The website bothered the hell out of me, not just due to the content, but something felt off about the pictures themselves. They looked way too perfect, almost manufactured. The facial expressions don’t seem to vary that much, leading me to believe that whoever had put them up had doctored them. James has a background in doing shit like that, so it wouldn’t be that hard for him to piece this together on his own, even makes it more likely that he had something to do with it.
I pick up the landline in my room and dial the number from memory. I’m not too shocked when it happens to be out of service. It would make sense to use a temporary phone to avoid being traced back to an address, if it ever existed to begin with. So that’s a no-go.
There has to be something else from the last few months, some clue prior to her departure that has some sort of meaning. Everything in life, no matter how seemingly random, has to have a process to follow. I stare at the lamp on my end-table, trying to find an answer somewhere in the light. The annoying electrical hum radiates about the quiet of the room, taunting me. I’m half tempted to plug everything in on the upper floor to screw with the bill just to get petty vengeance on him for his refusal to give me aid.
Ever since the second month we started living together, he would routinely send me copies of the energy bill, just to drive the point home that we were using way too much power. Granted, it was an unreasonable amount that was being spent on energy, but I’m fairly sure that the majority of the costs would have something to do with his insistent need to blow up polygons and stare at pixilated cleavage for days without proper sleep. Come to think of it…
After a brief dig through the collection of papers he’s shoved under my door, I finally find a collection of previous Hydro bills, the last one being dated seven months ago, just a month prior to Jenny’s disappearance. I had assumed that he came to the conclusion that he was being ostentatious and that throwing the proof of his outstanding ability to exist without making any manner of impact on society into my face simply wasn’t fair. I could never hope to aspire to his levels of uselessness, the city wouldn’t let me.
The house suddenly reminds me of a different era, one filled with the stench of burnt engine fluid and the calm subtlety of an ancient farmland abattoir. The nostalgia floods my senses, crawling along my skin with a growing urgency. Doesn’t take long for my instincts and logic to make a uniform decision and get the hell out of this place forever. Before I cram all of my notes and books into a black gym bag, I urinate into an empty coffee cup and place it in the closet out of spite. Not sure where I’ll be living from this point on, but at least he’ll have a hell of a time getting the smell out when he finally works up the nerve to leave his cave.
I throw my meager belongings behind my shoulder and let it slump heavily against my back, walking out the front door without so much as a word. Since there’s no way to follow up on his account until tomorrow morning, I figure it would be a good idea to get some cheap lodgings where they take cash and don’t bother asking questions. Thankfully, as with any major metropolitan city, such places are in abundance if you don’t mind the possibility of the previous tenant having died on your mattress…or worse.
Due to a constant state of serendipitous happenstance, I’m able to catch a cab in record time, despite this being an area completely devoid of tourism aside from the occasional architectural historian. The driver seems good natured enough, even tries to make some jokes every now and then. I wish I were able to respond in kind, make some an effort to at pretend to be stable and communicate with another human being. I just can’t find it within myself to bother.
As we pass through a small neighbourhood in Don Mills, he tells me that he used to be a doctor before moving to Canada, that he was forced to leave after the conditions proved too difficult for his family. Toronto has enough of a problem dealing with the multiple personalities in her head to begin with, and even if I am supposed to be pissed off that another ego’s been thrown in the mix, it’s not that simple. Canada in general’s always been a safe-haven for the disenfranchised whether or not they thought of it themselves. Shit, that’s why Nova Scotia had the highest African population in Canada at one point. It’s all because of the world’s oldest story. Imagine working your ass off for a decade of your life and getting pushed out of your homeland because some idiot with a big hat convinced even bigger idiots that his was the only voice worth hearing.
Not sure if I can feel too bad for the guy, though – I’m about to give him a heart attack with a ludicrous tip. I personally never saw the point in getting a license, not when nearly every person I’ve met already has their own car, most of them having lived just blocks away from everywhere they went. Maybe that would explain the insipid need to replace morality with a work ethic, how else would you be able to afford the insurance.
When we pull into the motel lot, I hand the driver a hundred dollar bill that I lifted from James following our transaction.
“Sir,” he stammers, “This is too much, the ride itself is only 24 dollars.”
I shrug, it’s not like spending it really matters to me, I’ll just end up getting more when the numbers roll in. Then again, I am a man lugging around a gigantic bag filled with heavy objects that just took a ride to a seedy inn, so maybe the tip is a little excessive. “Yeah, thanks…thought it was a 50. Mind just throwing half of that back?”
He blinks a few times, prepared to repeat himself on the off-chance that I’ve taken leave of my senses. It’s rare to find anyone these days who can manage to have an honest face and still survive in this world, I give him another week until someone rips him off for a fare. Then he’ll probably lightly suggest to his next fare that he forgot to pay at all.
Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t make the rules. If you ask the Hard Right, most of them’ll swear by the idea that an invisible man in the sky had something to do with it. Alright, sure. My talking to the city would land me in a padded room, but an invisible guy who frowns when we masturbate is responsible for earthquakes. Discrimination is a bitch.
The receptionist of the motel informs me of a nightly cost of 60 dollars, leaving me 10 short of the goal. I smile and inform her that I’ll be back in a few minutes, leaving the large bag in the lobby. A convenience store across the street nets me another 200 dollars after scratching a few tickets, prompting the clerk to congratulate me on my luck. I do my best to act genuinely surprised, it isn’t easy. I briefly wonder if my being blessed with continuous luck isn’t a curse, taking away the joy and struggle from my achievements.
In a rare moment of reflection, I expand on the concept by pitying the omnipotent. Every day of existence forced to watch things play out exactly as you knew they would, every act of mayhem and kindness pre-mapped and dictated by your own hand, whether you want it to or not. Maybe that’s where the concept of free will came into play, the hope that perhaps there’ll be one moment out of an eternity might supply an instance of shock or mild amusement. How does a god laugh when it already knows the punchline? How do you find solace in friendship or admiration when everything’s so damned predictable? Do good and evil exist for that reason alone? The one in zero chance of a creation besting its creator?
Hell, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve spent the last two decades of my life subconsciously working it all out, like a puppet contemplating its strings while playing out to a crowd. Maybe that’s why everything seems so fucked up in the world, the loud protestations of a bored writer doing their best to work out a reason in their own script. Tough luck on that, buddy. Revisions rarely ever work out for the best.
I catch a glimpse of the local flavour as I cross the street back to my new home away from home, watching a girl who looks either pregnant – or just selectively fattened – toke out of a glass pipe with who I assume is her steady companion. Makes me feel ill watching it and adds a creeping guilt over my already stained conscience, if that girl does have something growing inside of her it’ll be another voice added to the city’s already garbled mind. I have to remind myself of the possibility that it could one day end up a little better, just to save expense of a straight razor and the posthumous shame of leaving a large red mess in someone’s bath.
I make the exchange of cash for lodging at the front desk and hoist the mighty duffel of Sisyphus, carrying the obscenely large sack agonizing step by step to my room. As I said earlier, a lifetime of poor habits has caused my body to appear lightyears from the physique of Charles Atlas. My only saving grace lies in my daily attempts to travel to distant corners of Toronto in my vain and constant need to maintain a low and unsuspecting profile. There had been a time where I could risk being carefree with my lifestyle and any blessings the universe sees fit to bestow upon me, but that changed once I started getting heavy stares and mumbled curses thrown my way by a Spadina store owner. Everyone loves a winner, up until they don’t.
The room is…adequate. That is, of course, if your definition of adequate includes sheets that you could probably snap in half with the amount of dried proteins and whatever other fluids have been spilled on them. Wood paneling covers the walls in a depressing attempt to make the area look folksy and inviting, but only serve to create the illusion of sleeping in your own coffin without the added luxury of satin lining. The floral pattern adds to the misguided décor, heightening the unintentional funeral theme. Hell, even the coffee maker starts to look like an urn after a while. Never mind the stale scent of recently deceased bedbugs and roaches.
I stare at the king sized mattress and mutter a brief prayer to no god in particular, it’s best not to specialize on occasions like these. In all actuality, it’s far better to toss the idea of prayer out the window altogether and immediately set about getting as drunk and belligerent as possible.
I call the front desk, who informs me that they don’t have any room service. This in itself isn’t surprising. What is surprising, however, is that they immediately negate this claim by offering to go out and buy the alcohol and drop it off for a fee. This is, at least in my sheltered opinion, the exact definition of room service. I say nothing to that effect and order two large bottles of whiskey under the notion that if I’m going to hate myself, I might as well go whole hog on the matter.
With it only being 7 at night on a Tuesday, I do my best to stay occupied until my legally approved depressant comes. Television is somehow worse than I remember – every channel is the same banal tone, a disturbing reflection of society’s willingness to achieve the puerile depths of mediocrity. It takes me exactly 15 minutes of channel surfing to feel justified in never having owned one. The shows are terrible, minstrel shows of the ethnic rainbow that do little for the imagination with plots that could be summed up in the following manner:
“Hey, there’s something strange happening in our average life.”
“Oh, that is strange! What are we going to do about it!”
“I solved it, we should be more tolerant of strange things of this comical nature.”
“I agree, but before the day ends let me quickly share this other comical situation that has absolutely nothing to do with the initial conflict.”
Bravo, you boys have sure earned your scorn-worthy pay. When I was young, there was a strike of some kind among television and film writers, leaving several shows unattended. I guess this event could also be the cause of the onslaught of talent programs that soon followed, each as screechingly horrible as the last. The point is, despite the media coverage on the topic claiming it was some major blow to the industry, it didn’t change the way anything was done. Several of the shows still continued to be made, and the machine refused to die. It kept going in spite of the writing.
Think on that for a minute or so. Despite there being no writers for television due to a strike that lasted over 7 months, it didn’t stop the shows from being produced. So how much does any of the writing actually matter over the tube? Yet they’re still sloshing out rehash after rehash as most of our post-graduate population can’t find any work. Just goes to prove my point about being too good at something, I guess.
I swear, if I ever have children, that’s going to be the motto of the house. “Don’t try too hard, just enough to fit in with the bell curve of your class. Otherwise you’ll end up too stupid or too smart to get a job.”
The knock on the door signals the arrival of my saviour. I bounce from the sheets, not that the impression my body’s made bothers to correct itself, to swing the door wide and snatch the brown bags from a very confused Korean woman. She goes her own way after I provide a generous tip for her efforts, leaving me alone with my self-prescribed sleep aid. I don’t remember much of the rest of the night.
Artwork by Jamie Pollack.