START IN THE MIDDLE. Start anywhere.
Rock gutters line the path on either side. Slate stones lay side by granite, by side of quarts beside a mixture of all others. No time to stop or look.
Pull and pluck each weight. Quickly rip stones out of line: run fingers raw. Turn up the muddy bottoms to face mid-morning sun. After every rainfall, do this. Retrench in memory of properly draining footpaths. Avoid the flood.
Start. Back-step with a shock. Under this one, a grey-brown wolf spider with golf ball-size egg sac, wanders off hurriedly, its silken globe in tow.
Work in sections. Clear the stones from trenches. Mattock (axe and adze) with the trowel-side down: muckscrape lines clear of gunk, and drag dirt all the way to the last rock.
Rake sticks and stones. Empty buckets. Repave maven. This is hard sweaty work. Move on to the next section of trail. Feel soil on skin.
Pause. Wait just long enough for tips to throb red, and hands to hurt. Still on time-out and still on consequence: this punishing retrenching project.
Bend back, back to work. A mattock, with its long wooden handle and stout head, is the preferred tool, used for the easiest of all three retrenching jobs. Take it in hand. Blister. Take it all in stride.
Where’s the group leader?
Work alone. No supervision necessary. Rock pull. Rock-pull. Stuck, no luck, two hands. Pull.
(Hum a thought-melody from Friday dinner, music for airports inside an otherwise empty head. Hear Für-Elise-spoon inside bunkmate’s melmac teacup.)
* * *
WRITE DEAR SISTER. The cold shivers on here. Do you have snow?
Joke: What did the drug addict forget to say to the other drug addict?
Fall, the second season away. School-trouble: come home. No football team, instead, academic probation. ‘No after school activities until…grades improve’. Guidance councillors guide but the blind are still blind.
Enjoy International Relations, Business class, Economics, and Environmental Science—your bird course. Be boring. Study. Row your boat.
Row heart out through mouth. Don’t say a word. Too out of breath? Head up the Charles. Be Boston ready.
Last weekend, Blythe Jacobson offered an upstairs bedroom for green apple vodka shots, brownout, a cab home, the runner, no pay, before passing out, (likely,) maybe none of this…Save this joint (see enclosed).
Deals brought just enough mdma on the autumn cruise the weekend before. God so high! Too high to try and convince Shelly (seasick) to leave the parking lot, at the dock, afterwards.
Cutting up clones later, the house sitter smelled the chronic, or woke up to the noise. Picked the right time to do the wrong thing. Mother away.
Deals high at the downstairs table. Still. Suddenly quiet. Dashed out the back door. Awake until 8 am. No sleep.
* * *
END SELF-HATE for a minute. Contradiction is actually truth. For another minute, before lights out, write a letter home. This place. Describe.
Feel tired from another day’s work project. Say so. Talk about issues and time outs. Talk about school. Send a copy of the essay on Patrick Henry. School again.
Live clean, postflunk. Enjoy the school here. The pieces of daily life coalesce into one thing and more of the same.
Conceal the worst bits. Don’t write about thoughts of drinking, using thoughts, all consuming thoughts. Think harmful thoughts alone. Then turn them off. Try. Just a few lines, hi.
Headlamps go off now. Hang it from the strap on the edge of this metal cot to see the way through morning. Squeaky springs sound each body’s shifting weight. The plastic mattress goes squish-squish underneath. The heat of the day cools slowly, drifting into deep sleep.
Randy boys rustle themselves inside squishy sleeping bags. The rhythmic scratchy rasp-raspberry is probably the reason white fitted sheets get turned in and laundered once a week. Stain stains. Relief noise.
Ignore sounds. The owls hoo. Fresh logs put on the fire in the group meeting tent pop and crackle. The silence of stars beckons a breeze and leaves sound. Swaying trees, sleep.
* * *
MINERAL VARR – double ‘R’ – varr is shorthand for varsol, paint thinning turpentine. Use it everyday at this new summer job.
Ever fired for something stupid?
Lost the old summer job at the law firm because lunch is hard to get through; get high. Can’t steal cab chits off the company. They keep track apparently. A lesson learned the hard way. Stealing’s a fireable offense.
Sell cab shits for liquor and drugs. Charge up the firm’s charge account ferrying friends across town. Move on with no reference. Good riddance!
VARR a name, a graffiti tag, and now, a verb: put two varsol rags on the floor. Skate down the hall on turpentine. Go-go-go. Slip-slide round a corner. Streak back across the linoleum alongside the lockers and laugh.
Woj hears and comes out of a classroom to see. He calls for Matt and laughs. Woj chants ‘varr! varr! varr!’ They both chant. A star is born. VARR is born.
Belly laugh. Double over. Haha haha hahaha!
Isn’t work fun?
* * *
VARR, THE NAME, sticks well-past summer, past the now-peeling paint job, past autumn, flinter and awl, into the start of winter.
Spark a cigarette. Sniff a line off the bedroom desk. Open windows. Let cold in. Go out.
Camera (Bruce who everyone calls ‘Camera’,) is waiting across the street from the townhouse. He lurks, ghoulish white, tall, blonde, some creep.
Rip another line. Flap like a piece of paper. Fold through the window. Jump. Sprain an ankle on the fall down. No bother. No one heard.
Father’s sleep sounds, probably snoring, downstairs, in front of the tv, please pass out again.
Another bottle of wine or a bottle of WIN?
But Father lies awake, too, more and more conscious of midnight noise and sneaking-out sounds these days. Get a move on. Don’t chance it in front of the house.
Trail-blaze through early-season snow. Track two sets of footprints. Sharpie in hand, graffiti is too elegant a name to give to this tagging:
Blackmarker the mailbox – varr; blackmarker a poll – varr; blackmarker the side of the neighbours’ garage – varr; blackmarker a door – varr; blackmarker a car – varr, and blackmarker by the train tracks, varr – varr – varr.
Camera advises to ease off this ‘angry gang tagging’. The tracks are ‘orphan territory and the orphans have dogs. They’ll fuck you up’.
Crunch time. White powder under nose and under foot. Bring back of hand to nostril. Use the little flesh indentation between the thumb and index. Repeat several times until the desired effect is achieved. Energize the hell out of the next ten minutes.
Finish a vile. Leave no trace. Hollow-lob the empty. Crush it underfoot. Glass makes a faint little tinkle sound. Twinkle. Camera begs off. Huck spent Sharpie into the ravine.
The power in powder feels amazing now. varr!!! Charge home. Trudge the way to happy destiny. Move the battered ankle double-step.
Head down the driveway. Walk through the entrance to the underground garage. Be a person-car. Drive in. Tint windows: put hood up for the cctv, not that it matters. This is the quickest (and quietest) way into the complex. Approach Father’s parking space. Put an ear to the backdoor. Stick the key in.
Wait, full-body-stop. tv’s on.
Has he fallen asleep to a middling movie?
Prepare to go in and walk right past him asleep in his chair. And then, a horror, the channel changes.
Key out. Dart behind a wall, but stay underground. Find a dusty lawn chair. Sit. Wait it out.
Open vile no. 2, reserves. Knee down. Other knee, down on dry dirty concrete. Lay out a calling card—little patch of clean plastic amid an inch+ layer of dirty dust. Crush out powder. Pray down prostrate. Snort it. Settle back in chair.
Play pac-man ® on a flip phone. 1 am, try the door again, stop midway. Abort attempts. Hear a commercial—mattress selling, Sleep Country.
How many hours to the hi-score?
2 am. Thousand the thousand for the thousandth time pac-man. Wear off the worn-out ankle from comfortably numb to throbbing, unbearable pain. Pulse in full swing. Mind race.
Try the door once more. All quiet. Key in. No sound. Door open—hold it just so. Fold battered body. Close. Don’t bolt it—too much noise.
Careful steps up carpet quiet stairs. Creep creep. Up to bedroom in this dark pre-morning-or-late-late-night light. Subtle light, a snow glow now, coming through glassblock windows, guide the way.
The fridge buzzes louder than any steps made. Wind upstairs to bed. Hunger pangs, but no matter. Do nothing now. Wind down thoughts. Unwind shoestrings. Take shoes off. Airy ankle pain, remember to hide the sprain in front of Father on the way to school in the morning, and, if possible, steal a cane from the hallstand or hobble.
Tuck in for night-night.
Goodnight Father asleep in his room.
Walk in. Bedroom door ajar, notice with silent horror, windows left open, have been closed. Pull bodypillows out from underneath blankets. Climb in.
* * *
THE GUNSHOT CHANGES ALL. Feel the ring of it.
Sense what’s happened amid ear-hum, downstairs racing upstairs, metallic tones. Those frequencies will never be heard again.
Hole through the door, into the wall, chair over, floor, at swim, and Father yells, racing, ‘what was that?!’
The lamp broke
The worst lie, one thought up quick. The pistol says Czechoslovakia 1975 on the side. Stash under bed.
A moment before, on the computer in sister’s room, playing chess or chatting on msn, playing pistol: eject 9mm rounds from chamber. Fling each through the air. Catch. Reload clip. Repeat.
All of sudden, for no reason, for every reason—Blythe Jacobson stealing mother’s jaguar and jewellery post-party, mother away, pearls gone, liquor bottles left on bed, house overturned, overrun, burglary, police inquiry, windows kicked-in, lockout, ‘your friends’, insurance, consequence—dig an even deeper hole: remove clip. Point cz. Imagine face at door. Pull trigger.
* * *
BAM. Some piece of machinery makes a sound.
Once-dirty laundry tumbles dry. Empty more laundry bags into washers. Empty dryers. Inspect a shirt collar, on the inside, written in Sharpie black, L297.
The group waits for dinner in the ready logs. Some boys sit on the logs and take time now to fold socks and make short work of laundry later. Others are on the basketball court for a few fleeting minutes of play. They’ll have to wash hands in a moment.
Ten minutes to dinner, ten minutes before all boys, tucked and combed, will stand up and head into the lodge. The sun begins to set.
Start a letter home to Joanie. Count time for a few lines. Hi. Tell her about Charlotte under the stone and how big and hairy she was.
The bell rings. Quiet now. Letter away. Rise and get ready.
* * *
OVER LUNCH WITH MARY, Father’s oldest sister, apologize quietly.
Mary was there that night, downstairs and then upstairs. This noisy, trendy restaurant, pizza and Mediterranean food, banging plates, not the best place for humble words, chatter, but keep on.
By the window, in a booth, Mary says, ‘it was terrifying. You went under the bed, got the gun, cocked it, and then pointed it at him’.
‘Oh’ a ‘no’. Poor Father. Listen now to remember this forgotten part of the story:
‘Then, ranting about having apartments and taking drugs…it was like you lived in a movie’.
Live in a movie
Remember all that. Remember the completely delusional, self-obsession, and constant wool-pulling own eyes. Say sorry. Say a real ‘sorry’ now with meaning, with clarity.
Dry cry (quietly, inwardly). Cry—not for help, nor for pity, for harm done, for identification, and for the story—cry this cry. Get re-in-touch with emotion. Feel again.
Live that old way no longer. No light there. Live life anew. Love Mary. Love means embracing anger—the only way to let go. End self-hate. Take a hand outstretched. Strength is sharing; be free in numbers. Contradiction is truth.
Eat gag pizza. (Pizza that usually tastes delicious.) Revolt against self-disgust for a moment. Take a second. The revolving door tracks in a cool breeze. Feel it. Take serviette and wipe face. Place it on lap. Smile over the hard part. Thank God.
Regret not paying for lunch.
Christopher McCarthy is a member of the League of Canadian Poets. His writing has appeared in White Wall, Half A Grapefruit Magazine, Red River Review, Anti-Heroin Chic and others. In 2016, Flat Singles Press published his chapbook, Vancal. He currently lives in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.