17 Apr Steve Anwyll
LIKE THE ROYAL CANADIAN LEGIONS THAT MY PARENTS DRANK IN
We walked over because of Sherry and Mark’s cats. They needed to be fed. Watered. Some attention. They’d been alone for days. There was some worry they’d be feeling unloved.
Of course I made arguments. I thought that was why they had each other.
And come on. Who doesn’t feel lonely?
Also, the cats want nothing to do with me. They’ll just as soon swipe out my eyes. And I have to watch out. I’m not as quick as I used to be.
Maybe if the fucking things loved me. It wouldn’t have been a chore. To put on boots. A coat. And drag my ass across the canal.
And I’m sure our friends knew this. Because a promise was made. A bottle of booze left in the middle of the kitchen table.
When we get there Emily pulls out the key from her bag. Puts it into the lock. It doesn’t turn. I lean against the wall. She struggles.
Fed up she drops her arms to her side.
‘What the fuck?’ she asks no one in particular. ‘It worked the last time, didn’t it?’
‘Babe, I can’t remember. That was months ago. And you know me, I didn’t give a shit.’
‘Fuck. What are we gonna do? Those cats are probably starving.’
I give the lock and key a try myself. I fail.
‘I wouldn’t worry about it, kid. Cats are tougher ‘n you think. Text Sherry. Maybe we’re morons?’
Emily texts Sherry. We wait. Pace back and forth.
She calls her. No answer.
We begin to feel just how cold it is. Even the trees around here look like they feel it. And their crooked limbs remind me of my aching fingers.
‘Jesus Christ. She lives on her fucking phone,’ I say, ‘She can’t get back to us? We’re not good enough?’
‘Simmer down. She’s visiting her family. It’s Christmas.’
‘Bullshit. To hell with Christmas. You wanna get a Caesar?’
‘Yep,’ she says without thinking.
‘OK, we got two choices. There’s this place,’ I point at a bar across from us. ‘Terasse Monk. Or there’s that Irish pub up the street.’
‘Ummmmmm,’ she puts a finger to her lip. Looks up into the sky. Really thinks. ‘Let’s go to the Irish place.’
‘I knew you were going to pick that one.’
The cold gets into my brain as we walk. I start to imagine a deep dark booth at the back. Somewhere we can lean up into each other. Shiver together. Until the feeling comes back.
When we get there I’ve got myself whipped up. For the heat and a drink. I grab the door handle with zeal. Give it a good fucking tug.
And almost pull my shoulder out doing so.
‘You gotta be kidding me. The fucking dump is closed. What kind of place is this? What time is it?’
We both shrug our shoulders in unison. Turn around. Walk back.
‘I hope Terrace Monk’s open. I want a drink. I want to be warm,’ Emily tells me.
I put my arm around her. Bring her close. Whisper in her ear. ‘Kid, we’ve always wanted the same things.’
When we get there, Terasse Monk is definitely open.
We walk in. There’s a good-sized crowd of red-faced older men huddled in front of the bar. Drinking quietly.
Which I’ve always considered a good sign for 1:00 p.m.
Behind the bar is an older woman. In her late forties maybe. Tight sweater and jeans. Bleach blonde hair.
I bet she looked real good a couple decades ago. Before the cigarettes. And the thousands of drinks. And the years.
She smiles wide as we walk up. ‘Bonjour, ça va bien?’ she asks.
Shit. I should’ve figured. A French joint. I’m going to have to shit my way through their language.
Get to the point. No small talk.
‘Ah, tres bien, merci. Elle prend un Caesar, et je vieux un pint de Richard’s Red.’
‘Un bloody cease?’ She asks. I always forget that’s what they call them in Quebec.
‘Ah ouais. Merci.’
The old barmaid starts mixing. Emily leans into my side. Her head on my shoulder. I know what she’s up to. She wants my warmth.
I let her have it.
I take a look around. It’s the kind of place you don’t see anymore. There’s no craft beer. Just video lottery machines. And a speckled concrete floor.
Which reminds me of the Royal Canadian Legions that my parents drank in when I was a kid.
It’s the same dim light. And somber attitude in the air. Good times here are quiet. The radio is just loud enough to know they have one.
Which back then it was never enough. And I ran to the city. But now that I’m here. It’s places like this I search out.
The waitress places down the Caesar. When she tries to pour the beer I asked for it doesn’t work. She rambles on in thick French. I don’t have a clue what she’s saying.
But I get the idea.
‘C’est pas grave, j’peux prendre un autre, je m’en fou. Donnez-moi un Molson Export.’
I get my beer. Emily and I find a table at the back of the bar. By the pool table. It feels good to sit. French exhausts me.
Emily goes to the bathroom. I stretch my legs out. The barmaid comes over. A box in her hands. All the balls for the pool table are in it. I wave her away.
I don’t have the change to stuff in the slots.
But then I remember where I am.
The coin slots are ripped out. Just like at the Royal Canadian Legion. And I regret telling her to go away.
Emily comes back from the bathroom. Sits down. She takes a sip from her drink. And by the look on her face I know what she’s about to say.
‘Christ, it’s strong. We’re getting your money’s worth.’
‘I’m glad to hear. And look. We can play pool for free as well.’
We clink glasses.
I go back up to the bar. Trying in my head to figure out how I’m going to get these damn balls back. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the words.
My best bet is to blame the wife.
‘Désolée, mais ma femme voudrais jouer des billiards?’ I end it raising my voice. Like if I’d asked ‘do you understand me?’
‘Oh, aucun problème,’ she smiles, reaches under the bar and hands me the box. ‘Voici.’
Emily is prowling around the pool table. She has a cue in her hand. Her drink is on a ledge beside the pool table.
Ready to play.
She racks the balls. I break. There isn’t much power in my stroke. I’m no hustler.
We play a game. I win. But not by much. I order a couple more drinks. Because we don’t have anything better to do. And we still don’t know about these damn cats.
Which reminds me.
‘Hey babe, has Sherry got back to you yet?’
‘Oh fuck, I forgot.’ She walks over to the table we were sitting at. Where we left our jackets. My beer. Her purse. ‘Nope. Nothing.’
‘Really? When does she not check her phone every half second? How long’s it been?’
‘An hour now.’
‘Oh well. Wanna keep playing?’
We play a couple more games. Have a couple more drinks. I roll a joint under the table.
As we play men come by. Going out the back door. To smoke, I imagine. And as they come and go, each one of them walks a little slower when Emily leans over the table.
I let it slide. Because it’s probably been awhile. Since any one with such nice legs in such tight black jeans has been in here.
And these old fuckers need something to let them know that waking up can be worth it.
A few more drinks and a few more game. The bar starts to liven up. I look around.
The video lottery machines are all occupied. And the group around the bar has double. Started singing.
Soon laughter peels off. And the joyful shouts of tabernac are heard every 30 seconds.
Emily goes over to the table where we first sat down. Checks her phone.
‘Sherry got back to me. She thinks the key might not work. And the last time the door was broken. That’s how we got in.’
‘So we’re off the hook?’
That’s when the barmaid comes over. A plate piled high with cold pizza bread. I wink and tell her get a couple more drinks. Some shots of whiskey.
And just like that. The afternoon is gone in a flash. Because as far as I run away from home. I just want to feel like I’ve come back.