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Saturday, March 12, 2011


by Catherine Partin

We were eating bratwurst and sauerkraut and whole litres of frothy piss-coloured beer in steins so heavy that my scrawny arm trembled uncontrollably when I tried to lift one to my mouth, nearly knocking over the plastic cup of tart white wine he’d uncorked especially for me.  The paper plate lying abandoned before me was heaped with soft strawberries, untouched because I couldn’t figure out an elegant way of separating the stems from the fruit, and the spiky remains of a bunch of pale green grapes, and a pile of mushy cantaloupe.  It was mid-June and uncharacteristically muggy, but a breeze ruffled the loose edges of the sky-blue tent pitched high above, and there was no heat radiating between the two of us as usual, but only an unpleasantly damp feeling under my arms and on the back of my neck.  He beamed down at me and mused, Whatever are you going to do without me, his eyes shiny black slits above a patronizing smirk.  Drunk, maybe.  I smiled and murmured something to the effect that I was quite at a loss now, simply all at sea as to what I should possibly do with the rest of my summer, the long months stretching ahead of me, arid and oppressive and hopelessly lonesome.  I suppose I should waste away pining for you.  My cup refused to empty and time was ticking, minutes slipping away and becoming vanished hours.  I sipped the wine slowly so that I would not grimace, and said, too quickly, oh yes, it’s delicious, I assure you, when he asked if it was any good.  I pursed my lips and sipped slowly because it was the worst sauvignon blanc I had ever tasted, and I cursed myself for agreeing to a drink at all, a drink poured by a man who doesn’t know how to eyeball a proper serving of wine.  I had to drive into downtown directly after the party.  I had a date, in fact.  We were going to try an Irish pub.  We were going dancing, maybe.

There was a lavish cake on the laundry room counter, a sickly beige colour under the shrill fluorescent light; a tangled mound of tiny painted cups for espresso lay glinting faintly in a wicker basket next to the cake.  Against the opposite wall were a washing machine and dryer and a plastic bin overflowing with soiled socks and boxer shorts, and a grimy refrigerator covered with kitschy magnets.  The toilet seat had been left up.  Shallow lakes of water rimmed by oily-looking soap bubbles covered the counter, half-heartedly absorbed by a wet burgundy towel wadded limply beside the sink.  Here all middle-class suburban homes are the same: cheap tricycles and bright soccer balls litter patchy front lawns while dandelions flourish between the cracks in the sidewalk; the funereal odor of scented candles or musty potpourri pervades every humid bathroom, and the pantry always smells like stale cereal.  These neighbourhoods unnerve me; visits always leave me sad and frightened; but even so there is something almost comforting about the way you can open the kitchen cabinets and expect to find an odd variety of logo-emblazoned plastic tumblers and cheap mugs.  The faucet was a cloudy faux-crystal knob that sent scalding water spraying with undue force into the toothpaste-crusted basin.  I dried my hands on my jeans, and sniffed them; they smelled like cucumber-melon.  Then I shut off the lights on my yellow reflection, walked past the refrigerator, past the espresso cups, the cake, the dirty laundry, back into the darkened kitchen, down the uneven porch steps, into the lumpy backyard grass and across the lawn to where the men in lederhosen were sitting, telling vulgar jokes.

My car was parked around the corner.  He hesitated, and looked at the ground, and scuffed at the gravel with one foot, hands in the pockets of his oversized leather shorts, squirming like a nervous schoolboy.  Am I ever going to see you again? he asked, and his eyes were wide.  Of course, I said, but I was thinking: why don’t you tell me, you spineless worm; that is not my decision; whose idea was this anyway?  The sun had already set and I was going to be late, and I wished I hadn’t drunk that glass of wine, but my head was clear and my heart was cold.

It’s a beautiful day in the country and I’m sitting in the shade on the back porch overlooking a tranquil pastoral scene, like something out of a painting, one of those haystacks by Monet, almost – grasses rustling, cows grazing, jets leaving white trails across the sky.  Of course, Monet didn’t paint jets, and they’re not very picturesque in my opinion, but you know what I mean.  I don’t know if it’s because of the ravine at the edge of our property, or the fact that we’re surrounded by lots of other hills,but if you holler into the stillness you can hear your voice echo a few times, which is probably why I can hear dogs barking and a tractor droning away somewhere nearby and the neighbors’ rooster crowing even though it’s well past noon and aside from the cows I haven’t seen any other signs of life today, yet there seems to be an invisible chorus of birds determined to torment me with their incessant twittering, and thus hasten my inevitable descent into madness, because these noises are reverberating in my eardrums like glass marbles dropped all at once onto a hard tile floor, and the sky is a jarring shade of electric blue.  Someday, I am going to wring that rooster’s neck and eat him for dinner.  I’m wearing sunglasses and a thick blue bathrobe and the T-shirt you so kindly laundered for me, drinking Perrier out of a big stemless wine bowl and fitfully gnawing away at a few bland crackers, which I somewhat regret since I lost four and a half pounds last night and it would be a shame to gain it all back.  I was perusing your copy of Maxim around five o’clock this morning and in it there was this blonde bombshell claiming her last meal consisted of bangers and mash, which I’m sure you must be aware is British code for big greasy sausages and mashed potatoes.  Just so you know, there is no possible way that models in Maxim actually eat huge fatty English breakfasts.  I do feel a little bit like Hemingway, after that cocktail, sitting here with my bitterness and my god-awful hangover.  Stella wants to play tennis with me, but I’m not having any of it, as you would say.  I wish you’d shoved me from the car and yelled “Get it together, lady!” and maybe mentioned that my being drunk stopped being even minorly cute something like six months ago.  I haven’t the foggiest notion what was in those two drinks to convince me of both my complete fluency in French and the dire necessity of being transported directly to urgent care for an emergency liver transplant, but I humbly beg your pardon for last night’s disastrous events, and thank you fervently for shielding me from the passersby when I leapt from the car and began to strip.

Cut to present tense.  My mind leaps to the thick envelope radiating heat from the bottom of my purse, but I leave it there.  We have only seconds to find the right words; we gaze desperately at each other, like fish.  I turn to unlock my car and he is already striding away, a silhouette against a watery orange sky, comically long legs casting surreal shadows on the cooling pavement.  Have fun in Germany! I shout, a mangled cry.  I can’t hear what he says in reply.  I’m in the driver’s seat already, turning the key.

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