11 Sep Alasdair Rees
I have been made to cry in the fridge section of the Pharmaprix by a bottle of sparkling water. The luxe brand from Norway that comes in the big cylindrical 800 ml bottle that handles like a weapon. I am confronted by this bottle and the seeming impossibility of all the memory it contains and I cannot help but start crying in the fridge section of the Pharmaprix.
When my last ex and I were still together, he would, sometimes, leave my place after we had sex instead of sleeping over. Sometimes, on these nights, a half hour or so after he left, he would send me a text that said « go look on your stoop » and when I did there would be a little treat for me like a consolation prize. Often it was a bottle of the Norwegian sparkling water – my favourite brand (and the one with the best bottle-reusability prospects – the bottles are really so heavy and elegant). I could rarely allow myself the treat of this water on my sessional lecturer income, so receiving it as a gift made me feel very seen. At this time, he was on his second year of mental health leave and was beginning his transitional back-to-work program. This meant he was receiving disability pay as well as pay for the hours he spent going through the motions of working in an office as a way of getting ready to go back to work in an office. This was before we found out that while he was on leave, his job had been eliminated and while his bosses would pay for this whole process, he would not actually be returning to work.
I am in the Pharmaprix with two of my best friends. One of them was the person who invited me to live with her in Montreal when I was dumped and evicted the week before Christmas. It feels almost impossible to think about the real details of my life that are filed neatly inside my friendships. I think about going and finding my friends (who are shopping for a new gum stimulator and hair bleach) and telling them about the sparkling water, but, instead, pick up one of the heavy cylinders: my birthday is this week. It’s a birthday present. I march off to the housewares to grab some superglue, which is what I came here for. The superglue is very cheap and available in many formats. Great. I choose the cheapest one.
When we get back to the apartment, we share a couple snacks and then both my friends go out. I stay in. Even though it’s my birthday week. I crack the cylinder of sparkling water and the small purple tube of super glue and get to work on my task for the night. I am gluing back together two ceramic hexagons that were part of a set of four ceramic hexagons that was part of a public art exhibit back in Saskatoon. On one night when we were out for a walk, this very important ex pulled the four interlocking hexagons out of a tree and handed them to me wordlessly. I have kept them on display ever since – even through the bad times. The other day, a gust of wind blew through my room, and knocked the hexagons off their perch. Two broke and two were fine. It felt like a sign, but if it was one, I guess I’m not listening to it.
I drink half the bottle of sparkling water while gluing back together the hexagons and listening to Andy Shauf. Kind of fucked up how Andy’s second album soundtracked our relationship and his first one soundtracked our breakup. Backwards shit, you know.
Last year on this night I got so trashed on birthday shots at the one cocktail bar in downtown Saskatoon that I ended up laying on my side in the parking lot blacked out. One of my friends sat with me and I puked into her lap all over her dress. I don’t remember this, but she says that when I was puking I looked like one of those fountains with the cherubs spitting up water and that feels like a detail you don’t make up. I remember being loaded – like actually loaded, like a suitcase, or a box of lettuce – into the back of my other friend’s car, and I remember the server who had brought me all the birthday shots coming out of the bar and handing me a glass of water and I remember taking a sip and then throwing it out the car window and watching it shatter on the street. Still.
I don’t remember my ex staying awake with me for the next six hours while I emptied my self out the wrong way into the toilet of our house (we were living together by then), but this also doesn’t feel like something you make up.
The next morning he brought me a sparkling water and set it down next to the bed with a whole box of cereal and he called me a prince. The water was not the luxe brand from Norway, but it was my second favourite: the pink grapefruit flavour of the one that comes in the green bottle that you can get at any corner store. Good value. Very tasty. I drink the whole bottle in one go and we eat the cereal together under the covers even though its June.
On the morning of December 17th he repeated the action of placing the pink grapefruit sparkling water at the bedside, but we did not end up under the sheets together with cereal, because the night before we had had a big fight. When I didn’t thank him for the sparkling water, I didn’t fix the problem. He left the house. He called me. Said it was over. His friend texted me to say I needed to be out of the house by the 22nd. The last thing I saw of him was his silhouette in the doorway. That is probably significant in some way. He had such a nice back. It was like a mountain.
I plug in my old phone – the one with the very cracked screen that I only keep around in case I crack the screen on my current phone. The phone takes a long time to turn back on once its been allowed to die, because I used it straight through for four years and so the battery is quite weak. I leave it plugged in while rolling a mugwort cigarette to smoke after the bath to help me sleep. I spend a couple minutes on the cigarette but the phone doesn’t turn on. It’s not important.
The bath is okay, but I didn’t get the water temperature right and I’m left pretty unsatisfied. I get out sooner than I had planned to, wrap myself in a towel, and go out onto the balcony to smoke my cigarette.
I open Spotify and there is a new Emily Haines song. It’s bad (in my opinion) and too opaque. I listen to the old one about the rowboat: one of my favourites.
Mugwort doesn’t get you high. It just makes you sleepy – and it gives you fucked up dreams. Like, good fucked up not bad fucked up.
Smoking a mugwort cigarette during the full moon, at home, alone, during my birthday week, and thinking about my ex, and feeling like a real fucking cliché, but a beautiful one, and a dangerous one. See how false I am: what do I have to lose?
I finish the cigarette.
When I come back into the bedroom, there is a vibrating noise and my old phone turns back on. Fun timing. I lay in bed and drink the last drops of the expensive sparkling water while scrolling through my old photos. I stop on the really great photo of my ex’s ass. The one where he’s on his stomach, propped up on his forearms on the bed, facing away from me. Fuck. He had such a nice ass. You can see the tattoo on the back of his neck in the photo as well. I didn’t like that tattoo at first but it grew on me. It’s a mosquito inside a human head sucking on a brain. The caption is Memorias. It’s a reference to something. I can’t remember what though. Maybe The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I can’t remember. That would make sense because his favourite author was Kundera, but I never saw that movie or read the book and I can’t remember the story of the tattoo. You’re not allowed to ask a person about a tattoo more than once – you’re supposed to remember that.
I think about the new tattoo that he got after he dumped me that he showed off in a twitter post that didn’t get very many likes. I imagine he used some of his severance money to have it done, though I don’t know for sure. When he found out his job had been eliminated, the upside was that there was a big severance package. He spent some of it on a retreat for us in a lodge in Prince Albert National Park right before it turned winter. I remember eating his ass on the rooftop terrace in one of the hot tubs and not caring that there were security cameras. It’s hot when sex feels urgent. I think about jerking off to the photo but it doesn’t feel urgent. I unplug the phone and put it away to let it die again.
I do not read the texts. I avoid looking at the call history.
After I had moved to Montreal, I got my last call from him. He said that he wanted us to be together again and that if I wouldn’t marry him he would join the church and remain celibate forever. I told him his health was my number one priority and I would do whatever he thought would help him return to his baseline. This was the wrong answer.
Outside my window, the Molson sign glows red against the dark blue body of the night and everything is still.
Alasdair is a fransaskois artist living and working in Montreal.