Over my year in Toronto, I met him like ten times. He always wore a suit—black, with a red tie—and the gray curls of his hair were always fighting through whatever grease he used to comb them back. He never remembered me, and this time was no different. I had my legs crossed and was perched on top of a post office box when he approached. It was the middle of the night. The street light hovered atop his head like a halo. “Now what are we doing?” he asked.
I didn’t know how to tell him that just as I was about to enter the bar here, I’d realized the friends I’d been chasing were really only people I’d been drinking with and that they’d neither be happy nor sad were I to walk in there, and that after a moment of self-pity I’d jumped up here hoping the new perspective might help… or that before that I’d caused a car crash by drunkenly running into the street, and then, in a panic, kept running… or that sometime between those two incidents, I’d come-to to my friend’s sister asking me what I was doing, only to realize I’d fallen while trying to pick up a cigarette and had been on my hands and knees hovering with my nose above the curb for who-knows-how-long…
So I said, “Eat my dick.”
“Clever,” he said, his head just below my knees. He closed his lips over his teeth and clasped his hands in front of him. They were so big, his hands. I swear he could’ve carried me like a kitten all the way home.
“Let’s think about what we’re doing here,” he said.
“You mean lurking about at three in morning looking for lost boys on top of post office boxes?”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“I was talking about you.”
“You said a lot about yourself.”
“You know, it’s a normal response, when we feel forgotten, to want to climb to the top of a mountain and roar.”
“I’m telling you, you’re the only person who forgets me.”
“We’ve met then?”
“In passing,” I said. “You’re the hoopla king. ‘Figure out how to turn sunshine into gold.’ ‘Embrace malleability.’ What bit of crap you looking to impart today?”
“We saying I’m the only wise and handsome man in this city?”
“No. I’m saying I know you. We’ve talked.”
“Tell me something I told you.”
“You quit smoking after your shortness of breath prevented you from being able to pull a woman who’d fallen from her bike out of the street.”
“Ok, alright.” He jutted his chin and smiled. I got him. But that’s what he wanted. Like I said, we’d done this before. It’s what I wanted too.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“I’m done telling you that,” I said. But he still didn’t remember me and I felt terrible watching pain creep in under his eyes and forehead while he tried.
“Then we’ll get back to what we’re doing up there.”
“I’m more interested in you, what you’re doing lurking about at this hour, all dressed up.” He looked like he was on his way to a job interview, which, over the last year of chance interactions, I’d learned he usually was, with the hair and the shirt and the patient hands clasped.
“Seemed a nice night to walk off some thoughts.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Is somewhere down from there?”
“What’s got you boggled?” I asked.
His thoughts passed in a glittering silence behind his face, it was like seeing fireworks go off from across a lake.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” he said.
“Try to follow those with answers if you can.”
“We’ve got a smart mouth, do we?”
“And a big dick.”
“Jesus. You tell that to your mother?”
“Could always get your mother to tell her.”
“Ok. Alright.” he said, and the street light slithered like a snake through his hair as he turned to leave.
“Are you kidding?” At the sight of his back, the post office box felt like a high-rise. “You said mother first.”
He stopped a few steps out and turned around. “You still got yours?”
In two steps, he was back to where he was. “You still got yours?”
“I do,” I said, and wrestled the post office box with the backs of my heels.
“That’s good,” he said. Then his weighty eyes fell to the sidewalk and stayed there like he was watching some past scene play out over the gum stains.
“I’m sorry—” I started.
“Don’t be,” he said, “Trust me, that’s good.” Over his voice was the white noise swoop of cars passing by, their hundred tires rolling slowly through the shallow puddles. “I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”
“Must just be an unmemorable—”
“Shut up,” he said. “Accept the apology. Don’t twist it into a story about you.”
“You lost any family?”
“You’re lucky,” he said, and started to put himself back together. “I see in young people a desire to have been there, a want for hardship so they can wear it around, but you have to trust me, it’s nothing to wish for. It’ll come. Too soon, it’ll come.” With one controlled finger, he set the stray curls around his ear back into the glossy mass of his hair, then re-clasped his hands at his waist. “I can tell you, financially speaking, losing a family member is devastating.”
“What’s the ticket?”
“The funeral, the casket, the gravestone—all together it’s big. Exploitatively big.”
“If anyone else in my family dies over the next ten years my only options would be to collect their remains in a bag in a cardboard box, which is what the government provides, or to go bankrupt.”
At the time, I remember being impressed by the pragmatism of his statements. I’d never really had money yet and so wasn’t familiar with money worries or their chameleon-like ability to stand in for just about anything else we might be going through. But looking back, I really should have asked about his mom. Instead, he asked me about mine:
“How’s the relationship?”
“Let’s try for more than one word if we can.”
“It’s good enough. We talk. I see her when I see her.”
“Don’t undervalue it.”
“A mother’s love.”
“A bit cliché, no?”
“Clichés come from somewhere.”
“Even that’s cliché.”
“You think you’re quick?”
“I prefer the smiles of people who wish they could hate me.”
“You’re being smart, but I’m not kidding. It’ll keep you alive.”
“You know what.”
“I’d feel weird living off a love I didn’t earn.”
“What love is earned?” he said, unclasping his hands again and waving them now, palm up, like a salesman presenting me the spread: all that wet tarmac giddily reflecting the brake-lights of those held up on their way to wherever they were going. “Love is an involuntary response to the miracle of life.”
As soon as he said, miracle, I laughed a laugh that said, I’m too smart to believe in God.
But he didn’t let it cut him down. He just smiled a smile that said, the fact you think you are smart is holding you back.
The truth is, I wished for God and didn’t know nearly enough to prove or disprove his existence.
“Impossibility suit you better? The impossibility of life? You are your mother’s first-hand experience of this impossibility. You won’t know it until you lose it, but the way she looks at you, what she sees, you won’t find that again.”
A car drove by and the street behind him lit up like heaven in the movies.
“Is this going to end with you telling me you love me?” I asked.
“Do I need to?”
“Might get me down from here.”
“You know,” he said.
“And you know if it came to it, I’d choose hell over heaven just to avoid hearing you say, I told you so.”
“But I would miss our talks,” I said to myself, looking down at my hands. They were so much smaller than his, but still, I got the feeling I was carrying him just the same. I wondered how much time, how much distance, we could attribute to one another, our random encounters, but these things are hard to measure.
When I looked up, he seemed pissed, like I’d somehow ended whatever was happening.
“We getting down from there or what?” he said.
“Eat my dick, bud.”
Favorite drink: Bourbon, neat. If its hot out, add ice. Or pair it with a lager. But never mix them. You fucking sicko.
Corey Lof’s short stories have been featured in Broke Magazine, Purple Wall Stories, and Fearsome Critters. He currently resides on Salt Spring Island with one wife and two diabetic cats. When not administering needles, he works as a carpenter, writing on his lunch breaks in his Astro Van.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Coreylofsatwit –though don’t expect to find any witty twits, because he thinks twitter is a giant joke and is embarrassed to have created an account.
image: MM Kaufman