Brownie and I were looking for a place to fuck. First, we tried the ground. But the ground was soaking from the rain and I didn’t want mud on my skirt—a brand new tulip skirt with chiffon overlay. So we tried the tool shed, but every time we drew near it, the floodlight snapped on. A blue mist rose from the lawns. The leaves were fat and wet. We tried against the side of a house, but the brick rubbed like sandpaper. So we tried other places: the picnic table, the poolside. That’s how we found the porch. The planks of which were wet, but not soggy, and pleasant to lie down on.
Brownie smiled. He was all fucked up on Vodka Blasters and E. When he smiled he looked like a skull. He looked happy and hopeless.
I was all fucked up solely on E.
From the porch you could hear the music from Magda’s party. We were seven backyards away. The bass thud floated over fences and gardens and bird baths and lawn chairs. Some girl was squealing. She sounded like an eagle. I was glad to be here and not there. Whoever lived here wasn’t here. It was peaceful and still. I hated Magda. Magda was a little twat, and I’m glad about what happened to her.
Brownie was pulling up my tulip skirt with the chiffon overlay. His head was skinny and shaved. He was anxious to get me undressed.
“Fuck off,” I said. “Be careful.”
“I have to return this tomorrow. They won’t take it back if there’s rips.”
He was kissing my neck and then kissing my mouth. His lips were sticky from the Vodka Blasters, and his breath was even hotter than the air, which was as hot as a...whatever. An oven.
“So, are you on the pill again? ” he said.
“Do you think I’m stupid? ” I said. But I didn’t answer the question. I wasn’t on the pill again. I’d forgotten to take it, twelve days running.
The world smelled like flowers and rain. The world smelled like bark and mud and grass. The world smelled like pine trees and maple leaves and soaking-wet sleeping bags. The world was exhaling and I had my whole life ahead of me, unformed and wavering. And who could guess what was going to happen?
“I just got an idea,” Brownie said.
“Uh-oh.” When Brownie got an idea it was usually good news for him and bad news for me.
“Don’t say ‘uh-oh.’ This is a great idea. This is the best idea I’ve ever had.”
“What is it? ”
“Let’s break into the house.”
“What’s wrong with doing it here? ” I said. I raised myself up on my elbows. At my feet was the dark shape of a flowerpot. Dark shapes of flowers were spilling out. Dark shapes of things were scattered everywhere. This is how it felt to be alive.
“Just listen. It’ll be an adventure.”
“How will it be an adventure? ”
“You’ll remember it forever. When you’re forty. You’ll look back and you’ll think about me. You’ll always remember the time you got your brains screwed out in a strange house.”
“No way,” I said. “What if we get arrested? I don’t want to got to jail on prom night.” But Brownie didn’t listen. Brownie was on his feet stuffing himself back into his tuxedo trousers.
“Let’s see now,” he said.
He was looking up at the windows, which were all darkened and desolate. It was an old house, like all of these houses, filled with unhappy rich people like Magda.
“Let’s see now,” he said, picking up a garden claw. “Let’s just see now.”
“Before you break a window,” I said, “why not try the sliding door? ”
“Because that’s stupid,” he said. He took the garden claw and chose a window—small and shoulder height, just beside the door—and broke the glass. There was a loud crack and a showering of glass like falling diamonds. Brownie pulled away, looking smug.
“I hope no one heard that.”
“No one heard that,” he said.
I got up and smoothed my skirt. I looked around, but everything stayed quiet and no lights came on. As an experiment, I tried the door, which slid open on its rails.
“You go in that way, I’ll go in this way,” I said.
“I got a better idea,” he said. “Blow me.”
We stepped inside. The air conditioning dried the slime in the crooks of my elbows and made my panties go clammy cold.
Because, what did I know back then? I was a different person; I was someone else. No way I could have seen all the things that were going to happen. Like the time Magda, the little twat, fell off the bridge. This was a year, a year and a half later. She was all fucked up on acid and E. A bunch of people were walking home from the Vortex. Friends I liked and friends I hated. I wasn’t there. Brownie was there. I hated him by then. A train came along—a late-night freight train that made a sound like metallic death. It came along and caught them on the bridge and off they jumped, panicking, into the river. The river was full of shit. The river was full of beer from the beer plant, and poisonous ooze from some factory that turned to dust a hundred years ago. The river was slow death, but the train was instant. Everyone jumped into the river and swam to shore.
Unfortunately, Brownie swam to shore and lived. Fortunately, Magda fell on the concrete slab that held up the bridge and died from a fractured something. Lights out for Magda, who was a twat anyway. Lights out.
One minute you’re alive—even if you’re falling, mid-air, you’re still alive, full of sensations—and then you hit and you’re no longer alive. No longer seeing things, or laughing, or doubled-up in pain. You’re floating, you’re dreaming, you’re safe from harm. I’m guessing.
Magda said all kinds of things about me in Grade 10, but none of them were true. The point of which is, whatever.
The first thing we did inside the house was look for the booze. When we found it we went looking for the bedroom.
Everything was dark, except for lights here and there that were meant to scare off intruders like Brownie and me. We weren’t scared, though. We were too young for that. I had a bottle of peach schnapps. Brownie had a bottle of something or other.
The bedroom was on the second floor—one of many bedrooms. Inside, what did we find but a bed. It was so big and so soft that when I sat down I thought it would swallow me whole.
I fired up a king-size ultra-light menthol and took a haul from my bottle of schnapps. Brownie was at the dresser—a huge old dresser that was covered in glass bottles. He was rifling through the drawers.
“Can I have one of those? ” he said when he spied my smoke.
“What do you say? ”
“Only if you eat me out.”
“Deal. I was going to do that anyway.”
“Then you can have one.” I placed a smoke between my big toe and my second-biggest toe and reached out my leg to him.
We didn’t dare turn on a lamp, so Brownie worked off the light in the hall, which cut a yellow slice across the carpet. He pulled out balls of socks and neatly folded bras and dumped them on the floor.
“What are you looking for,” I said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Money. Drugs.”
“Why would there be drugs in their socks? ”
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you sit down beside me,” I said. I patted the soft, sinky mattress.
“Just a sec,” he said. He pulled something from the drawer—a card or a hunk of paper, something along those lines. He held it up to his face, squinting.
“I think we’re on to something here,” he said. He walked out into the hall so he could see better, and then I heard him crack up.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes. We’re definitely on to something.”
I came up beside him and looked at what he was holding. It was a picture. A photo of a man in this very bedroom: a middle-aged man wearing a lacey black bra and matching panties. He was portly and he wore a long blond wig. He struck a sexy pose, like he was an underwear model.
“Wow,” I said.
“Wow is right.”
We both said “wow” because we were surprised and shocked. It wasn’t something we’d expected to find. We both said “wow” because, it was true, the world was full of wondrous things.
It was only three months later that Brownie stopped taking my phone calls. I stood at the pay phone in the Mac’s convenience and screamed and cried till my voice was sore and squelchy. There were people all around—customers, a cashier in a blue shirt—but I didn’t care.
“You think you can fuck me and not return my phone calls? ” I said.
“Then why are you avoiding me? ”
“What did I do to deserve this? ” I said. Beside me was a rack of magazines, the front pages of which were shiny and covered with movie stars. “What did I do other than love you and fuck you and buy you CDs and cigarettes? What did I do? ”
His mother had call display. That’s why I was using the payphone at the Mac’s. I slammed down the phone, left the store, and ran down Baseline Road. I could barely see the street, there were so many tears in my eyes. The houses and cars were all warped and bleary. It was like looking at the world through a thick sheet of water.
Before I’d hung up, I’d really let him have it.
“Fuck you, then,” I’d said. I was sobbing, sobbing. “I hate you. I never want to talk to you again.”
Of course, I did talk to him again. And much more, too. I didn’t really mean what I’d said. I meant it and I didn’t mean it, at the same time.
After Brownie and I found the picture of the man in the underpants, we pretended like it was twenty years in the future. We pretended like we were old and married and the owners of that lovely house.
I went through the stuff on the dresser—the cosmetics and perfumes. I smeared this horrible pink lipstick across my mouth and rubbed this bright blue eyeshadow on my eyelids so that I looked like a crazy old bat. Then I went to the closet and draped myself in furs and strings of fucking pearls. I chain-smoked my smokes and pretended like I was hooked on medications.
Meanwhile, Brownie donned a wide, shiny tie and a grey suit that was way too big for him. He held his stomach and laughed like a jolly fat man.
“Tabitha,” he said. “Kiss me hard, Tabitha.”
“Who the fuck is Tabitha? ” I said.
“Tabitha is you in your fur jacket,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, catching on. “Well, I would be charmed to kiss you hard, my good sir.”
And so I did. I kissed him hard, right there in that bedroom. And Brownie took me in his arms and threw me on the bed, and we had a long, slow fuck.
Afterward, we lay on our backs, naked and steaming, and thought about things and didn’t say very much. I was still wearing the string of pearls, but my lipstick had been wiped away long before.
“I can’t believe how old we are,” I said. “And how nice our home is.”
“Time is fleeting,” Brownie said.
“Remember prom night? ” I said. “I can’t believe we managed to graduate. I feel like there’s been a mistake.”
“I’ve got a signed certificate. They can’t take it back now.”
“I can’t believe it’s twenty years from now,” I said.
“Whatever,” Brownie said. “I have to take a piss.”
I watched his shape get up in the dark and go out into the hallway, where he was suddenly lit up by the yellow light. I had to piss, too, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to spoil the mood. That was one of the differences between Brownie and me, and a good example of why it never would’ve worked out.
Brownie was right about one thing: time is fleeting. We’re already gone. We’re already smoke. We’re already forty, even if we aren’t really. Except for Magda, of course, who will never be forty.
Anyway. I don’t believe I have told the story of jam night. It happened two years after high school. By this time, I was working at the gas station. Also by this time, I was making it with Tim Cheeseworth, who was Magda’s ex-boyfriend. They’d stopped going out when Magda fell off the bridge and smacked herself on the concrete slab.
What he saw in both Magda and me I will never, ever, ever figure out.
Cheesy was medium height and medium weight, with medium brown hair of medium length. He lived with his folks on the outskirts of Byron. For a hobby he would go out into the bush with his shotgun and shoot abandoned cars and small animals.
One day I went with him to the gun shop on Wharncliffe Road to get his shotgun fixed. He didn’t have a proper bag for the gun, so instead he carried it around in a battered green guitar case.
We rode the bus to the gun shop and waited while the guy fixed it, then left and went to the Talbot Inn for a beer. The Talbot Inn was a scummy place, filled with smoke and toilet smell. Sad young people sat at the tables. In a few years they would be sad old people, sitting at the same tables.
We sat down and ordered a pitcher of beer from the friendly waiter, who was actually just a dick who pretended to be friendly. Before long, several men with sideburns and ponytails got up onstage and picked up guitars and such. This was because it was jam night.
One of the guys onstage saw our green guitar case. “Hey guys,” he said. “Come on up. We don’t bite.”
“No, no, no,” we said.
“Don’t be shy,” he said. “The more the merrier.”
“No, no, no,” we said. “Really.”
“They bring their guitar but they’re too shy to play,” he said.
Everyone in the bar was looking at us. So Cheesy smiled. When Cheesy smiled, birds began to sing. He said, “O.K. One song. Just let me get my nerve up with another beer.” Then, when no one was looking, we grabbed the guitar case and fucked off.
I’m not sure what I am trying to say.
Earlier that night, the friendly waiter came up to our table and gave me a scalp massage, even though I didn’t want one. Why he did this, I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what it was like. It was: a) annoying; b) embarrassing; and c) get your hands off my head.
Last thing I heard, Tim Cheeseworth married a German girl and moved to Germany. I have no idea what he is doing now, but I hope he’s O.K. We had lots of good times. I hope he is happy, or if not happy, then at least comfortable.
Perhaps you are curious about what happened to Brownie and me after our strange prom-night adventure. Well, after we fucked, we climbed in the shower and cleaned ourselves up. After our shower, Brownie splashed on some vomit-smelling cologne and stole a DVD player for a souvenir. Then we went back to Magda’s party and left the underpants photo on the dresser in her parents’ bedroom.
Later on, Brownie tried to sell the DVD player at a pawn shop. Unfortunately for him, the pawn-shop guy had a list of stolen goods. While he distracted Brownie with forms to sign, the other pawn-shop guy called the police.
Brownie spent a couple months in jail. While he was there, another prisoner, a drug dealer, got him reading motocross racing magazines. When he got out, he got a job and saved up and bought a dirt bike. At first he rode for fun. Then he got into an amateur league. After that, he started winning money here and there. Then he moved off dirt and raced on asphalt. That’s when he had his accident. I heard this from friends. And that was it for Brownie.
Here’s what happened to me:
Some women, like the German girl, get a guy like Tim Cheeseworth. Some women, like Magda, get a concrete slab. Most are somewhere in-between.
Maybe I’m not happy, but at least I’m more or less not uncomfortable.
The point of which is sometimes love is not enough. Sometimes you love someone and it’s just not enough. People are still dicks, no matter how much other people love them. Not that I loved Brownie.
I remember the first boy I loved. His name was Danny Fisk. We were fifteen. We went to Springbank Park at dusk. We laid on a blanket of warm, wet grass. I pressed my hands to his, and he touched his lips to mine, and moisture formed every time we came together.
“I love you,” I said. “I love you so much.” The sky was dark and grey and huge. The wind was whipping through our clothes. “I love you,” I said. The leaves were clapping high overhead.
“I love you, too,” he said. The world was new and life was long. And what was going to happen? I didn’t care. Right now, I was with Danny, whose eyes were green.
“I love you,” I said. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Where else could I have possibly wanted to be?
“I love you, too,” he said.
And then, just like that, we disappeared.