Friday, April 16
9:10 PM MT
Eight days, ten hours and five minutes since speed arrived to take Catherine to the airport
I pull a pack of unfiltered Camels from my jacket pocket and offer one to FLYNN and have to search all my pockets for a lighter until I find one in my pants hidden underneath some tissues and a clump of receipts that are getting less legible every minute I wear them. I had better unfurl these on Monday to make sure none of them are expensable. We begin the three-block journey to Smoosh.
It’s getting dark and the people are a mix of office drywall who don’t want to go home yet and party people who are just getting started. The real fun people are still in their dens or already seated at the Yard, where the music began at nine.
-No thanks, says FLYNN, sniffly and with his eyes a little red.
-We never really talked about Amanda, how is her hearing? I ask as I light one up. I am relieved the lighter works. I will need it for the belicoso fino I have in a case in my side pocket, the cigar brought to pull me out of the bar and get me walking home when the time comes. The taste of the tobacco replaces the lemon and sweetness in my mouth and the hint of salt and pepper lurking behind it.
-She’s doing great. The new implants have her hearing really well, the speech therapist says her vocabulary is improving and she’s catching up to the other kids, and she’s scored four goals this season. You should come to one of her games. She plays on Sunday and they’re quite enjoyable. It would be good practice for you.
-Sundays are difficult, by the time I’m awake and competent enough to engage my fellow passengers the sun is too high in the sky and I don’t like to be outside.
-You should buy a sun lamp for your office.
We are leaving main downtown and getting to the scuzzier outskirts. I stop by a garbage can to stub out my cigarette and leave the end on the rim in case someone is collecting butts.
-Is Catherine still going with the dance thing?
-She’s posting tonight from Montreal, I say, lighting another cigarette, stepping forward and nearly tripping over a gap in the sidewalk.
-I have to say, you can barely walk without falling down. How did you hang with such a good dancer?
-We were drawn together by things other than dancing.
-What did you do when you were in a club and she going from person to person?
-I just did the headbanging thing where I looked down and did my own thing and it worked with her. I just had to stand there and by the way she likes it.
-I have seen all of her stuff I can find and I barely know what her face looks like.
-You have to watch the stuff from the other members of the Biches to see her face. You can see her pretty well in Simone’s and in Charlotte’s stuff.
-That Simone is hot.
-I have no idea what her temperature is. She is tough going. Her girlfriend is named speed dealer. That’s her actual name. I never heard another one. That’s the kind of name that gets you attention, especially from people who are seeking drugs and the people who are seeking them.
-My name seems kind of conservative and boring now.
-You should be satisfied with being all caps. Let’s have the two of you go to the airport to fly to Chicago, line up at US Customs and let me know if you would rather be named speed dealer or Paul FLYNN.
I pull the two breaths of smoke from the Camel as we pass Smith Hot Tubs, E and M Accounting and Independent Pet Supplies, reach the end of the strip mall and the door of Smoosh. Then I toss the butt and scratch the last of the tobacco from my lip and swallow the brown flecks that got into my mouth from the unfiltered end. There is no lineup, which is not surprising given that it is still light out, and no one is covering the door so we walk right in.
As Smoosh’s beigy nighttime takes us in, I remember Catherine’s advice about clubs and turn it into a narration.
-Clubs are work. You are there for a job. What are you there to do? Get stoned, dance, get laid? Meet one person? Join a group? Then do the thing you are there to do and nothing else. If you just want to hang out, fuck off and go to the pub.
My job is to not offend anyone and not get fired on Monday. To get there I need to:
never for a moment forget that I am actually in the office
affect polite astonishment at everything
ask people lots of questions
don’t touch anyone or anything.
I squint around the room which is a little bright and see Jimmy standing in the back and with Samantha and Fatima and Crystal visible near him. There are screens throughout the club with sports on, so it looks like Smoosh is one of those establishments that is a sports bar by day and a dance club by night, and not much of either.
-FLYNN FLYNN! I hear Christine yell to my right as she throws her arms around him. I’m so happy you’re here! Wait a second, she adds as she tightens her grip and tries to lift him into the air. I look at his feet, which move about two inches off the floor.
-Let me get a photo, I say, reaching for my device.
-No, I’m good, she says, setting him down gently and letting out a deep breath. FLYNN, you look great!
-It’s the lack of pollutants in my bloodstream, he says. You probably guessed it when you lifted me up.
-I didn’t actually. That’s not at all what I was guessing, she says.
The group hasn’t been together in a social setting since the staff holiday party which went fine until on Monday, we heard that Max had climbed into a taxi with Crystal and had gotten very aggressive with his hands and then tried to get out at her stop. I saw him in the kitchen on the Tuesday morning and then not again.
Fatima is at one table in the back talking with Crystal and Greg. At the next table, there’s Jimmy talking with Sharan and Lisa and several cocktail glasses. A few feet over, there’s Duncan talking with his soon to be former boss Janet and a couple of people I don’t know. It looks like everyone standing is holding a bottle of beer.
-I hear you have the dirt on this guy finally, Legal tells Christine. What are you going to blackmail him for?
-I finally get the drop on somebody and he has nothing I want.
-I have plenty of nuance, I counter. Nuance and glimmers. They’re yours if you want them.
-Ewwww. No. If it isn’t something that can’t be sent through the interoffice mail in either an envelope or a box, I don’t want it, she says, keeping an arm around FLYNN’s shoulder.
-Can you send jars. I wonder, then suggest I have some strawberry jam at home we can use as a test.
-I can picture it now, on your coffee table with a spoon sticking out of it, Christine says. The plastic wrap and elastic band you use as a cover is crumpled next to it. You can’t mail that.
-You are right except it’s a fork. I just need to swap in a fresh elastic and I think it will be good to send.
-Let’s go see the group, she says. FLYNN everyone is going to be so happy to see you!
We wind our way past the long bar to the back, I am thinking of the right thing to do here and decide that instead of planting at Jimmy’s table and hoping for the best I should greet Duncan. It’s risky because Janet and I haven’t spoken since both our firms provided opinions on a tax waiver involving an experimental OCT for the Clarification clinic and she and I disagreed on an interpretation of section 37 (1) (a) of the Act. In a moment, I reprocess the wording of Sec. 37 and decide I was right. Unless there is some case law that finds ambiguity in the wording experimental development. Was that what Janet was thinking? I will decide later. We should be able to get through this. I wave and smile to the young staffers’ table and am moving to greet Duncan, he’s turning his head and we make eye contact and then Jimmy steps in front of me.
-Hey, he says. I’m good. And you?
-I am appropriate and punctual like always. That includes inside, outside and in the electronic realm.
-That’s not what I’m hearing, he says.
-You need better sources. What’s that your drinking?
FLYNN and Christine have taken a seat with Fatima, Crystal and Greg and everyone seems very happy.
-A friar ale from Belgium. It’s pretty good, you should order one.
-I want to see if they have something from Switzerland, mild and neutral but well-managed, I say. By the way, I thought you gave some very good advice on the Holtzenhoffer file. I have been meaning to tell you.
-If you think it was good, you must not be a very good accountant.
-I am trying to never have more than a five percent variance above or below you, so as the benchmark your guidance will continue to be appreciated on these matters. On Monday I am going to send you a calendar notice so we can meet once a week to review our priorities and lay out some shared performance goals.
-I can’t wait for this meeting. I think we will have only one, so don’t make it a recurring thing.
-If we set the meetings in the morning, I will bring in a barista and maybe even a crepe station.
-In your office?
-I will square it with Facilities. I am sure they can work both the coffee and crepes from my power bar. I think it has like four plugins free as we are talking. I can unplug my desk lamp if we need more firepower.
-I wonder if they can make a banana one?
- A crepe or something like a banana frappe, do you think? If you can think it, they will make it.
-Maybe both. The weekend cannot go by fast enough now. I can’t wait until Monday.
The waitress is discussing an order from FLYNN and Christine, and it seems as though Fatima and Greg are giving them advice on what to drink next.
-Work equals freedom, I say, slapping Jimmy on the shoulder and heading for Duncan. I take my place at the edge of his group, nod vaguely to everyone and wait for him to make eye contact. He’s telling a story about finding a living space in London.
-The firm has me set up in something temporary for the first eight weeks and by early October I will need to be in something of my own, he is saying. I have an agency looking for something but I think whatever I get will be small and expensive.
-If you don’t like it, you are always welcome back here, Janet says.
-We will be like Amity after the shark was gone, I say. Once one or two uneventful summers go by and we have exhausted all the stories about you, we will be secretly hoping that you return.
-No one wants to make a movie about a summer town where nothing happens, Janet says.
-I think they just did one, I say.
-Never saw it.
-Are you going to be inside the city? asks one of the people I don’t know.
-I think so, Duncan says.
I want to ask how close he will be to 221B but decide not to because someone will say it’s not a real address and I will say there’s a plaque there and you know, so on. The conversation moves away from me and Janet asks how I am doing. I am grateful to her for picking up the shark thing.
-Appropriate and punctual, as always, I answer. Janet, I must say, you should have thrown a ton of money at him. Not like Janet money but you know, more than he’s making now.
-We had talks with him but I think he was wanting to go back home. The work he’s going to be doing is interesting. I think he’s going to continue doing audits but they likely have plans for him if they’re moving him that far.
Maybe her thoughts on the act were correct.
-He could lead an audit team or go into tax or bankruptcy – he might also start consulting and have his own space there, I say. He’s got lots of options.
The waitress comes back and asks if I would like a drink.
-A Modelo please, if you have it.
-We do, she says. How about you? She asks Janet.
-My husband is around here somewhere and I am driving, so I had better leave it off with this, Janet says, and the waitress moves on.
-I have no reason to think he won’t do great at any of it, Janet continues. He had gotten some big contracts and done good work. They were very happy with him at Mackenzie. It’s a good promotion.
-It’s official. He’s transcended us. I say. I hate being transcended, I say.
-You should be used to it by now! she laughs and we clink our glasses.
-You know that one never does, I say and have a drink as Duncan comes over.
-We were just talking about how you’ve transcended us, Janet says.
-That happened a long time ago, he says.
-Stop transcending yourself Duncan, I say and poke him in the ribs.
-Stop transcending yourself! Stop transcending yourself! Janet says and tickles him in the other side as I keep poking him.
-Stop it! He says, scrunching up and nearly spilling his beer. You are ruining my buzz. Let’s drink. He holds up his glass and says. To bigger, better, and more, he says.
Fatima, Greg and Crystal are taking turns making faces as they switch cameras to take pictures of themselves and their drinks, then typing on each one and laughing as each one gets posted.
-You are going to have to work on your accent Janet says. I think you are emphasizing your arrrrs too much for the English. And your vowels are a mess.
-I will be sounding like a proper Englishman by the time I get my baggage off the carousel, Duncan says. I was mixing everything up so you would feel comfortable.
-It mostly worked, I say.
One of the strangers comes across and stands on the other side of Janet and leans in to speak with her conspiratorially. I pretend I am taking my cue to leave, cut to the right and around to Duncan.
-Are you all packed and ready?
-Pretty much. I fly Sunday and there’s not too much to do. Come with me, there’s someone you should meet.
-My social obligations are complete, I think to myself. I am going to get through this, fifteen more minutes, a quick hug with Duncan and the bollie and I are lit up and on the way home.
Duncan brings me to one of the strangers at the table. He points to me and says this is Michael, the guy I was telling you about. The guy with the collection. She’s Sophia.
-Hello, I say as we shake hands. I’m the vague blur who stands by the shelves that hold the records.
-Pleased to meet you, she says. You appear in very solid definition so far.
-I don’t want to give anyone eye strain, I reply. Do you collect or do you play?
-I guess I play. My parents put me in lessons when I was four. I completed the conservatory when I was 14 but I don’t have time to play too much right now because of work.
-What do you do?
-I’m a computer programmer.
-Piano and computing, those are two rigorous disciplines.
-It’s true, and it’s hard to do either very well even on their own. I keep my hand in, don’t laugh, by playing the organ in my parents’ church.
-Seriously? I say. That’s absolutely brilliant.
She thinks I am kidding, so I need to be convincing here.
Duncan has walked off and is talking with FLYNN and some young woman I haven’t seen before.
-My parents belong to the church and their organist retired, so they asked me to fill in until they could find someone permanently. But I’m kind of enjoying it. You’re playing in public but people can’t see you and you’re not really the focus so there’s not a lot of pressure.
- What do you play during the service? Do you accompany the choir or do you play solo, or is that just when people are coming and going?
-Before I answer, let me know if you actually like this music, or are you actually religious?
-I have about five or six thousand classical albums and most of the major composers have written for the organ, sometimes quite substantially.
I should stop there but I’m going to let it go for a moment just once tonight.
-Kuhnau, Boehm, Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Frescobaldi, Weckmann who is said to have had a contest with Froberger but that might have been on the harpsichord, the Couperins, Haydn’s organ concerto(s), Mozart did about an lp worth and his chamber music has some gorgeous church sonatas that use a home organ, you know all this already, I am just trying to show that my enthusiasm is genuine. Mendelssohn, Liszt, and then you have the real specialists like Widor and Vierne, and into the twentieth century with Messiaen and Poulenc.
That’s too much information. Bring it up to now and close it off.
-John Zorn is playing it now. This music should be played more often and
I don’t know why it isn’t. Do you play any of this at home?
-Not really except when I am prepping something.
-One of the problems is that movies have been very rough on the instrument, I say. When you hear the harpsichord or the organ, as a member of the general public, I am betting that your mind mainly goes back to the sound of horror movies. Atonal music has the same problem. It’s like murder music or from 2001. I am oversimplying considerably but it’s more true than it isn’t. That said, if people liked it, they would play it more.
-I am kind of excited about something I am playing on Sunday, Sophia says. It’s
-Hey you two, stop having fun, Jimmy says, sitting on the other side of her.
He always blocks me with that and my only response which I have never used is two words long.
-We were discussing church music, which is very fun, Sophia says.
-I am thinking of doing a pool for how long Duncan stays in London before he decides to come back here, Jimmy says. Five dollars per person. What would you guess? I am betting six months.
-I would bet on forever, she says. He can handle London.
-Janet! I am doing a pool on how long Duncan stays in London. What would you bet?
-He’s not coming back. He might come back someplace else but it won’t be here.
If Janet is an expert in one thing, it’s knowing when a man is gone for good, I think of saying and decide not to. It’s safe because her husband is around here somewhere. But I haven’t seen him yet. I should let our truce last a little longer than five minutes.
-I don’t think your pool is off to a good start, I say to Jimmy.
-Maybe I should switch it to a pool about when you get fired.
-If you start to get some real action on that, let me know and I will buy in.
-Jimmy, we are auditing Matheson and they are going onto SAP effective October 5, Janet says. When you were at Deloitte, were you involved in the audits of Como when they went SAP?
I have always interpreted SAP as a signal that I can leave. I should be entirely free in about 15 minutes. I am about to head for the bar and then I think of something.
-You’re going to be relying on the work on the internal auditors for checking the implementation of the new system and the key controls for the integrity of the data, Jimmy says to Janet. It shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s best to make sure that
-Marchand. Louis Marchand, I tell Sophia.
-I know the name and we studied a couple of pieces from his second book but I barely remember them. I know Bach was supposed to have beaten him head to head but now maybe that didn’t happen and Bach really liked his playing.
-Marchand was so famous for being a jerk and he didn’t help his own case by only publishing about a cd each of harpsichord and organ music and then he leaves the rest of his compositions in a suitcase in the care of his daughter when he had been a lousy father, I say.
-She probably threw them into the Seine.
-Her look is very calm. She is only looking at the thing she was looking at and not at anything else unlike everyone else in the group who is either checking their phones, watching for someone slightly more important or, in one case, somewhat too raptly focused.
-One certainly couldn’t blame her. The suitcase might have been left under the bed and forgotten and then it’s just the usual inaction you see everywhere. But a few years ago, a recording showed up of a manuscript with the Marchand name on it but dated twenty years after his death. It’s in a private collection and I am not sure if any experts have been able to review it. Davitt Moroney thinks it comes further down the road in French keyboard history, but maybe.
-Maybe she opened the suitcase at some point and did something with it.
-I am not sure your firm is big enough that you need SAP, I hear Janet say. It's a big four thing.
-Possibly, I say to Sophia. We will see if any new facts arise. What I am thinking about is the two books of harpsichord pieces that we do have. The problem with baroque keyboard compositions is that they just sketched the line and expected the player to ornament it to produce something that was complete and Marchand I think did that more than anyone. I think he liked befuddling church audiences and his favorite times were playing for two or three connoisseurs. I am hoping that someone will come along and play Marchand maybe on the piano like Gould who can write their own cadenzas and has the confidence to really play the line and ornament and do something with it.
-That would be very controversial on the piano, she says.
-Maybe Marchand even heard one of the Christofori fortepianos but I am not sure there were any in Paris by 1732. So, there’s no literature to back it up. A pianist would really have to nail it. It’s certainly risky. But I would love to hear it. At that moment it would be just a thing that exists right then and that’s all one can ask.
Time to leave. This welcome has been overstayed.
-So, there you go. Louis Marchand. It has been a pleasure talking with you.
I think of pretending to take a call so I pop in my earpiece.
-I’m going to pretend to take a call to get out of here, I say to Sophia. Hello, Jean Claude!
-Say hello to him, Sophia says as I get up.
-It’s my broker, I tell Jimmy. What’s that? Oh, that’s great news. Buy all of it! We’re going to mop the floor with those guys.
The bartender asks me what I’m having.
-Can you get Lopez versus Morita on one of these screens?
He comes over.
-What channel is it on?
-It’s on ESPN plus in the US but that’s not available here. Sometimes TSN will carry it on one of their extra channels that are way up in the one eighties. Let’s try that. Thank you in advance.
He frowns and walks slowly to the other end of the bar and reaches underneath to grab a remote and walks slowly back, turns the remote to the screen and clicks it. Nothing happens.
-Sorry, the bartender says. I think this is the wrong remote. He ambles back to get it.
He comes back with another remote, points it at the screen and moves through a couple of menus to get to regular television. He starts at channel 002 but types the numbers wrong and has to fix it a couple of times to get to the top of the menu, then scrolls down to channel 28 and clicks it. Hockey.
-That’s regular TSN, they’re showing hockey. Hockey is already on that screen and that one and that one. It’s not TSN one, it’s like TSN eight or something.
He clicks up one channel to 29, where a man and woman in lab coats are arguing, then looks at me.
-The other channels are way up in like the 180s, so we have to go there. Sorry, it’s complicated.
He types in 18, goes there, then 001 and gets the community channel, and then nails 180 and it goes there. Soccer. He keeps looking at the screen. Another guy has come to the bar and is trying to make eye contact with him.
-Just click guide and let’s check it out. You have a customer, why not just give me the remote and I will check it out.
He ignores both of us and starts clicking through channels.
Still more hockey. He gets to 195 and stops.
-Thank you but I think it’s over. Tell you what, help that other guy and when you have a moment, grab me a double Oban with a little water and a straw on the side. Thank you, I appreciate it.
He clicks the button three times decisively and the screen goes back to hockey, he takes the remote back and puts it in the pile of remotes and talks to my fellow customer.
I don’t know where to look so I study the bottles. Do they have Golden Pheasant? When was the last time someone ordered a shot out of there? Maybe it’s part of some margarita or cocktail or something. Ten, twenty and thirty port. Triple Sec. Cinzano. Gold schlager. One day I will drink something with Grenadine. Don Julio 1942. Glen, Glen, Glen. Tapatio Excelencia. Glenrothes. Laphroig 10. Oban Distiller edition. Lagavulin 12. Glenfarclas 79. Someone put this together. I take a photo and send it to Gord without any text.
The bartender is here with two glasses and a straw.
-Thanks very much, this was a successful exchange.
-Twelve, he says and I reach in my pocket and pull out a ten and a five and hand it over, then grope for a two-dollar coin and hand that over too and give him a thumbs up and he heads back to his station to do more bartender work.
I taste it and try to think of something smart but then nothing happens. I google Louis Marchand and am reading an essay about him from a Russian music site when the level of noise from our tables increases behind me and I turn around and see Greg standing and filming Fatima, Crystal and another young woman I don’t know as they talk to the waitress.
-I like the conversation you two were having back there.
I turn to the side and there’s a bachelorette.
-I didn’t know we were talking so loudly. When you are being pretentious about something you barely understand you need to keep your voice down. Please excuse me.
-It was nice to hear someone talking about something interesting.
-It was nice to talk with someone about something interesting. I am not sure how much you heard, but she’s actual musician and she actually plays, so it’s good to talk with someone who knows what they’re talking about, and I actually learned something. I can’t read music so anyone who’s doing what she’s doing has a huge advantage over me. I have to ask – what does one talk about at a bachelorette party?
-Not much. You are just trying to support the bride and keep things from going too crazy. Each of us has our own agenda. I’m not really into it though.
-This is probably true of any event, especially now. Look around, everyone is talking with who they’re talking to, they’re looking at people from their group and setting up the next conversation, they’re scanning the room, they’re checking their phones, they’re texting their friends, they’re taking selfies or photos of their drinks and posting them, they’re setting for the next thing and making a plan b if the next thing doesn’t work out, and then the whole time you are calculating everything around you, cross referencing it with your memory and your consciousness is turning it into words.
-Ewwwwww, she says.
-And if you have a credit card and a mortgage, you’re always aware of interest accruing by the moment that someone is tracking. So, no one is like, really here. Being really here is a lot to ask of a person. If you’re getting married and you’re at a bar with your friends, it’s debatable where you are. An ex of mine said you need to have a purpose at a bar more than anywhere else. Is her dress and the cake all sorted out?
-The dress looks really good and it is supposed to get delivered on Monday. I think the cake is getting handled. She hasn’t said anything, so I assume there’s no problem.
-Outstanding. What do you listen to?
-Right now, it’s mostly satellite classical radio. I am in between places and everything is in boxes. My sister is kicking me out because I won’t let her read my thoughts.
-Is she a micromanager? Does she boss you around and tell you what to do all the time?
-She’s using her wifi to take over my mind and my thoughts and get me to do something for her.
-Well. She wouldn’t need to control your mind if it was something good.
-I found a way around it.
-Are you jamming her wifi or something until you move out?
-Sort of. I have found that by having a lot of sex I can keep my brain to myself. I’m not a prostitute or anything, but if I have sex twice a day with different guys, I can keep my mind straight and she can’t get into it.
-Does it have to be different people, or can’t you just get into a new relationship because then you’re usually doing it a lot and that can take care of the whole thing.
-No, then it becomes a thing and he’s my boyfriend and he meets my sister and then she’s controlling the whole thing and they’re working together and my advantage is gone. This way, it’s different people -and it keeps things fresh and new and that new thing keeps me myself.
-You know, I have to say, we’re all sort of controlled by everyone else and what we read and what we are trying to do but when it comes to someone actually coming into your mind and interfering in that agency, like that primary agency I like to think we have, are you sure? Like, is she there talking and it’s her voice or is it your voice or something else?
-She’s making me think things and it’s me having the thoughts but she’s -making them happen because they’re not what I would think.
-Might it be another part of you trying to exert itself?
-No, because it’s not like I should work out more or get a new job or read more or get rid of my phone. It’s about putting everything aside and doing what she wants me to do and so then I do this thing for her. I don’t really get how it works but that’s the way it’s going.
-I don’t want to give you advice but have you discussed this with your sister?
-She denies everything. That’s just what you would expect her to do. She’s always been good at being evasive when I talk to her about this.
-It’s good you’re moving out then. Are you meeting these guys at your sister’s?
-No, it’s best if we do it right away, usually in his car or my car, and then I can go.
-I am impressed by these guys you are seeing. I don’t know if I could perform that quickly under such circumstances and in the light of day, and be, you know. What’s a good word? Effective.
-I haven’t had any problems so far.
-My experience is very limited, but I always felt that if I like someone, I would rather be with them a hundred times that be with a hundred different people.
-If you can do it fast and it’s safe you don’t have to really worry if you like someone. But it’s my sister who’s the real problem.
-Where are you moving to?
-I am moving in with my mother for a while. She and my sister don’t get along and she will leave me alone while I figure out what to do next.
-I am wishing you very good luck over there. I must admit, I am curious to know what advice you have for the bride to be based on her experience.
-She doesn’t know my sister so I don’t think she will have any problems, and her husband seems fine.
-Have you discussed this with your friends?
-All the time. Mostly Karen in the red t-shirt. She wants me to get counselling, but that’s not what I need.
FLYNN is looking at me, asking if it’s alright to come over. I narrow my eyes at him. I am keeping these two apart.
A group is forming around Fatima, Crystal, Samantha and Michael 2 as a waitress takes their order. Greg can scarcely contain himself.
-What are they doing, I ask FLYNN.
-Some sort of shot challenge, he says.
-I bet it’s the spectrum, the bachelorette says. Seven shots and you have to down them in 15 seconds.
Greg and Fatima are typing into their devices while Samantha and Crystal take a selfie with Samantha’s. Samantha shows Crystal and I can see her finger swiping across the screen while they choose a picture and then Samantha types.
By the time the waitress arrives with a bunch of colored drinks on her tray a crowd has formed. A few people who are not in our group have their devices out and appear to be recording it. Three obvious predators are lurking near the edges.
-Crystal’s going to stream it! Greg shouts and the group applauds. She is typing into her device as the waitress arranges a red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet drink in front of her.
-Ready! says Greg, watching his phone.
There are at least 10 people filming this. One of the predators has his device out and is catching the whole thing and giving a commentary on his earpiece.
-Go! Greg says and begins counting from the stopwatch on his phone.
The first three shots go down before Greg has hit the count of five. Fatima coughs a little and arranges herself before getting back to business. Crystal is handling them very well and Michael struggles a bit with the yellow one which maybe is spicy. There’s no time to turn the shot glasses upside down, so the contestants have to set them to the side so as not to get confused and miss one.
-This is sort of silly, the bachelorette says.
Samantha takes a couple of seconds to gather herself after the fourth one which might cost her. Fatima has regained her form and handles the next few with ease. Crystal has six down before the count of 10 and looks headed for victory. Michael is doing well but is a couple of shots behind Crystal.
-There should be a ninth shot for a compound colour, I think to myself, but I can’t name one at the moment.
The crowd cheers as Greg counts thirteen and Crystal downs the last one and slams her shot glass face down on the table. Michael and Samantha land on fourteen and fifteen respectively, although Samantha might have missed by a tenth of a second. Fatima smiles as she slowly drinks the last two shots and stands with her arms upraised. The four get together for Greg to take a picture and everyone applauds. Fatima clicks her phone and the four sit down as the crowd closes around them.
One of the predator guys is trying to talk with a bachelorette at the fringe of their group.
-That was kind of fun, I say.
-Hi, I’m FLYNN, he says to the bachelorette from the other side.
There’s a commotion from the bachelorette table. The bride is talking to the waiter and it looks like another drinking challenge is in the works.
-It’s on now, I say.
-Eep, the bachelorette says. I need to head back over there. Are you planning to be around? Hello, she adds to FLYNN.
-I am not. I am at a work thing that is fraught with peril and the moment just arrived where I can leave safely and still have a job on Monday.
One of the predators has his arm around the bride and is trying to get her to do a kiss selfie. Karen is trying to get between them, the bachelorettes are divided and it is very noisy.
-I need to go, she says. Bye! and then another bye to FLYNN
-She’s cute, FLYNN says.
-Yeah kind of fun. She’s having a complicated evening over there.
-I was thinking of heading over there myself but I made other plans for later. You need to come with me right now because my phone is turning off once I get there.
-You should come with me and smoke a cigar. You can have the one in my pocket and I will light another when I get home. They are better than anything.
-I prefer anything myself.
-Okay, Time for out.
-You should say goodbye to Duncan.
-I find Duncan talking with another young woman from another group and I cut in and say – The time has come for a safe exit just like you’re doing. Good luck in London my friend! I am going to be sort of bereft without you in some aspects.
-I wish you good luck with that. By the way, isn’t Sophia awesome?
-Yeah, she’s pretty interesting. One doesn’t usually get to talk like that in a place like this.
-I’m going to really miss her. She’s my girlfriend. Did I tell you?
-No, you didn’t.
I pause, long enough for someone to take a cigarette out, reach in their pocket for a lighter, light it, inhale, put the lighter back in their pocket and inhale again. Or take out a phone, type in the password, open their email, scan it, read one short email, close it and put the phone back. Or scan a poem that is five lines long, scan it again and then read it. Or chew a corner of their fingernail for a break that has been annoying them, deal with it, realize they removed too much, suck it for a moment and then move on to something else and begin to forget about it. For some reason Duncan waits for me.
-She’s very impressive.
-We’ve only been going out a few weeks and it started when I was already negotiating to move.
-You should take her with you.
-What’s this tip you got? he says.
-Haliburton is taking a position in Tesla. It’s very hush hush so keep it to yourself.
-Why would they do that? Jimmy says. They’re totally opposite. Unless
-He’s messing with you, idiot. Duncan weighs in.
-It’s not that. Jean-Claude is a very unreliable broker. I need to fire him.
-Is that what you do at a party Jimmy, walk around and discuss pending fictional transactions? Duncan asks.
-When you talk like this Jimmy, you know. I say. This is how rumors get started.
-I hope you learn something from this, Duncan says to Jimmy.
Take it easy on him, I say. The financial sector is a complete mess. The real bad guy here is capitalism. Someone needs to occupy those guys. What better time than right now?
-I miss Janet, Jimmy says and he leaves.
-Anyway. Duncan says. From the moment we started, it was clear I was leaving in a few weeks and it has always seemed like I would move and she would stay here. I don’t know.
-Well, good luck either way. We discussed the music of a composer who I knew was a total shit but it turns out he was a big domestic abuser so if you get the chance tell her to disregard everything I said.
-I will certainly do that! It will give us something to talk about.
-Certainly, he says, and we make it happen.
-Thanks very much for being so nice to me most of the time, I tell him.
-I hoped we could smoke one more cigar before I had to go.
-Everyone always says that. And I’m off.
I look him in the eye, make an indistinct sound with my teeth and turn to the door.
The bachelorette I had spoken to is sitting next to Karen in the red t-shirt and watching the bride and the predator guys, who have fully infiltrated the group. The waitress is setting out another series of shots in front of the bride, two other women in the group and two of the predators. One of the bachelorettes is taking photos and her fingers seem to be posting them.
The staff including my bartender are moving tables to create a dance floor on the other side of the bar, and a server is walking from television to television with an apron full of remotes switching them to some nighttime thing. I don’t want to see anyone here dance. I am moving to the door.
-Wet willie! someone says and there’s something in my ear.
-Oh Christine, I say. What a new low.
-You’ve had worse, admit it.
-Every time, I have been grateful for it.
-That was for leaving and not saying goodbye.
-You looked busy.
-Those idiots are sending their photos all over and I think I have an actual live stream invite from Crystal. If their locations are on, they are just letting the entire loser world know where to find them loaded in about 15 minutes from now. I’m mobilizing the sober women to keep an eye on them.
-Can I help?
-I don’t think so. It’s raining men at the moment.
-What about Greg?
-What about him?
-Okay see you Monday.
-Don’t break anything on the way home.
-Go sanitize your finger.
She wipes it on my shirt front.
-See you, she says.
I weave through the crowd, nearly bump a guy wearing a pair of green Stussy Nikes that stop me briefly, a woman in a group whose attention is focused in a way no one else’s has been the entire evening. She’s looking fiercely at something and I would have to turn to follow her gaze to see what she was looking at, which would interrupt her, and so I walk through it trying to be like a dust mote in a sunbeam and I feel my face warm from it and then it’s cool again. I walk past two very long beards that need to be trimmed, a yellow t-shirt with a long saying that blocks the door, and then I am in the infinite weekend of the nighttime.
I walk past Independent Pet Supplies, E and M Accounting and Smith Hot Tubs. The pet store had a light on toward the back but now it’s dark, so someone had been working late and is now out in the world. I picture the animals setting down for the night, the fish moving around in their lighted aquariums, a blue chameleon on a branch with a cutout of the sky behind it.
I reach the end of the block, wait for the light to turn green, cross and walk another half block, find the cigar and take it out of the case, put the case back in my pocket, cut the smokeable, light it carefully, inhale and let it breathe for a minute. The first couple of intakes are harsh and I pull the air in slowly and carefully to help it catch, letting about twenty seconds elapse between each pull to help the fire into the tobacco.
It’s going well now and I enjoy the next three and then four puffs and then it and I begin to walk.