t-shirt someone gave him that has a big purple thumbprint on it and states in once-vivid letters "I'm Impressed!". The shirt is held together by cobwebs and luck. Under the shirt, for warmth and style, he sports a long-sleeved red thermal shirt. His face still bears creases from his pillow. His hair is ridiculous. He looks adorable. I slide my feet into my combat boots, still damp from yesterday's forays into the big melting world. Peat's work socks peek out of his tattered sneakers. We are as ready as we'll ever be to venture out.
For breakfast we go to Sam 'n' Ella's, the diner that time forgot, the restaurant that ate my soul. I used to work for Sam and Ella, a sweet couple in their own psychotic way. I worked for them for three hellacious years, and might still be there, thriving on chaos and absurdity, if not for the twice-weekly karaoke nights. I had to draw the line at that. I could put up with the cutesy uniform I had to wear, with my diner pseudonym pertly embroidered over my left breast. I could deal with having to place orders to the kitchen for clever-clever meals like the grand-slam breakfast and the hi-ho caesar. I could even handle the lechery of Sam and his cronies, and the foul mood swings of poor misunderstood Ella. But karaoke - I feel my own mortality too much in karaoke bars. There is something too sinister about them.
But karaoke aside, Sam 'n' Ella's is a breakfast hot spot. And going out for breakfast is the ultimate luxury in this increasingly small life of mine. Or would that be decreasingly small? Anyhow, I think you know what I mean.
I am using my last chunk of butter-drenched bagel to swab up the remains of my huevos rancheros. I love when breakfast works out that way. Nothing wasted, nothing stranded alone on the plate. It's so satisfying. Peat is sawing away at banana pancakes as big as his head. He's a slow, methodical eater, which drives me crazy. He's got a head and a half of pancake left to saw through, and at this rate, we'll still be here when the karaoke starts at eight tonight.
I pull a smoke from my pack, slightly crumpled from having been in my back pocket all through breakfast. I tap it on the table a number of times, regularly, thoughtfully. Peat, hunched over his breakfast, looks up at me through the fringe of his hair.
"What," I say.
He continues to look at me, still lifting forkfuls of bananacake to his mouth.
"What," I say again, more emphatically. This drives me crazy, this looking at me not talking thing that he does. I roll my eyes at him and flare my lighter. The smoke travels down my throat to my lungs, and I hold it there. And then I let it out, tilting my head up, pushing the smoke toward the ceiling.
"Nothing," he says, and delivers a ridiculously large lump of food to his hatch. He chews loudly, with exaggeration, open-mouthed. I am watching the food particles spin and fall and spin again. It reminds me of watching clothes in the dryer at the laundromat. It kind of gives me vertigo.
"I love it when you chew with your mouth open," I tell him.
"I love it when you smoke while I'm eating," he says.
"get over it," I say, but he has ruined it for me, the bastard. The all-important smoke after breakfast. The best one of the whole day. I smoke it anyhow, lingeringly, with relish, despite his attempt to shame me into stubbing it out. I look out the window, pointedly, passive-aggressively and Peat, I see out the corner of my eye, stares at his plate, chewing. I smoke it down to the filter, and then stab it into the ashtray. Peat finally finishes, wipes his mouth, and swallows some coffee. I look out the window some more, eyebrows raised.
"I'm sorry," he says. I stare at a point just to the left of the centre of his chest.
"Stellah," he says, "I'm sorry." I lift my eyes and focus them again on his hair.
"Christ on a kaiser," he says. "I said I'm sorry."
“Sorry is just a word,” I say, and immediately regret it. This is something my father used to say to me when I was younger and lived at home, and it always made me feel like shit, especially if I really was sorry.
And I don't know why I'm making such a big stinking deal out of all this, it's so stupid.
I look him in the eye, and then I feel even worse. Peat's eyes are huge and shining and deep. There's something in them that makes my stomach hurt. Something raw. Something open, and yet obscured.
"Jesus, Peat." He collapses against the vinyl back of the booth like he's been shot in the gut. He opens his mouth and something comes out that's not quite snorting laughter and somehow, not quite sobbing. This is pretty heavy for breakfast.
I lean across the table toward him. The coffee in my cup has left a murky ring. I have no idea what to say, and for once in my life, I let that be my guide and say nothing. He shakes his head and crumples his lips together, like the first draft of a letter to a new lover.
"Forget it," he mutters. "It doesn't matter." Somehow, breakfast has stopped unfolding the way I wanted it to. I feel grubby and childish, like I've been caught digging in the dirt in my Sunday best, even though I've been told not to.
"I talked to my mother yesterday," he says.
"The doctors think they've found another."
Another. Another tumour. That must be what he means. I am a shit. I am the worst best friend this maddening yet lovable boy has ever had. I say his name again, gently. He looks up at the white stippled ceiling and blinks hard once or twice. He curls and uncurls his long guitar-player fingers, and then rifles through his hair with them, as if looking for something mislaid.
"You folks want some more coffee?" The waiter is perky, lipsticked. Her shirt says Sandi, but I feel sure it is not her real name. I nod, smiling automatically. Peat clears his throat violently and leans forward again, clasping his hands tightly together and resting them on the table. He has not looked at me. Sandi refills our cups and dumps a load of creamers and sugar packets on the table, and then sways off, plying her other customers with hot coffee.
Peat begins peeling open creamers and dumping their contents into his cup. He uses all three she has brought, and then starts in on the sugar. He layers together four packets and tears them open at the corner, all at once. I know he does this because he thinks I won't notice how much sugar he's befouling his coffee with. At this moment, Peat could put an entire sugar cane in his coffee, and I would help him stir it if I thought it would make him happy, bring his eyes back to normal, make him like me again.
"Will you at least look at me?"
He looks up from his cup slowly, but not quite at me.
"C'mon Peat, please. I'm an asshole, okay?"
He looks right at me. His eyes are guarded, which I discover is no better than raw. I hate this. I hate everything.
"Okay," he says.
"Okay, I'll look at you, okay, you're an asshole."
I have never been so relieved.
"That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me," I tell him.
He smiles, and I smile, and we don't discuss his mother. Perhaps we would have, in a minute or two, but the door to the diner opens and Dug enters. I am facing the door, and so see him first.
"Fuck," I say. Peater looks over his shoulder, and then quickly looks back at me.
"My sentiments exactly."
At the best of times, seeing Dug ruins my day. And this is not the best of times. Of course he spots us as soon as he's in the door, and this wicked little smile plays across his face. The thing about Dug is that he is a master pretender. The kind it becomes difficult to defend yourself against.
"Stellah. Peat." He sits down beside me without asking. Peat narrows his eyes and looks studiously out the window.
"Fancy meeting you here," Dug says to me. His voice crawls into my left ear like a rat into a hole.
"Yes," I say. "Fancy that."
"Sam and Ella are going to hire me to host their karaoke night."You're quite the impresario, Dug, aren't you," I say. I want nothing more than to laugh long and loud at Dug and his ridiculous pretensions, but I remember too clearly how attracted I once, and so feel compelled to keep my composure. But laughing wins. I try to smother it, so it comes out in these short, barking bursts. What the fuck, I decide. I've got less than nothing to lose. I stop smothering and start laughing outright. Dug, in his inimitable style, notices nothing amiss. Peat catches my eye and laughs a little too, but I can tell his mind is miles away. The thought of Dug hosting karaoke is almost too much to bear. It's not that he'd be bad at it, it's that he'd be good. So good. It's beautiful, really.
"When do you start," I ask, wiping the remnants of glee from my face.
"Tonight." Dug pulls some purple handbills from the pocket of his t-shirt. "Would you take some of these with you, maybe hand them out to people you know? i'd like to really get this night happening."
He offers the sheaf of papers to me. My eyes could not open any wider. He can't possibly be for real, I think, and then realize I'm absolutely right. He can't be, he won't be, he is not.
Sandi approaches the table again, clutching a menu for Dug. I am determined not to get trapped into sitting with him while he eats and listening to him go on and on about his latest cool, successful projects, so I ask for the bill while he peruses the menu.
The night after I first met Dug, I met him again, at the launch of smack, a small literary magazine I was hoping to get published in. I knew some people who knew some people, which is how I got in to the party. Dug was the art director of smack, which is how he got in to the party.
“I thought you hosted an all-arts cable tv show,” I said to Dug, clutching a cocktail.
“That’s just a sideline,” he told me. “This is where it’s really at.” He was wearing battered jeans patched with tapestry and a beautiful red smoking jacket. He looked twice as good to me as he had the night before. I was a little angry with him for taking off that morning and not even leaving a note, but since Peat had been so nice, I decided to forgive Dug by association. Actually, I was thrilled to have run into him there. If he was involved in smack, maybe he could get me in.
“The magazine looks great,” I told him, thinking perhaps flattery would get me somewhere. “Thanks,” said Dug.
“I use this amazing graphics program. It’s incredible what you can do with computers these days.”
I nodded agreement, and wondered to myself how any art ever got produced before the hardware age. If computers disappear tomorrow, I wondered, will art finally die?
“You look pretty cute in that dress,” Dug was saying to me. I guess he thought he’d try a little flattery of his own. I smiled prettily and glanced up at him through the curtain of my hair.
This was familiar territory. This game, though loathesome, was one I knew. And he was right, I did look pretty cute. The dress was green, the same shade as my eyes, and printed with sunflowers. It was cut just low enough in the front, and it fluttered to a stop an inch or two above my knees. I was wearing black tights that made me look like a school girl, and my boots were freshly polished and gleaming.
“Do you need another drink?” Dug asked, eyeing my glass. “Gin and tonic,” I said. “Thanks.” Dug returned with my drink just as the editor was taking the stage.
He was tall and otherwordly looking, with a shaved head and small blue-tinted glasses. He swaggered to the microphone and called for our attention. He thanked us all for coming, and said a few things about the future of Canlit being dependant on the likes of us. I looked around the room at the gaggles of people talking and laughing, not even paying attention, and said a silent requiem for Canlit. But I was feeling buoyant, thanks to the free drinks, my killer new dress and the attentions from Dug. I was determined to fuel that mood at all costs. This became more difficult to do.
Zeke, the editor, introduced Tanisha Trollope, a poet of some local reknown who had been published in the first issue of smack and was, according to Zeke, going to regale us with some of her latest insights. My heart sank. Clearly, a new dress was not going to be enough to get me through this night. I try to stay away from poetry readings, unless I’m actually performing. I just can’t get into what my peers are doing. All that angry gen -x in your face stuff. It makes me feel out of time. I’m writing pastoral little poems about trees and lakes and birds, silence and solitude, and they’re writing aggressive rants about weird bloody sex, gore and ritual. It alienates me. But then, maybe that’s the point. Tanisha took the stage. She was maybe five feet tall and looked like she weighed no more than 80 pounds. She was wearing a black velvet catsuit, and shiny red boots. Her hair was long and straight and black, and her skin was deathly pale. Her eyes, under the stage lights, were heroin-addict hollows, deep, angst-ridden pools.
“I love her stuff,” Dug murmured beside me. I felt my shoulders slump, involuntarily. It was going to be a long night. Later on, standing by the bar, drinking another gin and tonic and feeling less and less reigned in as time dragged on, I watched Dug chat Tanisha up, and suddenly felt jealous and lethal. I felt my eyes narrow into slits, and some sober part of my brain sent a message of restraint. But my drunkeness was not at home to callers, and so the message went unheeded. I weaved through the revellers to the sound man, and managed to sound dignified when I asked him if the microphone was on. And then I was standing on stage, gripping the microphone. The music stopped, and the stage lights went up. I squinted into them, out into the bleary-faced crowd.
“A poem,” I said.
In bedawake before sunrisethe air in my roomfrigid and stalemy heart, it seems, barely beatingmy mind choosing a route on the map of the bodyit can be difficult in winter to remember, without lookingwhere the curves are, which knee bears the scarswhich foot the birthmarkI almost forget the sight of arms in .summer tawny and gold/I recall a late spring roadtrip to a coastal destinationan Atlantic questmy feet in their city boots resting on the dashboard of an old reliable chevymy arm out the window, sunburnt and freckledmy hand surfing the waves of air our rushing by madetallying our progress on a map we found in a dinerabandoned by other travellersand at night, in the dark of a motel room stretched out in a bedfar too soft for sleepingmy eyes, though closed still showed me the endless open road aheadwhite linesrising forever in the distance.Here in bed, landlocked static and shiveringmy feet stifled in socks, my limbs bound by bedclothesI paw through the memories, their edges yellowed and curlinglike a long-forgotten letter from an absentee friend.For no reason I can think of I remember days without sleepingwatching my sister ice skate, her young legs strong and somehow hopeful, the even tonesof her teacher urging her to bend and pushand me in the bleachers horrified and nervouswith every corner she rounded certain she’d crashshe fell once, I remember and picture her nowfalling and laughingand getting gracefully up.I want to drink Lonestar beer in a dusty cowboy bar in the middle of absolutely nowhereI want to take a bus to anyplace else and tell outrageous half-truths to inquisitive strangersI want to dissect a baboon with my motherimagine the possibilities for bondingover nervous system and musculatureI would like to believe I control my own destiny although there is no evidence to suggest or support thisI would like to learnafter fallingto get gracefully up.”
There was startled applause at this surprise performance. I bowed somewhat sloppily and left the stage. Back at the bar, Dug was still standing with Tanisha, but neither of them were speaking. “Let’s go,” I said to Dug. He gulped what was left in his glass and followed me out of the room. Out on the street, the cool, late summer air wiped my sweating brow like a sick-room nurse. I found myself feeling more clear-headed than I had in a long time. “Where to?” Dug asked. “Your place is as good as any,” I told him. He stood at the curb, arm raised, hailing a cab. I stood behind him a little, breathing deeply, quelling nausea. He kept glancing at me over his shoulder. “What?” I said. “You okay?” “Never better,” I told him, which wasn’t quite true, but was true enough for the time being
A black and orange diamond cab screeched to a halt in front of us. Dug opened the door for me and swept his arm widely. “After you, my dear alphonse,” he said. I tumbled into the cab, my feet like lead weights on the ends of my legs. Dug gave the cabbie his address, and I clutched his arm as the car peeled away from the curb. “So you’re a poet,” Dug said. “That’s the rumour.” “What’s your philosophy of poetry,” he asked. You’ve gotta be kidding, I thought. My philosophy of poetry? What the hell kind of question is that? Frankly,” I said, “I don’t have a philosophy of poetry. I just write the damn stuff.” “That was quite a performance you gave.” “That,” I said, “was nothing. Kiss me.” “What,” asked Dug. “You heard me. Kiss me.” Who was this brazen harlot, this poetry terrorist? What ghost in the machine was making me say and do these utterly untoward things? He kissed me. It was the first time I’d ever been kissed in a moving vehicle, and I kind of liked it. It was a smooth kiss, a knowing kiss, a kiss that made my toes curl up inside my boots.
I awoke in the night and sat up. Dug lay beside me, sleeping, snoring gently. My mouth felt foreign and tasted of ashes. I climbed over him, carefully, pulled on my dress and padded out into the living room. The apartment was mostly dark, illuminated only by second-hand light from the street. Sounds of Queen West way after last call filtered through the open windows. I stood at the window, looking down. A streetcar rumbled past. I could see the people inside. Every one of them looked wasted, worn-out, weary. I knew exactly how they felt. I went to the kitchen and ran the tap until the water got cold, then filled a mason jar and tip-toed back to the living room. I sat in a saggy armchair and tucked my feet up under me.
Gulping the water, I thought about Dug. I was beginning to like him more. He made me feel cool. He had said flattering, amazing things about the poem I had recited, about the way I looked in my new dress and out of it. And he was so involved in so many different kinds of art. It was like a small revelation to me, that someone could be that passionate about things - someone besides myself, that is. I could feel this whole world opening up to me, this world in which I desperately wanted to live. And Dug seemed like a way in. Sure, he said stupid things sometimes, but I could see right through that. I knew it was just a kind of insecurity. I would simply let him know that he didn’t have to try so hard to impress me, and then it would stop. He and I would be good together, I felt sure of that. I swigged the rest of the water, put the mason jar on the floor, and toddled back to Dug’s bed. I climbed over him again, kissed the back of his sleeping neck, and snuggled next to him. He murmured in his sleep and shifted. One hand was beached on the pillow above his head. I curled my hand into his and closed my eyes.
Peat and I are walking back to my place in silence. We are walking close enough together so that our shoulders bump occasionally. I am quashing the urge to grab his hand and squeeze it by balling my fists deep into the pockets of my coat. I’m not sure why I am doing this. There is a frown of concentration creasing Peat’s face. His legs are longer than mine, and so his natural pace is faster. I have to hurry to keep up. He is thinking deeply. This I know because he is walking even faster than usual. Everything about this morning is making me want to cry. Finally, I stop walking. “Peat.” He keeps walking, not even noticing I have fallen behind. “Hey, Peat.” He turns, looking confused. “What’s up,” he says. I stand on the sidewalk, in the beginnings of the Chinatown crush and shake my head wordlessly. The rush of emotions I am feeling is completely inappropriate for this time and place, but I just can’t pull myself together. A hard ball of worry and nameless dread has settled in my throat. I am about to cry. I can’t believe it. I grit my teeth and will the tears to dry up. I will not cry on Spadina. I simply will not do it. My temples tighten and start to ache. Peat’s eyes widen, and he hurries back toward me. I am doomed. If he shows any kind of concern, I will lose it for sure. “Hey, hey, hey,” he croons, his hands squeezing my shoulders. I am shaking my head, violently, back and forth. I am staring at the sidewalk. “What the hell,” says Peat, in the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard him use. Here we go, I think. I am full-out crying. He puts his arms around me, and pulls me to his chest. I sob into his t-shirt, and feel like an idiot. I don’t even have any idea why I’m doing this, so when he asks, which he inevitably will, what in the name of god will I tell him? He rests his chin on top of my head and murmurs my name a time or two. “Look,” he says. “I don’t like karaoke any more than you do, babe. You’re just going to have to learn how to deal with it.” It’s a stupid joke, but it works. I start laughing a snuffling kind of laugh. Peat brushes my hair with his lips once, and squeezes me hard. People are bumping past us, knocking us with their shopping bags and bundle buggies. I wipe my eyes against his chest and look around. “Jesus in a jumpsuit,” I say. “People are starting to stare. Let’s go home.”
Peat has plugged the kettle in and is sitting in his usual place atop the stove. I’m opening my junk mail and listening to the messages on my answering machine. Two hang-ups in a row, and then my mother’s voice wondering if I’m planning to visit the ancestral palace in the suburbs ever again. The kettle boils and Peat makes tea, still sitting on the stove. “So what’s eating you,” he asks, pouring the tea into mugs. “I don’t know. Nothing.” “Which is it?” he hands me a mug. I add two heaping spoonfuls of sugar and a ton of milk to it. “I don’t get it,” he says, “you’re absolutely violent when it comes to drinking unadulterated coffee, yet you have no problem emasculating tea.” “I didn’t realize tea had balls,” I say, slurping. “Coffee does?” “It does the way I drink it.” “Anyhow,” Peat says. “What is up with you?” I sigh and scratch my head. “I don’t want to talk about it, Peat.” “You can’t always get what you want, babe. You know that.” “OK,” I say. “but if we’re going to have this conversation, I need to sit on something soft.” He jumps off the stove. “Lead on.”
We sit on my unmade bed, surrounded by pillows and quilts. The room is cold - there is a draught that comes up through the floor under the bed. I wrap a quilt my mother made me when I was eight around my shoulders and sip my milky tea. This is good. This feels like childhood. This feels safe. Peat is quiet, watching me, close enough so that our knees touch but not so close as to suffocate me. Again, I feel a wave of sadness crash over me. It’s a nameless kind of melancholy, this bittersweet sadness when everything is okay and I feel safe and warm. It might be the larger sense that everything is temporary, our contact is fleeting in the grand scheme of things. Or it may be a latent melodramatic urge within me. I don’t know. Anyhow, I sit there, and it envelopes me.
I feel my eyes go out of focus. I am staring at the counterpane of the quilt that wraps me, thinking nothing, feeling whatever comes my way. I see a hundred horrible scenes unfolding in my mind. Car wrecks and plane crashes accented with the bodies of my brothers. My mother finding my father unconscious in the kitchen and losing her mind in grief. My sister abducted and tortured. Starving Rwandans. Mona mowed down in the crossfire of a hold-up at the seven-eleven near her house. I imagine my own smooth insides ravaged by a dozen debilitating diseases. Babies abandoned, strangers in far-off lands humiliated. I am losing myself here, I hear my breathing, ragged, uneven, but distant, like it’s coming from somewhere beyond my body. I can feel my jaw clenching, but it seems I’m not in control of that. I am shivering, and I pull the quilt tighter around my shoulders, but it’s not enough. There is a hand on my knee, gentle but insistent, rocking me. I shake my head, clearing away sad pictures, and it ebbs a little. When I look up, Peat is gazing at me, worry furrowing his brow. “I’m sorry,” I say, and feel like it’s all I’ve said all day. “Don’t be sorry,” Peat says. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. What is it, Stellah? What’s wrong with you?” “Nothing. I don’t know.” with my fingertips, I massage my forehead, hard. “I’m a freak today. It’ll pass.” Peat looks frustrated, at a loss for words. “Really,” I say, feeling more sure of myself by the minute. “It’s nothing Peat. I’m tired and hungover, and seeing Dug kind of threw me for a loop.” his face relaxes a little. “Drink your tea,” he says. “It’s getting cold.”
A brash ringing trill jolts me awake. I bolt up in bed and stare confusedly at the alarm clock. I try hitting it, but the ringing doesn’t stop. I have no idea what day or time it is, or if I am supposed to be somewhere. If I can’t make the noise cease I may go crazy and kill myself. Finally I clue in. It’s the phone. I answer it. There is no one there. The sun is going down, which messes me up. I don’t remember going to sleep. I sit in bed for a while, burrowing my fingers into the corners of my eyes, trying to get right. I remember being with Peat, but he doesn’t seem to be around now. The apartment is quiet, and I can see the living room from here. It’s empty. I hate the feeling of waking up from a nap. It’s so disorienting. That sense that I might spend the rest of my life this confused. It’s enough to make me get out of bed. The chill of the hardwood floor touches me even through my socks. I am cold right to my bones, and begin to suspect I may never be warm again. I make it to the kitchen, shivering and yawning. There is a view of endless rooftops out the kitchen window. All are covered with a delicate dusting of snow. Patterns etched in frost edge the window panes. Peat has left a note on the counter. Scrawled in purple felt tip, it reads: Stellah. Hope you slept well. Sorry I couldn’t stick around. Feel better. Love, p. The note makes me smile. This is a good thing.
I am at the Dance Hole by myself. I don’t know what demon has possessed me to come out tonight. I’d be just as happy - no, happier - to be at home in bed, drinking Sleepytime tea and reading Findley’s newest, just out in paperback, with Fatty wrapped around my head. But I’m here, slugging back this two dollar draft and chain-smoking. My eyes are cynical slits. I feel one eyebrow rear up on my forehead, like a horse about to stampede. Even my facial expressions are beyond my control today. It’s really dark in here, and the music is cranked. The walls are painted black, and the black lights in the ceiling illuminate the white lint on everyone’s black clothes, mine included. I’m standing at the back of the club, leaning against a railing in front of the Addams Family pinball machine. In front of me is true theatre of the absurd. My so-called peers are playing out their little melodramas, flirting and fighting and dancing - well, flailing and stomping. Normally I would be right there with them, oblivious, involved in aggression release. But tonight, I am cold and distant, like the stars. I am in the mood to choke small dogs. And the music lends itself perfectly. It’s all rage-driven guitar and strangled, tortured vocals, drenched in feedback. Sometimes I love this music. Tonight, it feeds the fire of my neuroses, which is maybe the closest I’ve ever come to love. This is practical application of attraction-repulsion theory. I am disgusted, yet cannot tear myself away. It’s like picking a scab. I am wearing black leggings and a black Lycra top and a black velvet jacket. So, it seems, is everyone else. There is safety in numbers. Or so they say. I am also wearing my favourite ring. It’s a silver hand clenched in a fist around a ball of black glass. I bought it on Queen Street in this great stained glass studio. The woman who made it and sold it to me was pretty flakey. She kind of weirded me out. She had long stringy blond hair, was as thin as a noodle and about as attractive. “Y’know this ring,” she said to me, “it’s all about your personal energy flow. It’s your energy cycle. If you want to draw people to you, you wear it this way - “ she put it on, “so that the fingers point down to the ground. But if you want to push people away, y’know, maintain your space, you wear it this way - “ she took it off and put it on the other way, so the fingers point to the sky. “Y’know, to remind yourself and your energy...” She had a scary new-age light in her eyes as she babbled at me. I nodded sort of uncomprehendingly, with a half-smile stuck to my face. I handed her $35 and said, “I don’t need a bag.” I slipped it on peter pointer and got the hell out of there.