“Sell the kids for food/weather changes moods.” Cobain’s tense phrasing was blasting in his ears, when his father knocked. With a shrug and a sigh, Andrew lifted himself out of his chair. An architect with an eye for detail, his father had stripped the door bare. If Andrew were to have any sway, purple matte would be the flavour on this side of the divide. As he pulled open the door, the fanfare from the living room entered with a roar – a celebration marking the end of his father’s contract.
“If I were any younger, I’d go for the oldest woman out there. Are you staying here forever, Andrew?”
“Maybe not, but forever is a long time.”
Framed by the canopy of sculpted angel balls (Andrew’s moniker) and strip sidings, his father was Cyclopean, especially to Andrew, who was slight of build. Giant football player shoulders (from his soccer days in Romania); set off from sallow rims, startlingly cerulean irises, shooting out bullets. He stood like an idling car. Vroom, vroom. Andrew contemplated Nirvana’s lyrics. What food would his father purchase, in exchange for his upkeep? Yesterday afternoon his father had called from the office, complaining about a downtown condo they were revitalizing and “the shit” he had to do, when “beeeautiful buildings,” never seeing the light of day, were stretched out infinitely across his imagination.
And now, in the same tone, “You can’t stay here forever.” The accent, still of some bemusement to this son: the one and only child. Those Romanian-flexed English vowels, some of them squeezed out like toothpaste, others elongated. None yielding to the thirty-some years on this side of the ocean. Unlike his father, Andrew felt settled here in Montréal. Though, nearing his mid-twenties, and with most friends gone exploring, he knew this could change.
“Well?” Curious inflections, suffused with disappointment. Andrew had been living with his father since March. Now it was August, and Andrew, still unemployed. There was the sense that a part of him was out fighting and he’d have to amass the troops to retrieve it, with a small reprieve before September, when the retainer was his father’s offer to go camping. Might be awful, though nothing when earlier this summer, at a bar, while watching the World Cup, his father had practically jammed a hand through the table. Uruguay had stolen the ball from England. “Romania,” Andrew had heard. “Now there you had skill, technique.” Way back in the ‘80’s.
While his father’s thing was soccer and architecture, Andrew’s was gaming, or watching games. Sometimes he tuned into YouTube to see players make incredibly daring, sometimes hilarious moves. Recently, he’d observed a particularly breathtaking play.
Right now, he tried blocking out this figure, standing with impunity, at the door. The air behind teemed with familiar provocations. Andrew knew his father would throw him to the lions, if odds were he’d emerge a man. In more immediate terms, Andrew was to socialize with “three beeeautiful women on the terrace.” No denying his father’s intentions, reducing Andrew to a fraudulent copy of what he could be, especially when it came to his father’s take-no-prisoners need to bring everyone into his circle of influence.
Laughter, like a garrison launching an attack, crackled threateningly; then faded into the night breeze. Poor neighbours. It was late, and if Andrew could just be left alone to answer his calling, embedded in the tricky RNA sequencing, maybe…
So strong was his bond with this world beyond the screen, it just had to innate. He didn’t care. The world beyond the screen was generally a fine place to be. Real space-time continuum, Andrew had always felt, was a logistical nightmare. While in the not-too-distant future, the holders of the key might name the virtual “wormhole,” Andrew was certain there would be an equally noxious name for the real, in which his father stood no longer smiling.
Andrew contemplated the layout of his room. Not really so Feng Shui to have his desk facing the wall, back to the door. Bedrooms were sacred, a sarcophagus, all joking aside. Maybe they’d bury him here. His father, on the other hand, with the “beeeautiful women,” was plainly a lunatic. Wouldn’t anyone go for nights before poorly-lit screens rather than, well, for one, one-night stands with women half their age? Andrew sighed. Both parents were certifiable. Only they didn’t relegate their kind to real dungeons (or the S&M kind he’d learned about in a particularly educational computer game). They just certified them. Andrew’s question, after the divorce, was why life would be so inept at keeping them together.
And Andrew? Pushing twenty-five, living with his father. Jobless. This fact lingered like an old sock or banana peel, pushed into a corner, putrefying. Here, with his father, Andrew was free of his mother’s anxiety, which he was reminded of every time he visited. Still, he missed his old room … best to not cast any backward glances. He breathed in booze, saturated with reveling, triumphant laughter; out there everything colliding, like atoms with the sound turned up. His father’s endless “Women, waiting” for him to appear like some kind of Icarus with golden wings.
“You whore!” he screamed. Did he just say that? He had!
“What did you call me?!”
The larger one folded muscled arms under steel chest, while the less-than-dutiful son flinched at the thought of brittle older bone. He imagined his father bending his elbows and sticking a thumb under each armpit, like the gentry of old; in his father’s case, under a sweaty, short-sleeved polo shirt.
“I called you a whore.”
“What the hell?”
Andrew thought his father would keel over, like a vain drunk; only he could hold his liqueur, or draft – or whatever he’d been drinking. Probably the aged scotch. Here Andrew had to agree. Taste, at least, had been inherited.
“I am.” Focusing on the door. “Why would I go out there, like – I dunno. I was wrong. Not a whore. You’re a pimp.” He ran back to the screen, announcing “Shit.” Player1 had evidently made an awesome move, which Andrew had missed.
“Pimp?” The laugh bounced along the wide wood slats and slid into Andrew’s brain. “You’re barely socializing anymore. Unemployed. The oldest woman out there on the balcony is a VP of a video gaming company. Who knows? Maybe she can help you.”
“But you’ll take the oldest? You’ll take her?”
“It’s a joke. This is my house, my place. I’m allowed. You want to live here. What would it hurt to be a part of life?”
“Forget it, you say.”
“Okay. I – okay. You know what? I’ll offer you a hundred.”
“Make that three. Three hundred for you to leave this room.”
“Three hundred dollars?”
“What else? Not candy. Not cents, though I wish there were more of that around here. Of course, dollars.”
Andrew’s head felt heavy. He opened his mouth, smelled his own stale breath. “You’re crazy.” Returning to the computer, he was cognizant of activity there, only it was all reflections upon glass. Someone else’s screen, someone else’s life.
“Three hundred. Going…”
Andrew thrust both hands down on the keyboard. Beep. His head felt heavy. A bribe! His father was bribing him! Explosions sent bits of brain down his arms. Neurons shook with tectonic force. Foreign muscles propelled him to the door. The Hydra King loomed, ready to take him down. “What do you say?”
A pillar of salt is what Andrew felt like. No turning back. On the other hand, he couldn’t take anymore. “Okay,” he mumbled. Damned if he couldn’t use the money.
“I’m glad you’re–”
“I said, forget it.”
His father removed himself from the doorway, allowing Andrew entry into the din (or was that ‘den’?) of iniquity. He swept into the gathering, composed of legs and torsos, so many colours. The room vibrated with Robert Johnson’s imploring vocals and sweet guitar. Beyond the French doors, Andrew spied familiar ceramic pots containing blooming geraniums … and three young women, waiting for him.
Why hadn’t he stayed in his room?
Outsourcing eyes like they were someone else’s deal, Andrew made his way through. He imagined a parade whose floats contained numerous questions and heads, bobbing. Men in jeans, or discriminating black shorts; women in tight pants, flamboyant silks. He had no idea who most of these emphatic inquisitors were, but they seemed to know everything about him.
“Good to see you, Andrew.”
“How’s the job hunt?”
“How the hell are you?”
Andrew felt his father behind: a kind of Eurydice. Still, he wasn’t Orpheus, and if his life depended on it, never would he turn round to view this one from the dead. Finally, the balcony. Two women were seated at the white iron-cast table, having a smoke. Standing was the VP with VIP tickets to (up came the image, like curdled milk) his father’s bed. She had that look Andrew knew his father appreciated: straight hair, teeth. Everything about her straight, except for her back, curved against the railing. Andrew stopped. He saw the black paint peel, iron crack. She went tumbling down.
(Imagined, but, nonetheless a possibility.)
“Hi,” he tried.
“Hey.” A voice below, scratchy, like some tortured soul was dying inside. Polished nails of silver, pinning an e-cigarette. Alongside an elbow, a beer stein relic from his father’s trip to Bavaria. Across the table, the other one put out her cigarette in an ashtray he’d never seen and which, he realized, resembled a Judy Chicago painting at his mother’s. This attendant of tobacco and a million other chemicals smiled: wide grin across chiseled cheeks. Her dyed raven hair stood on end. Every bit punk, but with the ‘I’m-so-over-it’ ends rolled underneath, like one of those 50’s do’s – but on top, punk wedge. Alien? Maybe there was something to learn out here. Andrew turned to the moonless but fairly well-lit sky, then to the VP, against the precarious railing. Hadn’t it been a year ago, out in Chicago? College students had plummeted to their deaths. “My father implied you wanted to meet me.”
“Implied? No, stated.” Andrew faced the e-cigarette proprietor, who took in a puff, pulled in rouged cheeks. Salon curls bounced; crimson lips puckered. Too much make-up, he thought, as steam shot up. The ‘50’s punkish-one smiled, took up a roach in the Judy Chicago and lit it.
Drawing in a long breath, he watched the VP, with VIP aspirations, moving towards him, all gangly and girly, holding her transparent drink. “Your father was saying –”
He was coughing.
He nodded, coughing.
“Water, or even better, gin.” She held out her glass.
Someone’s water glass was pushed into his lips. He drank. “Thanks.”
The pretty one came closer. “Your father said you’re interested in video gaming.”
“I like their products.”
Laughter, from the trio.
An image of pink $100’s floated before him. Like balloons.
“I hear you own a gaming company,” he said
“I’m VP of Ubisoft.”
An honest-to-goodness VP Ubisoftoid! “Oh,” he said.
“So,” the real-cigarette woman shot out. “I’m Alexa. Across, you have Clarissa. Up there, alongside your lovely ass, is–”
“Felicity,” said Felicity.
“Really?” Was his ass lovely? And wouldn’t she be named Bonheur here in Quebec?
“Yes, really,” said Felicity.
“Yes.” Happiness, nodded. “I know.”
Without thinking, Andrew stuffed his hands in his pockets, the effect being his jeans were dragged down a centimeter. Subtly, he looped a finger through the loops and pulled up. A split second, during which he gathered information like a spy. The two below were stealing glances at the table. Felicity was solidly staring at whatever was going on above his neck. He wasn’t sure. Probably, he was smiling. “Nice name,” he said.
“Thanks. So about the gaming you do.”
“I don’t. Not really. Don’t listen to my father. I watch, really. Spectator stuff.”
Happiness took her drink to her lips; lowered her hand. “Watching is a legit part of gaming. Our company’s working on some revolutionary items, in that genre. Spectators are as important as the players. Just like hockey fans. We’re populating the stands, with our new software.”
“I hope,” he interjected. “Without the hotdogs.”
She smiled. No laughter; he wasn’t being funny. “Definitely without the hotdogs.”
She lifted the glass. Another slithered through. Another drink, and Andrew’s imagination, working so intensely and in overtime, he envisioned everything up-close, as in a movie: her mouth, thick blood-red tongue draining the clear liquid.
From below, “What are you two going on about?” Clarissa.
Alexa laughed. “Revolutionary software, dontcha know.”
Clarissa snorted. “How much of a stir can software make?”
“Looks like you need a drink.” Alexa slid out of her seat.
“A drink, Mr. Andrew.”
“Okay.” The air nipped his bare arms.
“What do you like?”
“Beer is fine. Thanks.”
Alexa, garish almost, with that bonanza hair, twinkling green irises, lined in black. Could he go to bed with such a costumed, stale-breathed sensation? Tricky question. She’d have to consume a lot of Tic Tacs, after which her tongue would be spicy-painful, maybe gooey-slippery.
With a backwards wink, Clarissa followed. Andrew turned to the stone facades, hoping to catch some movement through the windows. Someone had chosen tie-dyed discs for the curtain motif. He disliked moonless nights. Plus, he shouldn’t have let anyone fetch his drink. Felicity, still leaning against the railing, focused on the sidewalk: like any other Montréal sidewalk, beaten-up by volatile temperatures. Two cyclists rode by. Felicity slid along the iron cast. He wanted to send out a warning (Miranda style): You shouldn’t rely on railings.
“So, you’re not interested in gaming –”
“Interested, yes. Maybe you should be careful. You’re liable to go crashing down.”
“Has that ever happened?”
His palms, sweaty. The night air whisked through trails of laughter and other suggestive voices from the living room. This woman, some years his senior, was moving closer.
“Some college kids went plunging down.”
“Bound to occur again, then.” Felicity leaned with more force.
Obstinate, Andrew thought. With nowhere else for his hands to go, he reached out to the railing, then capitulated and fell against it.
“So you’re okay with falling?” Her voice, too cool for August, a month, Andrew knew, of shooting stars. Soon autumn would bring red, crisp leaves, camping trips. It was there in his chest, pulling in the ever-ready future.
Alexa and Clarissa returned, Alexa offering an opaque bottle, carrying the familiar slogan. Why did bottlers use such bland motifs? Andrew wondered whether he’d ever be witness to change. Dancing rainbow colours? Would he, in his lifetime, ever hold such novelty? Clarissa rolled back into her seat. Alexa remained standing.
“Thanks,” he tried. “Are you girls from here?”
“Girls?” Alexis smirked.
“I mean, women.” He took a drink.
“Well,” cooed Felicity. “My drink is gone.” She held up the glass, and Andrew caught a prism rainbow.
“You should’ve said something.” Alexis swept her swept-under hair.
“I’m capable of getting my own.”
“I’ll join you,” Andrew said.
“And leave us here?” Alexa looked genuinely hurt.
What could he say?
Felicity grabbed his elbow. “Forget about them.” A bouquet of roses assailed his senses – Felicity’s shampoo! The three laughed.
“They always come back.” Clarissa took an e-cigarette puff. Alexa nodded, smiling viciously. Andrew noticed her black eye make-up was smeared.
Making their way through the party-goers was a horror of slurred words, melancholy blues, cloying odours. Andrew realized, with some smugness, that in this crazy-ass house, his bedroom was the one sane place. Jaw clenched, he approached the refreshments. And there he was: prodigal father, next to the table, where bottles peeped out from ice. One hand, sliding up along the wall. The other nearing the young woman below. Throwing back his head, his father laughed, splitting the room with wretched thunder. There was a discernable wave through the alcohol-spiked punch, in a crystal bowl and pierced by a ladle. A clown, Andrew thought. In some sort of ghoulish circus. He blinked, and his father and the young woman became points on a dipper; the solid concave bottom of the ladle in the northern hemisphere. Still undetected, Andrew stood, as Felicity rounded his left.
“Your father,” she started. Andrew brought up a hand, maybe to stop her from commenting further, maybe not. He felt skin on skin, against his palm, bone. Shit, he realized. He’d whacked Felicity!
“What the fu–?” came her voice on his left. With a sharp pow! to the side of his face, Andrew went down. From a distance, he heard a multitude of voices, drowning out his father’s baritone; the right side of his face, burning with pain. He closed his eyes.
“Are you okay?”
Behind closed lids, he trembled. Perfect ending to a perfect night. Certainly, the simplest way to go. Karma, Cobain hollered from the grave.
“I’m okay,” Andrew mumbled. Cracking open an eye, he saw her: Felicity. She was headed not into the sunset, just into bad Rona lighting.
This is how it was, how it was going to be. Blunder becoming radical game-changer. In the morning his father and some woman would be chiding him over breakfast. His father: “Now, why would you go and slap Felicity?” Andrew guided the smarting pain into the tenebrous unnameable rising from his stomach, as his father’s face shot into focus. Streaked and marked face, pimply nose and those shout-out-to-the-devil blue irises. The mouth, opening. One organic mass. “Here, let me help you.”
“Leave me alone.” With the force of a lion, but under the blazing sun which makes cats of this nature so bereft, Andrew pushed himself up. He ambled past the faces, all of them allowing for one brief peace –Nina Simone’s vocals and dead-on phrasing carrying his body, head hung, and he, limping, more like a lamed mouse than a lion, to his den. Damned if he’d ever accept any of those $300-dollar bills.