Saturday, 5 December 2015

You, JL, part I

You’re big. Or, you’re working on it, anyway. You always look a bit bigger after a work out and you like that.
You’re in the tub, your Tom of Finland book on the toilet seat beside you. The showerhead has a slow leak, and you watch the cold water collect, distorting the calcium caked holes before dropping into and being absorbed by your hot bath water.
The new anchor tattoo on your forearm barely distorts as you twist your wrist as far as it will go either way. The rope around the anchor, while stylized nicely, has a very natural quality to it. Even when you stop twisting your arm, it looks like the rope is dancing, maybe, or tossed in the competing currents at the bottom of the sea.
The towel feels good against your skin. You are an ember, and just below the surface there is fire burning in your muscles and bones and blood.
You sit on your low, single bed to pull on your briefs and your tight blue jeans. The bed is the closest thing you could find to a cot. The foam mattress is thin and hard; you’d considered replacing it when you realized that, no, you couldn’t really feel the bed-frame through it.
There is a bench and weights, a medicine ball and skipping rope in the corner. Also, there are four other cot-like beds in your room, all carefully made, each crisp white top sheet folded just so over a woolen blanket. Each bed has a full duffle bag on it and each duffle bag has a yellow Post-It with a name.
You notice an ingrown hair on your chest. Its red-ringed pustule is exposed by your favourite striped tank top. Your unzipped leather jacket’s broad fur collar will distract the average person from the tiny blemish on your exposed expanse of chest.
There is a pile of passports on your dresser. You shuffle through and open the first page of each forgery, just to make sure, before you slide them into the breast pocket of your leather jacket and zip the pocket up.
You tie your high-top black Converse, which are finally broken in enough to wear out of the apartment.

You lock your Kronan bike up out front of the bank. Through the window you can’t tell if that boy whose body is outgrowing his collared shirts is working. Yes, he’s cute, but more importantly he’s too new to the bank to ask many questions, too polite yet to scrutinize.
There is no lineup, so you haven’t had a chance to see if maybe your boy is there, just in some back room, when the bottle blonde with red lipstick and matching skirt says, “I can help you here.” You can’t think of a way to say no without seeming suspicious.
“Yes, Hi.” You smile briefly, without teeth, and keep eye contact with her for a count of one-one-thousand, two, then pull out your debit card and struggle to jam it into the machine. You give your arms a quick flick to get the nervous out of your fingers before you type your four-digit code.
The teller watches the screen until the information comes up. Then, “Joe Long Sausage Company?”
“That’s me.”
“Are you Joe Long?”
“Yes. I ordered some cash. I was checking to see if it had arrived.”
“How much?”
The customer next to you is an elderly woman wearing thirty-year-old glasses. She and her teller are engaged in an intense, whispered conversation about a number on the teller’s screen.
“Thirty-five thousand,” you enunciate quietly.
The teller slaps some keys on her keyboard and says, “It looks like it has arrived. May I see some identification, Mr. Long?”
“Of course.” You hand her a fine forged driver’s license with a picture of you when you were trying to grow your mustache. You really should just replace the embarrassing card.
She slaps more keys, then holds your card up to the computer screen. She hops off the stool like it has caught fire and walks over to the photocopier where she copies your card twice—front and back. “It will just be a minute, Mr. Long.”
On some signal, the large man with the lazy eye who helped you set up the account almost a year ago comes out of his windowed office, which overlooks the branch. “Good afternoon, Mr. Long,” he says.
Smiling officially, he looks at your I.D. and at the photocopy. The teller walks off to where a woman waits behind security glass. The man comes over to the computer. “There’s just a form we need you to fill out,” he says. “It’s new. It’ll just be a minute.”
“It’s no problem,” you assure him.
The document declares that you have been advised and have understood that there are other, more secure ways to withdraw large sums, that you have taken necessary precautions to secure such a large sum, that you absolve the bank of any responsibility if you are robbed. As you are signing it, the teller returns with a sealed envelope containing four bundles of hundred dollar bills. She runs each bundle through a counting machine in plain view of anyone who might turn towards the noise. Three bundles have 100 bills, one bundle has 50. She puts the money into a narrow envelope, prints a receipt and hands you both. She and the large man smile and wish you a good day.
You put the envelope in a pocket hidden in the satin lining of your coat. You put on your watch cap, checking in the reflection of the bank’s window that it sits on your head at the angle you prefer.
The bike ride to the docks feels like floating or flying. Yes it is a downhill ride, as are most trips towards water, but it is the adrenaline in your legs and hands, the buzz between your ribs that lets you ignore the bike, that lets your eyes take in everything like you are a hawk above gliding on wind currents.
The Norwegian is beside the giant crab where he said he would be. He does not look well, he does not look like he’s been following the training regimen you set for him. No. He looks like he has been snorting with his shipmates and laying in his bunk all night nervous and twitching. You put your arm across his shoulders and tell him he looks like he needs a drink.
The crab shack is dim so people cannot see the quality of the crabmeat, shipped to this inland port from the East Coast. The music is loud, so that no one can hear your conversation. You order The Norwegian a glass of house red and a plate of French fries. You ask for a glass of water. Then, you excuse yourself.
The bathroom has a toilet, a urinal and a sink. The uncovered florescent light feels ruthlessly bright after the dining room’s dimness. You lock the door and take out the envelope. You remove what looks to you like fifty bills. Leaning against the sink, you count. You were close. It is 53 bills. You put the three extra bills back in the envelope and put the envelope back in your pocket. The $5000, you put in your wallet.
The Norwegian has finished his wine. He’s eating the fries one after another. You sit down across from him. “How’s the family?”
He stops chewing for a minute and looks at you almost like he’s wondering who you are. “They’re good.”
“Everyone is well?”
“Yes. Happy even. They got the food you sent them.”
“I hope so.”
“They are eating better than me.”
You tap the stack of money through your jacket. “You should be eating just fine.”
He smiles. “Alright,” he says. “But that isn’t all for me.”
You pull out your wallet and look at him for a few seconds before turning your head and getting the waitress’s attention. “Bill, please.” You hand The Norwegian five crisp hundreds. He smiles like a pervert. “Don’t snort that all at once,” you tell him. You slap a ragged looking twenty-dollar bill down on the table, drink all the water in your glass, then place the empty glass on the twenty.
“Your bill,” the waitress says, holding the paper out for you as you pass.
“There’s a twenty on the table.”
“Your change?”
“For you.”
“Thank you,” she says.
“See you again.”
The Norwegian refuses to take you into the yard before you pay, so you hand him the $30,000 in the shadow of the ship. He counts it there. You keep watch to make sure that no one sees him. He is a link in your chain worth replacing. “That money will get to the right people, right?”
He assures you it will.
“If not, The Company will know which hands dropped it.”
He paused and looked at you out of the corner of his eye before nodding vigorously. “Of course.”
The shipping container is bright orange and labeled John Littlegood Oil Co. It has been placed into the center of a little shipping container courtyard created by the Stevedores at your request. The Norwegian stands back and looks around nervously as you press your hand against the door and announce, “You have arrived. We are going to open the door now.”
The four men inside all cover their faces from the bright daylight. One man sits on the floor. One man is cross-legged on one of the cots. One man is holding a half eaten apple from one of the food bins. One man is standing in the back corner by the waste buckets. You wait for them to uncover their eyes, smiling despite the overwhelming gust of urine and feces and sweat and breath.
The man in the back corner slowly removes his forearms from his eyes. They are wide eyes, the iris a muddy brown. He has high cheekbones and pouting lips. He looks very nervous.
As you are holding his gaze and holding your smile, you unzip your breast pocket and pull the passports out.
The man on the floor lowers his forearm. He has a long, pigment-free scar beside his left eye. He stands.
The man with the scar’s passport is the third in the pile, you think. You shuffle to the appropriate document and turn to the appropriate page and, yes, this is the man’s new passport. You hand it to him. He reaches out, pinches it gently between his thumb and forefinger, and pulls it slowly towards himself.
The other two men are looking at you now, too. The man on the cot has thrown his legs over the edge of the bed and is blinking rapidly, his head lowered a little between his shoulders. The man with the apple is eating again, but he is chewing slowly and absentmindedly, like he’s thinking about hundreds of other things.
“Van’s here,” The Norwegian says.
You turn. Then, all four men turn, though they almost certainly cannot see the van yet. “Good,” you say, hoping to reassure the men.
After you give each their new identification, the men gather whatever clothes and things they managed to bring along. You speak to the driver and explain that, as usual, these men are to be taken to your apartment and told to make themselves at home: to shower, to eat, to exercise, to sleep. The driver knows to explain the duffle bags, to say that the clothes inside are gifts to welcome the men to their new home, but you remind him to do it anyway.
You open the rear doors of the van, parting the arcing pink text: Julia Love’s Linen Service. You pull out a duffle bag and throw it to The Norwegian, who has started to pile the dirty bedclothes by the container’s door.
Once the new arrivals have all found seats in the van, you make sure that they have each buckled up before closing the door and patting the side of the van. You wave as it drives off.
The Norwegian has finished making the beds and is emptying the coolers of any unfinished food. You walk to the back of the container and grab the slop buckets. Thirteen of them. You make sure the lids are sealed, then carry them out of the container before turning on the dangling overhead and closing the doors on The Norwegian.
The trailer from which the Stevedores conduct their business is much too warm. Baron wiggles his mustache and flicks his chin at you as you enter. His eyes check the windows left, right, and straight ahead.
Pulling your wallet from your pocket, you explain, “The Norwegian’s supposed to pay you, like normal. But—” One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten one hundreds. You place them on Baron’s desk. “That’s a gift, but if you don’t get what’s owed you, then you talk to me, please.”
“Something wrong?” Baron slides you a key linked with a simple snap chain to a bright orange piece of floatation foam with a black “2” drawn on.
“Nope. Everything’s fine.” You nod and pick up the key. “Kids’ good, Baron?” you ask as you walk towards the door.
“You’d worry if I said yes.”
“It’s a shame. See you in a minute.”
Around back of the trailer, there are three modified golf carts with pickup truck style flatbeds and numerals on the hoods in faded black paint. You get into number two and drive it over to the container.
You put eight of the buckets on the flat bed and drive them to the water’s edge where you dump each one. Then, lying on the ground, you lower each bucket one by one into the lake water to rinse it. You drive back to the container to drop the empty buckets and return to the water’s edge with the remaining five to repeat the process.
Once you are finished, you and The Norwegian use rags and disinfectant to clean each bucket. Finally, the container is back to its pristine form, the empty slop buckets piled back in the corner.
The Norwegian shakes your hand. “We’ll see you again.”
“Would you mind taking the cart back for me?” you ask him.
He looks at the cart. “I’m meeting some of the crew—”
“It’ll only take a minute. You can give Baron his share. Get it over with.”
The Norwegian nods. He seems almost grateful. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
You unlock your bike and start the uphill ride back home.
To Be Continued
Toronto, Nov.-Dec. 2015

Emoji sequence: Nolan Dubeau
Story: Lee Sheppard

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