The Silents

 

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The mayor and treasurer stood with a hand on her shoulders while she, a district schoolgirl, cut the long blue ribbon that signified the public library’s reopening. They crouched, nearly level with the girl, and laughed before the cameras and the noise.

Twenty days later, Walt went back to work. He was seventy-eight years old and took a job at the library’s circulation desk. He would last nearly a month. He had spent the past year and three weeks as a conscript at the nearby senior living center. The home. He’d been ten years retired.

His first day as an administrative clerk saw him approached by a younger man. The man wore a long tweed overcoat and asked him ‘how to access the file directory’ on the library’s computers.

To Walt, these words felt out of place, or out of order. He apologized to the man before turning to find someone who could help.

‘Hello?’ he called into the guest washroom, standing with a foot in the doorway and another on the tile.

‘Hello?’ someone called back.

‘This is Walt. I’m trying to find someone who can help me with a computer problem.’

He felt a hand graze his shoulder. ‘Mary,’ he said.

‘Walt, step out of the bathroom,’ she said.

Mary was an archivist who doubled as library manager. She was pregnant, and forty years his junior.

He backed out of the entryway and let the leaden door swing back to place. ‘Walter, what’s going on here? Do you need to sit down?’

Her hand did not leave his shoulder while she spoke.

 

That night, the visitor came back. This time to return a pile of books. He wore heavy boots that made him look taller and thinner than Walt remembered. The man stood over the help desk to find Walt perched on a wheeled chair behind it. The man asked if he could return the books and Walt said ‘Of course’.

The man heaved an armful of books onto the desk before thanking him and carrying on. Walt flashed a smile and said ‘Good day.’

He eyed the stack of hardcovers from top to bottom and counted six in total. Carefully, he pulled one from the top with both hands. Giovanni’s Room, read the spine. He placed the remaining five in the black milk crate by his feet.

Opening the book, he skimmed the synopsis from the dust cover. ‘…a drifter who lands upon Paris to rekindle an old, unforgotten flame. Giovanni’s Room explores the contours of identity and self amid place and displacement. It is a cultural landmark for those desolate souls who yearn…’

He flipped to the back. There were blank pages at the end of the book. He paused to question what utility there was in blankness at a story’s end.

Walt tore the final page lengthwise, from edge to pale edge. This produced a ripping sound and a sheet of yellowy, frayed paper. He laid it flat on the desk and began to write. He wrote steadily until some time had passed and the page was heavy with sunken ink.

 

I wish I could decide what words do and do not get spoken. What stories do and do not get told. But you already have. And you have left me powerless and weak and I am now old. Now that’s a bite, eh? I’m much too old to be this lost, without a second pair of waiting hands to clench. For this I have nobody to blame but you.

 

He signed the letter under a false name and slipped it underneath the inside dustcover. He scanned the space above his shoulders for cameras or watchful eyes. Finding none, he returned to his work.

At eight o’clock, he punched out and walked through the glassy atrium and into the snares of early spring in northern Ontario. He listened to the rock salt crunch under his shoes as he stepped heel-first in the cold.

He pulled himself, piece by piece, into his four-door pickup. Its green paint bubbled around the wheel wells, evidence of coming rust. It growled to a start.

A few minutes passed while he sat there in the driver’s seat, letting the car warm and the frost thaw from the windshield. The wipers streaked runny condensation across the glass. There were dewy blues and greens marbling the sightline, resembling cheap watercolour paints or gasoline.

He sat on a couch cushion that laid on top his seat. He craned his neck over the steering wheel. He pulled out of the parking space, sputtering onto the open asphalt. He crawled onto the boulevard, cautious in the dark.

On the road there was a dusting of snow. His tires tread through it, tracking parallel arrows in the white.

The sound of music forced its way into the vehicle. Its sound was digital and foreign and blunted and it made the five-seater cabin feel crowded. The tune died out before he realized it was his cell phone causing all the noise.

He fished his jacket pockets for the oval shell he called his telephone.

Only once the phone was in his hand did he register that the car was still in motion, gliding in silence toward opposite lanes. He cranked the wheel the way alarm clocks are set; how the needle whirls round.

Walt, already in the throes of panic, heard his phone sound off again. He slowly rolled onto the roadside. He pried his phone open using both hands.

‘Hello?’

It was Laura, the warden from the home.

‘Laura, can you give me a hand?’

Laura sent a housekeeper, Ryan, out to search for him who found Walt’s truck slumped halfway on the curb. Halfway from the home. Walt kept quiet as he shuffled into the passenger seat, freeing the space behind the wheel for the younger man.

‘How’re you doing there, Walt.’

Two thumbs up.

He drove Walt’s truck the remaining couple blocks. Walt made sure to mention that the clutch was going, and that the wheel was getting stiff, and that he ought to grip it tight.

 

Laura called him a cab to work in the morning. Wanting a new start, he wore a blue bengaline vest and a navy bow tie. Ryan, the housekeeper, slid Walt’s socks up papery shins. He laced Walt’s shoes. He had a cheerful domesticity to his way of moving about the world which Walt admired greatly.

At work guests were slow coming, so Walt’s day began with cleaning the bookshelves by row. He started with FICTION AA-AS. The AARONs, the ABBETTs, the ARTHURs. Each he hovered above their resting place, making way for his damp cloth to wipe the cherry wood beneath. His knees wobbled, hips clicked, whenever he bent down to reach the bottom ledge.

Walt made it to CA-CR before he noticed him. Before he stopped, quietly, to watch from his squinted eye, arched brow. The younger man, the one who asked about the computers, stood at the opposite end of the shelf, browsing through titles whose authors names were CHANDLER and CHEEVER and CHILD and CLINE. The man stood with his hind leg slack in tow, his chin cocked in study, as if trying to unlock the secrets of each text from the clues on its spine alone.

The nameless man drew from the shelf a white paperback. He returned it before heading off for someplace else.

Walt coolly eyed the shelves where the man had stood. He scanned for the white book and found it. Opium by Jean Cocteau. Its weight felt cold in his hands. He dropped it in his inside vest pocket and walked back to the circulation desk.

He sat down in the desk chair and threw away his cloth now as dry as bones. He laid the book on his lap and turned to the back. He found no empty pages, though there were many with illustrations only. He tore one out and scrawled on the reverse side.

 

 

Where have you left me? I’ve missed you for so long since you said you were going. I thought you meant home. You left me here to starve, didn’t you? To waste and rot until I am no more. We must keep quiet about such things because they cannot be spoken about. After all the admiration I had for you I cannot imagine it. Because it is carnal evil. Evil in its most suiting flesh. You can do better by me. You can come back to me. while I still have remains for you to find and a soul for you to salvage. While I still have evidence of my existing before it

 

 

The sound and tremor of rapping knuckles lifted Walt’s head from the page. He crumpled the unfinished letter in his hand. A woman stood at the far side of the desk that he had forgotten he was tasked with manning. She asked where to find the books on cassette, and then went on her way and that was the last Walt saw of her.

Once alone, Walt reopened Opium to the middle. He unfurled his letter and flattened it between two pages before closing the book. He then placed it in the milk crate between his feet with some ten or twenty other books waiting to be reshelved.

As the days passed the library started picking up. Each day saw more visitors than the day before, so Emily took over desk duties while Walt kept to cleaning. This tired him, so often he would ask to sit by the entrance to hand out pamphlets and talk weather or politics with anyone walking slow enough.

This new position soon became permanent and with it came the regret of no longer being able to enjoy much time alone. His bathroom breaks became longer and more frequent. Mary’s bathroom breaks were also long and more frequent, so he started synchronizing his with hers. It then became apparent that she was further along than he thought.

It was in a bathroom stall, on his fifth day of work, where he wrote his third letter on the back of a pamphlet.

 

 

Me again. I’ll cut the crap. You think our friendship was disposable? And to go and blab around about that? Thats close, buddy. Right on, you. You can be such a sewer. And I’m on to it, on to you, always have.  If you want to fade on out go ahead, but know I always remember these things. They stick forever, unlike    forget it

 

 

There was little room left on the sheet, so he stopped without finishing. He folded the letter and put it inside a video gaming magazine he found on top of the photocopier. He returned it to the rack where the other issues were displayed.

 

By the second week, most his time was spent passing out handbills informing guests of the week’s programming. He kept a wheeled cart next to his chair for guests to leave their returned books. He would flip through them on the quiet days. And on those very rare days, when guests would trickle in like water from worn taps, he would stray from the page and stare through the sliding entrance doors, looking for the world and wondering what it remembered of him.

On busy days he printed handbills. There were stop-limits on the number of copies that could be made at one time, so supply often ran low. Mary taught him how to create a print order on the library’s copier. He liked the machine. He found computers to defy common sense, but the copier was beige, familiar, and bowed to his touch.

By his tenth day of work, the small talk about weather and politics had begun to wane and Walt, to his surprise, took this harshly.

That day, the tweed coat man walked through the entrance doors. Walt unclenched his shoulders and extended a handbill while he composed his opening line of conversation.

‘Some weather.’

The man gave a nod and a swift exhalation that stood in, Walt supposed, for laughter. He pulled a small paperback from his coat pocket and placed it on the wheeled cart beside Walt’s chair. The man refused the handbill and continued on his way, while Walt, with every further step, felt of no particular use to anyone.

 

Walt’s fourth, fifth, and sixth letters were penned on notepad tear-offs brought in from the home. One morning, Ryan gave him a stack so newly peeled that the glue was still drying on their backs. Walt was grateful for Ryan, he felt proud of him for performing so well at his job.

 

The fourth letter was written in the morning’s cab.

 

 

Come back. At the least you must tell me where you have gone. First I didn’t bother asking or making how I felt so apparent but I am a more cynical man now as time runs thin. I am so deeply torn by the possibility of you never coming back or telling me where else to go, such has been my reliance upon you.

 

 

The fifth letter was written in the guest bathroom.

 

 

I want you now to be here. Without our babys. In the dark, maybe at the old ravine. Its so bright where I am these days. You would hate it. And I would crave you as I do. Your muscled arms. Those ticklish hairs on your neck, though we never touched did we. Isn’t it such a pitiful thing? That we never touched. That you never came home to find me waiting as if to say ‘what kept you’

 

 

The sixth letter was written in the evening cab, made possible only by the passing flicker of streetlights.

 

 

It’ s been all day u can com e home nuw its getting too late t dont keep me like this u know things are diferent now, we went our opposite ways but these things dont last do they. Funny how I drive down    this road    now but it is   the same   one we once  did yet darker
   too dam dark

 

 

All three of the day’s letters found homes inside the dust jackets of children’s novels whose authors’ names began with R. He took care the next day to make sure they returned to their proper shelves.

It was then that Mary started checking on Walt. First at noon that day, and then twice again before close. She brushed his arm at the photocopier, chatted with him in the coffee room, and put her hand on his back at the water fountain. She said hello and attempted conversation.

‘Is there anything I can help you with, Walter?’

These new affairs were not of much interest to him. He had the sense that she was equally disinterested, and his intuitions were difficult to shake.

 

 

I don’t know what you’ve done exactly but you have taken me some where I will never come back from. This has been the sum of your effects on me.
Will you tell Lenore about us, will you finally do that? Is that too much for me to ask, for you to be unashamed?
Forget it. You have no business crawling back to me. These are how things have gone: They locked me away and now everything I once had has gone dry, dry dry; and so I stay low and wait for you to pass by because, knowing you, you will. You know I’ve been too strong for you to let me down now.

 

 

In the weeks that came, Mary shadowed Walt more attentively. He no longer sat by the entrance, instead she moved him into the main lobby. Into a more open space to carry on under her watch.

It became rare that she would ask Walt if he needed help. She grew into the role of Supervisor in the sense of the word that Walt once understood when he was a younger man. And Walt, to her surprise, appeared no less content.

 

 

Why was I so naive to think that I’d let this all slide?
Remember in the nursery, when you pushed me onto ice? How you laughed? I always thought that meant a little something more to you, like you were crying out for me to join you and take pleasure in the kind of boyish kicks we got back then.
You may be glad to know you’ve pushed me back again, back onto that unforgiving sheet of ice where I cannot find my feet

 

 

From then on, letters were written in the cover of the evening. He wrote under bed sheets. He wrote with his bowing body supported by pillows against headboard; greeted only by the outer noise of wheeled carts and walkers over carpets freshly steamed.

Work was picking up, and Walt became increasingly tired and slow-moving at home. He rang Ryan for increasingly menial tasks. Often to heat his tea, sometimes just to talk. He felt himself retreating, a feeling that soon became immovable, fixed in place.

 

 

Let me start over. I know I haven’t been very civil about any of this. I can get so emotional you know. Always such an actor. but don’t worry about me, no, I’ve come to terms with you not coming back. I just hope that wherever you are you’re happy with yourself and that you know I’m in a better place too. like today, today was fantastic. I gave up and ran. that’s right, john, I ran to our spot under the overpass. nobody to told me I couldn’t. because no one was there. And I screamed. and there was no one to hold me back or tell me not to. because I’m a free man, john. I have everything I’ve ever wanted here.  nothing keeping me from being happy like I always thought I’d be. sometimes I just wish you’d believed that it were possible. You know? well anyway I hope you take this all well. I know it can be hard to hear that others are thriving without you. but believe me, john, I’m thriving. this is the best I’ve ever felt. i’ve left, and like you I’m on the move. Moving on to bigger things. this is a new beginning, john, believe you me. although I wish the very best for you, I hope I never see you again. You will never be what I had hoped. I remember you from the old days, and I’ll keep that with me. so don’t come finding me because I have you already, and it is more perfect than you can imagine or you could ever be

 

 

 

On Walt’s last day of work, Mary asked him to take out a trash bag. She told him that it needed to go to the dumpster out back across the lot.

Tasks such as these were normally reserved for the part-timers, though she and Walt were the only staff on lobby duty. Mary was fast approaching forty weeks of pregnancy. She was told not to move much, and to carry nothing, by doctor’s order.

She told Walt that if he could not do it that he shouldn’t bother. That somebody else would be in the next morning. She remained compliant with workplace safety regulations and read him implicit rights.

Walt agreed.

‘No sweat.’

Two thumbs up.

 

He found the bag slumped against the emergency exit doors. They were unlocked and windowless and airbrushed with symbols of little white men running someplace safe.

Walt propped open the doors. He gripped the bag’s plastic tie with both hands and pulled. Though it moved, it was hopelessly heavy.

The bag, lumpy and misshapen, slid out the door and onto the salted asphalt. Walt dragged it inch by fighting inch over the rocky pavement. He did this for some time, letting the bag follow his steps as he lumbered on.

He was halfway across the lot before he noticed the bag lighten. With his next and final step he felt it lighten more. He turned to find the bag had torn and its contents had spilled onto the cool, wet tarmac, leaving a small trail leading to where he stood.

They were books, most of them. Some magazines. Twenty in all.

They were familiar to Walt, because each of them had at one time housed his letters. Each one of them.

Walt glanced down by his feet where a book lay on the ground, its white cover dampened. Turning it over, he found no letter inside. He picked up another and again found nothing. And another.

There were no letters in any. They had been removed.

He tried to put them back into the torn bag. He tried to carry them in his hands, in his arms.

Hello?

He called silently to anyone.

He wept, he howled.

 

The Silents

nothing derivative

nothing derivative pdf version

Logan fished the phone from his pocket and flicked on the screen. He unlocked it with a swipe of his index finger, leaving a smear of salt and oil.

He opened his inbox and narrowed his eyes, judiciously, at the top unread message, sent at 10:02.

They had, they thought, very little time.

They scurried ahead. Three men donning stained unicolor tee-shirts, raw denim, and worn-in rigger boots. Their hair slipshod, either crewcut or curtained. They strode apace, possessed of some rhythm guilty men keep.

Jack, among them, checked the time without pause and thought soberly to himself that these fleeting moments could be a former life’s. Each of which would be accessed through recall at some later time and place. To be picked like photographs hanging in a darkroom wet with pre-processed film.

For one such moment he recalled how his maw, at family get-togethers and birthday parties, would tease him about how the dimples on his cheeks flared his ears out when he smiled. Jack was beaming today, helpless in the fight against it. This was a time of grand renewal, or so hinted something visceral.

Logan kept abreast of Jack as they stutter-stopped up to a crosswalk. Heavy westbound traffic had sealed off their route for what he safely assumed would be the next twenty or thirty seconds. His feet tapped and tapped the curb until a couple car lengths of room opened in both directions when, in unison, they bolted off again, weaving around a braking minivan as they darted across the intersection and up Front Avenue. Logan’s arms swung by his side, brushing against his round and youthless waistline. With each lungful of air his breathing labored more.

Logan married in June. He remembered shaving his hair under duress. He remembered being fitted for his tux, where he and Riley, a groomsman, waited on their phones outside the changing booth while the tailor lowered boxes wrapped in filmy polyester tape off shelving units and searched, box by box, for something that wasn’t there. Finding nothing, the tailor ordered in a pair of wool wide-leg dress pants with a forty-three-inch waist and threw in a complimentary outseam hem for the trouble. Today Logan wore a thirty-eight and a grin more gloating than smug.

Jack, the tallest of the three, craned his neck to see above the crowds of pencil-skirted bankers and put-together hedge funders brandishing briefcases, clip ties, hands-free earpieces. An out-of-towner stood languid in his periphery, levelling a camera to her squinting eye; a viewfinder pressed to the brow, a grin busy at the mouth. Tourists, and the dying of the lunch rush.

Overhead, he made out the liquid crystal displays and the peeling billboards and the sun-dimmed neon signage and the frenetic commuter hordes of Providence Line Terminal no more than a block north. Jack ran, patting his pockets: phone, wallet, tickets, phone, wallet, tickets. He gathered speed, rushing headlong.

Riley lagged a couple sidewalk slabs behind, having been arrested a moment at a time by the occasional passerby. “Jack—” he cried out. “Jack, buddy, slow it down.” Moving forward still, Jack spun to face his summoner and returned a glare that brought Riley back to the wedding.

 

“Lo, get your ass over here. You think you can slip away that easy?”

“Riley, my man, what’s the hurry for, huh, we got all night don’t we.”

“Sit that ass down. Right here. There you go, now get this in you.”

They drank.

“Eh, isn’t it a sin to be pounding like this at the church?”

“Jack—hey Jack, we’re Christians, aren’t we?”

Jack joined them at the bar, crashing on the stool between them.

“We’re no Christians tonight. Isn’t that right, Lo?”

Logan let out a smile, appeasing Jack.

Logan’s elbow propped his bodyweight against the rickety countertop, his right hand cradling his chin, his head bobbling on his thinning, sweating neck. A haze corrupted his vision. He felt the weight of Jack’s arm wrap around his shoulders, corralling him tighter into earshot.

“What do you say boys, we got an hour ‘til last call. What do you say we make another run at the dancefloor, huh?”

A couple mute seconds prompted further egging from Jack.

“Ry, remind this boy why we’re here. You only get married once, don’t you? Getting effed up is a goddamn rite of passage, is it not?”

Riley met eyes with Jack, signaling his joining in.

“Maybe the kid just needs another one of them bathroom breaks,” Riley said, sliding an index finger under his nose.

“Hey, hey we’re not about that tonight, we’re not bringing out the big guns with Hailey present. You know she can sniff it out like gasoline at a tire yard. You know what buddy, enough talk, let’s go. How about we find that bride of yours eh, that’ll put some life back in them bones.” Jack pulled Logan off the stool, grabbing him around his waist before transferring the sweat from his palm onto his dress pants. Pocket check: phone, ___, ___, phone, ___, ___.

Surprised to see no resistance, Jack started toward the bandstand with Riley and the groom in tow. The banquet pavilion was covered by a tall, oversized gazebo whose creamy white tarpaulin covered the glittering night sky.

They unfastened and pulled aside the mesh door, exiting the main hall and stumbling out onto the cobble walkway lit overhead by hanging ornamental lanterns, pumpkin in shape and coloured like beer.

They stopped to share one of Riley’s cigarettes and to laugh about the circumstance. The chapel grounds they walked played host to their baptism thirty years prior. “Circle of life,” Riley said.

“Circle of wife,” Logan threw back. They laughed, though unsure.

Having sucked it down to the filter, Jack threw the butt in the garden and hopped up the wooden steps and onto the bandstand. It rang with song and dance. A crowd of some twenty friends and family members cheered as the emcee, Riley’s brother-in-law, cut the music and announced their arrival.

Logan didn’t acknowledge the fanfare. He made his way across the floor toward his bride—Aiden—whose beauty appeared to him like something of fantasy, a beauty demanding his touch to make sure, to be finally convinced, of its materiality. He coiled his arms around her and pressed his forehead into hers, slurring words she could not make out.

“Group shot! Everybody, group shot!” Jack proffered. He held his phone in front of his face.

Riley was the last to gather in the huddle behind Jack. A groomsman in the front said something to get a quick laugh out of the group, and Jack tapped the shutter button on his phone’s front facing camera three or four times until Riley cut him off—

“Wait, Lo’s got to be in the shot.” He turned and called for Logan, who stood alone with his wife—wife, he thought—whose head was still nestled against his own. He was mouthing words to her, a mute spectacle.

They waited while seconds passed in twos. Then threes.

Desperate to break the tension, Jack aimed his phone at them, pulled his face back from the screen, put on a stupid smile, and snapped a picture of the newlyweds’ embrace. “This is real touching and all, but how about you get in one last shot for the night. You know, as a group. Something for Instagram, eh?” Jack waited, his plea made void by the quiet that returned.

A bridesmaid called out to Aiden, struck equally by the confusion and the splendor of the scene.

Logan and Aiden, ignorant to their audience, carried on their exchange which although still intimate could now be heard, faintly, by those closest to them. A string of white lights draped behind the lovers, which cast a soft spotlight on their embrace. It all seemed so heavenly, so peculiar.

The selfie huddle dispersed into a loose mob of onlookers, beginning to encircle them, patiently watching over the scene. The flicker of flash photography illuminated them more. They stood like a perfect silhouette unbridled in their union; that of passions’ unification, that of those specific immaterial substances and not some other things. Nothing derivative.

Riley shot Jack a squint signifying disbelief. He sloshed his beer around the rim of his glass, allowing it to circle once or twice, while keeping his gaze fixed on the performance before him. He waited for the end-scene, for the actors to break their hold on fantasy and return to life as it permanently is. With sound, colour, processing.

Aiden broke from Logan. Words were exchanged moments prior. The groom and bride stood apart trading barren stares between them. Inexplicable tears welled at the foot of her eyes. She turned her cheek before racing down the creaky steps and onto the cobble, then the grass, before kicking off her heels and carrying herself away into the cool dark of June and a life, in some distant future, still to be lived and still to be corrected.

 

Riley, Jack, and Logan were waiting under the awning of South Providence Terminal. The next bus on the northbound 2 Line was scheduled to depart in twenty minutes, at one-thirty. Seconds turned to minutes like hours turn to weeks. Logan was breathing heavily, perched on a plastic-coated bench outside the ticket office, between a ‘No standing’ signpost and an empty newspaper vending machine, its fern green paint fading like worn clothes. Riley stood beside it. Jack was pacing relentlessly along the curb, his eyes scouring the horizon.

“We got time boys, don’t worry, we got time,” Jack said, “they said two o’clock, right? As early as two.” He laughed to himself. “Boys, we’re good. We are so, so good.”

Logan, adjoined to his phone, had no response. He was tapping madly at the touchscreen, hoping to wake Aiden from her post-nightshift slumber; to finally find an answer.

 

Forty minutes prior they were eating lunch out of brown take-out bags.

Riley wiped the dripping grease off his fingertips and onto his spotted jeans. “You got any more ketchups in that thing, Jack?” He nodded at Jack’s bag.

“These are mine, Ry. It isn’t the fifteenth yet buddy, you can’t just be giving them out like that. I mean, I know you’re accustomed to that and all, but they’re a hot commodity, these things,” Jack said.

“What do you mean—you’re low on them? I ordered extra ketchups, I said extra. Didn’t I say that Lo?”

“What’s that?” Logan asked, aloof.

“Check the order; I think they swindled us on the ketchups, man.”

“Yeah, huh,” said Logan.

“No—no, actually, check, I made a point to say that, didn’t I, to ask for extra. This’ll be the last time I use that goddamn app, I swear to God.”

Reluctant, Logan fished the phone from his pocket and flicked on the screen.

He unlocked it with a swipe of his index finger, leaving a smear of salt and oil. For a moment he forgot why he had opened it. Meandering through his dashboard, he found two notifications. He opened his inbox and narrowed his eyes, judiciously, at the top unread message, sent at 10:02 from Grand Gala Casinos and Gaming Ltd.

 

Subject line: Congratulations, Logan Monahan, You’re a Grand Prize Winner!

 

Jack, now finished his meal, reached in the bag and grabbed a handful of ketchup packets and threw them on Riley’s lap. “You want ketchups bud, there you go.”

“I knew you had them in there. Son of a bitch.”

Jack ran his hands through his hair, slicking each part to its side. “Buddy, you’re the loudest guy. Just take your—”

“Wait, wait, stop,” Logan interjected. He shoved his phone in front of Riley. “Tell me this is isn’t a scam.” Riley studied it closely.

“What the hell is this, Lo? What’s this about a ‘minority share’?”

“I don’t know. It had to be Aiden. It has to be. You know she’s always on the computer, she’s always on that thing, on her iPad and whatnot, she’s always entering these contests on the internet you know, that’s what she does.”

“And she entered in your name?”

“No, no, she entered in ours. Look, look at the last line, it says ‘Agostino, Grant, and Monahan Industrial Painters’. She obviously put the company down for the contest. It’s one of those corporate sweepstakes—she couldn’t just put herself down.”

“Wait, she entered a contest for AGM Painters, did she?” asked Jack. He snatched the phone from Logan’s hand and read the message on the screen.

“Yeah, I’ve seen those online scams before and this doesn’t look it. Look at the address it’s from.” He pointed to the bottom of the text, carefully sounding out each syllable:

 

fulfillment@grandgala.com

 

“That’s legit, boys, that’s got to be legit.”

“I thought so too,” said Logan, looking to Riley for countenance. Riley bobbed his head in agreement.

“And, what, a share in the company? That’s what we won?” Jack asked.

“Ten percent. Or five and a cash prize,” said Logan. “We got to get over to their head offices though, and, like, soon. The consultation is at two this afternoon and it’s ten to one already. Oh my god. Oh my god, I can’t believe this.”

“I’ll call up Don and cancel our two-thirty. We have to make this, we got to get moving, we have to cash in on this,” Riley said.

“I got bus fare boys, yeah yeah, I got tickets, let’s go, let’s go,” Jack spat out. “I don’t think we got a lot of time.”

They left their bags on the grass and ran.

 

1:34. Riley, Jack, Logan—all three standing, waiting.

Jack was quiet now, glancing down at Logan’s feet. He cleared his throat.

“I have to ask. Do you think this’ll cover the cost of the operations, then, Lo? I mean, at least some of it, huh?” Riley probed.

“I don’t know,” said Logan.

“It would,” he thought. “Maybe”, he said.

The truth of the situation began to entrench itself in Logan’s mind and he could not fight it or move himself to resist. He wanted a legacy, he wanted something to leave behind. The thought of his being able to provide that carried with it a visceral sense of something too great; too great but to reduce him to tears yet too vain to expose them.

While Riley and Jack were attuned to the road, waiting for the Line 2 bus to round the corner, Logan made sure not to look up from the sidewalk, being too ashamed to confront himself.

“This could be it, this could be it, this could be it.” His head rang so.

Jack swung his arm around Logan. Some offering, some consolation.

“Wait a second, buddy, wait a sec,” said Jack. “This is what you need. This’ll get you on track. We’ll all be okay.”

Riley looked away, opting not to bear it. He could not hear the words exchanged between them. He kept his attention fixed, pretending to search for the bus.

Moments later, a bus screeched onto the transit bay. It was heading in the direction of South Terminal. It sputtered toward them.

“I think this is it, guys—come on,” said Riley. Still with his arm embraced, Jack looked up toward the street. Logan didn’t move.

The bus pulled close to the curb, blowing some fallen leaves onto the waiting deck. It screeched forward, and forward still. Still forward.

They were almost convinced it was going to ride past them, destined for somewhere else, until it rocked to a halt a few metres further. The driver pulled the parking brake as the bus sunk down to loading height.

The commuters, tourists—all those around them—gathered their things and prepared to board.

They resumed waiting, as the doors had not yet opened.

Logan lifted his chin, facing the terminal before him. He stepped forward, squinting at the sunlight while Jack remained in place. The sunshine cast his negative image onto the bus in front of him.

His eyelids slack below his brow; his eyes dilute, waiting. Waiting for something that would never come. Some process. Something that couldn’t be.

 

 

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everyday Pity

He had been married eleven weeks and kept keenly aware of the Greater Good and the Bigger Picture. These were the linchpins of his 20-week Life Plan 20/20 Workbook he had followed near-verbatim since the fall. He had insisted on taking his marriage seriously, and this constituted the first of what he thought would be many serious postnuptial decisions.

His deep-down predilections were that of a boy’s, however, and his curiosity for the more illicit side of temptation ended up toying with lesser motivations.

On that eleventh week, he decided to stow away his half-smoked pack of cigarettes under his box spring before driving to the hardware store. It was there, in the parking lot, where he subdued his lungs with the smoke and sediment of what he decided would be his very last non-emergency cig.

He had kicked around the idea of the sacrament for twenty, maybe thirty seconds while tying his boots, in his coat room, minutes earlier. He enjoyed the cigarette and, feeling satisfied with the ritual, ashed the remains atop the potted plant, frozen, on display outside the automatic doors.

Tapping the slush from his boots, he wove through the columns of clearance shelves and display pyramids that lined the entrance, only stopping once to check the expiration date of the deceptively priced Value brand Small Dog: Complete Nutrition Dog Food formula which boasted a product code linked to a printable coupon that, to his limited knowledge, was uncalled for given its reduction to a seven kilo zipper bag.

Seeing as there was, in fact, no posted expiration date, he carried on toward the back where they housed the electronic equipment.

He realized he was still carrying the bag of dog food. Embarrassed, he put it down deviously among the swimming pool chemicals. For a moment, his cunning redeemed him.

He turned back around to grab a cart, then thought better of it. He didn’t need one, he thought.

At the rear of the store, he found a cabinet wedged between two tables. Each table held transparent gallon jugs with a generic white label spelling out its viscous fillings and its expiration.

VEGETABLE GLYCERIN USP 99.7% VEGAN AND KOSHER FRIENDLY BB 2019 MA 13.

The wall unit had pristine glass doors whose sheen was telling of the contents’ newness. The doors were padlocked, and an emboldened sign above the handles pictured a smiling sales rep.

A visibly pubescent sales rep came over and unlocked it after checking his ID. He helped him pick out a marked down Taiwanese device and a doubly more expensive kit of required ancillaries: e-juices, replacement coils, a sub-ohm tank, a regular tank intended for what was described to him as “throat hits”, and two jugs of vegetable glycerin.

He went back for the shopping cart. He used the self-service checkout and left.

A smoker was idling outside. The cherry burning between her middle and forefinger dour like a candlelight vigil for his ashed companion.

The pavement was freshly salted on Monday morning but its smell lingered even in the car, even in the driveway. It was there that he thought maybe it wasn’t the salt.

Lugging his things inside, he sat down on top the hood of his deep freezer. He kept it in the hallway because living space was sparse and its installation made for shorter grocery trips as the kitchen was still a-ways down the hall and carrying grocery bags becomes an odious experience when performed as drunk as he often liked to be when he bought groceries.

Even when he wasn’t drunk he found it made for a seat preferable even to the leather furniture his roommate’s parents had bought for the living room. He enjoyed the humming sound that it made, and how it would rattle against his hanging feet.

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everyday Pity