Saturday, 7 November 2015

This Other Time (Part 2 of at least 2)

It was four a.m. and your stomach was cramping from eating a bag of pita and a container of hummus. Well, it was cramping because in the tiny editing suite where you and Alice were editing your video, you were trying desperately not to release any of the gas troubling your lower intestine. “I’m going to step out for a minute,” you told her as she sought a seamless transition between a shot of a bathroom door closing and a close up of a beautiful troublemaker leaning in to kiss your main character against the sink. “Excuse me.”

You went outside. It was balmy and windless. The street was empty. Almost empty. There was someone standing under a streetlight smoking and reading a book. You thought maybe you recognized them so you were staring when they lifted their head, took a drag and turned towards you. Their nose was the first thing you recognized. You’d never been attracted to a nose before, but this person, this gorgeous boy or girl—you honestly didn’t know—this handsome androgyne had a sexy nose. The bridge bulged subtly just below their deep-set eyes and announced the presence of a bone, or cartilage that had bone-like distinction, that defined the shape of the nose as it descended to a narrow, gentle upturn. There was something equine about it, something muscular.
But wait, they were nodding at you.
You nodded back, worried, though, that at this distance your nod could be interpreted any number of ways, interpreted as cold even. You lifted your left hand and held it there while you nodded towards it as if to say, This is what I meant when I nodded a second ago, Hello.
The person with the gorgeous nose smiled, laughingly, but didn’t laugh. Harmony was their name, you thought. You tried to remember back to the Politics and Sexuality course you’d both taken in the spring semester last year. Harmony.
You were smiling now, too.
Harmony dropped the smoking cigarette to the sidewalk and stomped it out with a slender leather boot.
As Harmony walked towards you, you became aware of the bad smell hanging around your person, part flatulence, part sweaty sleeplessness. You wished for a gust of wind to whistle across the campus from Yonge Street and disperse your aura of bad air.
“Hi,” Harmony said.
“Hi,” you said.
Harmony held arms wide, welcoming you in for a hug. You grimaced a bit. “Never mind,” Harmony said.
“It’s not that.” You took a step back. “I’m just a bit gross. I’ve been up all night editing.”
“I’m here editing, too.”
“Oh, really? Are you in film or television?”
“Theatre. But I’m a dancer, too. Do you know Carson?”
“Carson Martin?”
You shook your head.
“Carson made a video of me dancing.”
“I’m pretty excited about it.”
You smiled. “I’d love to see it.”
“Okay,” Harmony smiled.
Then you both said, “What—?” at the same time.
“Sorry,” you said.
“No, I’ve been talking a lot.”
“I just was going to ask what you were reading.”
The book was deep in the pocket of Harmony’s long, broad-collared coat. Harmony handed you the book. There was a picture of a pitcher following through after a pitch, one leg planted, the other pointing to the gap to the third base side of the set short stop, his eyes towards the batter whose bat seemed about to make contact with the tiny white ball streaking towards him. Overwhelmingly, though, the photograph on the cover of The Summer Game by Roger Angell, showed the dry, mown grass and carefully groomed dirt and all the open space of a ball diamond. “He’s like, the poet-laureate of baseball.”
“I don’t think literally. Does baseball have a poet-laureate?”
“That would be surprising.”
“Yeah.” Harmony laughed. “My point is, it’s beautiful writing. Really.”
“Cool,” you handed the book back.
“I was going to ask what you are editing.”
“A project for my production class.”
“What’s it about?”
The prĂ©cis, the pitch version was something you were working on. It was a struggle, though. Your stories, the way you told them, tended to be about minutiae and moments, not big, sweeping changes in the lives of your characters, so, I mean, how? How sum it up in a few words? “My main character falls for this troublemaker, who is played by this tall woman with muddy eyes, and the two of them make trouble together.” You smiled, proud of your description.
“Sounds like a lot of fun. Mind if I peak my head in and take a look?”
You weren’t sure what Alice would think about that, but you couldn’t resist Harmony’s eager face. “Sure. Maybe closer to seven?” Seven was when they would kick you out of the editing suite.
“And maybe I can come see yours?”
“I’d love that.”
The first thing you noticed when you returned to the tiny room where Alice was patiently assembling your video was that the staleness that had emanated from your body outside permeated the air here. Alice had a long list of questions for you. In your excitement about Harmony, you were able to ignore her irritation. Honestly, you even started feeling a little bad about abandoning her and not apologizing for it but by the time you were thinking that way it was too late to say sorry because Alice would be all like, Sorry for what? She seemed to have been lifted up a bit by your positive energy, though, so there was that.
Alice was fine-cutting the bike scene, where the troublemaker and the main character double to the ravine to carve their initials into trees and make out under the moon. The footage was grainy and making you feel a little shitty for not listening to your camera operator or for not changing your script, but it was what it was now, so you told yourself that maybe the story was beautiful enough to excuse the shoddy shooting and the fact that you chose poetic logic over the limitations that camera and budget placed on your project. 
You told Alice you’d be back and she asked if you could please be quicker this time.
You found Harmony and Carson in a room off the hall opposite the hall you and Alice were working down. On the screen was an image of Harmony suspended in mid-air above a field of tall grass you guessed was wheat. Muscles bulged here and there despite the tensor bandage binding Harmony’s torso. You were reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s story, “Harrison Bergeron.” “Hi,” Harmony said. You introduced yourself to Carson.
At Harmony’s urging, Carson showed you what they had cut so far, “Even though there’s no music yet and some of the cuts need fine tuning.”
“Where’d you shoot this?” You watched the screen carefully, waiting for the leap or bend that would press Harmony’s baggy pants against whatever was inside them.
“My family’s farm,” Carson said.
“In Saskatchewan,” Harmony said. “We stayed with Carson’s family for a week. It was so lovely.” Harmony smiled at Carson and your heart was set on breaking a little until you saw the way Carson turned back to the screen.
Harmony came back with you to your editing suite and watched what you and Alice had done. You felt gratified when Harmony laughed at the scene of the troublemaker arriving at the main character’s family’s home for dinner, especially when she hopped off her bike and let it glide into the carefully maintained garden beside the front walk.
“What a great actor that woman is,” Harmony said. “She’s— Oh, she’s just so perfect. And I love the story.”
You said, Thanks.
Harmony asked you to go to breakfast and you hesitated for just a second because you never stayed up this late and you were exhausted, but Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, you would love to. “You know what,” Harmony said, “I think you should go home and get some sleep, but,” Harmony looked around for you didn’t know what, “let me give you my number.”
Alice, long suffering and patient and so generous to you always, tore a sheet out of her notebook and, without turning from her work editing your video, she held up that sheet of paper and a BIC ballpoint and you watched as Harmony wrote out the area code and seven digits and said, “I might be meeting some friends later, but I might not, too, so I don’t know, I mean you could join us or maybe the two of us could go eat somewhere or go sit in a park, I don’t know.”
“Sure,” you said. Then you nodded and repeated yourself a few times before you said, “Okay, I’ll call you.”
You thanked Alice as the two of you parted ways out front of the Television and Radio Arts building. She told you to get some rest before your big date. You sputtered out what might have been an attempted laugh.
It was hard to get to sleep, of course, with the excitement piled on top of the over-exhaustion. The last you remembered looking at the clock it was after nine.
When the phone rang, it was just after two. Your best friend was going tobogganing with Pat. You were confused. How long did you sleep? Giant flakes of snow were piling up in front of your basement window. “No,” you said. “Thanks.” When your best friend asked if something was wrong you explained that you’d been editing through the night. You didn’t say anything about Harmony, but you were so distracted that you didn’t hear what hill your best friend and Pat were going to. 
You scrubbed the tub, then had a bath. You tried to read. You made your bed and tidied your room. You picked small but visible chunks of what?—socks, snacks, dead hair—off the carpet, because the vacuum had broken a few weeks ago and you and your roommates couldn’t agree on who should take it to the repair place.
You called Harmony. It was 4:02 p.m. “I thought you’d forgotten about me,” Harmony said. “That thing with my other friends fell through.” The two of you agreed to meet at Buddha’s on Dundas between Spadina and Bathurst.
When you arrived, Harmony waved to you from a chair by the window. Harmony hugged you and smiled and listened to you talk about the stress your latest video was causing you. Harmony ordered for you both—spring rolls, imitation duck, Singapore-style noodles, mixed-vegetables with cashew nuts and steamed rice. You talked more about your video before discussing baseball, dancing, T-shirts, blue jeans, snow, hometowns, the suburbs, favourite bands and ice-skating on frozen ponds. It was way too much food, a surprising amount of food, and you over ate even though told yourself you wouldn’t. You and Harmony agreed that the server should pack up what you hadn’t eaten, but when she arrived with the food packed up in Styrofoam and a white plastic bag, you discovered that neither of you actually wanted it.
The two of you stood outside the restaurant awkwardly. “Have anywhere you need to be?” Harmony asked.
“Want to walk with me? I love this weather.”
In Kensington, there was a cluster of street punks with two beautiful brindle-coated dogs. They thanked you when you offered them the leftovers and Harmony even went into a Jamaican food place and got napkins and plastic forks for them. You and Harmony sat on a bench in the Market parkette, and an older guy in really bad shape offered to sell you pot. Your feet were cold and wet in your Chuck Taylors. You went into Last Temptation just to be somewhere warm. Neither of you wanted a drink. You each ordered tea and got one plate of French fries between you, just so the waiter wouldn’t think you were cheap. Eventually you ate the French fries anyway. Conversation turned to roommates and apartments and after you’d each finished your tea Harmony invited you home.
 Snow drifted lazy past the streetcar’s windows and the city seemed to have had its volume turned down. As the Dundas car rattled over Bay Street, Harmony reached out and held your hand. You looked out the window and involuntarily inhaled through your nostrils, your chest ballooning with happy air.
The apartment was up a narrow flight of stairs in a tall row house just past Filmore’s. Harmony’s roommate, Max, had a thin, scruffy beard and beautiful, feminine features. He took his guitar, ashtray, cigarettes and John Ralston Saul book to his bedroom after Harmony introduced you.
Harmony got you a glass of water and you sat facing each other on the futon with your legs crossed. You looked up at the clock. It was one a.m. Max was playing guitar somewhere in the apartment. Harmony reached out and held your right hand, opening it and closing it, tickling the palm and gently pressing your fingers. Once you were kissing, Harmony moved forward and you lay back, stretched out and cozy in the futon’s fold, Harmony playing with your belt.
You reached for Harmony’s top button, but Harmony gripped your wrist and moved your hand away before working on your buckle again.
Harmony reached down your pants and got you off. The familiarity, the certainty of Harmony’s hands, made you suspect that maybe whatever was between Harmony’s legs was the same thing you had. Have.
You reached for Harmony’s waist again, but Harmony said, “It’s okay.”
You were thinking about reciprocity more than curiosity when you persisted.
“I said, No.”
Max emerged from wherever he’d been, holding his guitar by the neck.
“I didn’t mean . . . ”
Harmony sat up and looked away. “You can sleep here, on the couch, if you need to.”
“Uh. I’ll go home, maybe.”
Max was nodding like you’d made the right choice. He turned and disappeared again.
You cleaned yourself up in the bathroom. Or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you got yourself back together right there in the living room, the whole time Harmony watching you without looking at you. You drank the last of your water. “Okay,” Harmony said.
“Maybe I’ll call you?”
“I’m sorry.”
The snow outside was melting, even though it felt like the air had gotten colder. On the streetcar, you sat by the heater, but your feet wouldn’t warm up. A black man with cotton-candy-pink hair got on at Yonge and sang silently, beautifully to himself all the way to Dufferin. The fact that you couldn’t make out the lyrics powerfully drove home your loneliness and regret.
When you took your pants off to crawl into bed, you still smelled of sex.
Even under the comforter, your feet were freezing cold.
Toronto, November 2015

Emoji sequence: Rhya Tamasauskas, co-founder of Monster Factory, writer and artist.
Story: Lee Sheppard

Note: This is part two of at least two stories. The first part is "This One Time"

No comments:

Post a Comment