< - Backstory

§4. To Here Knows When:

        The waves lapping against the hull of the boat below them, the whine of turbines far below deck, the roar of the bow cutting up the ocean swells before them, the sale in the air and the gulls circling as they pulled away from port were all conspiring to put a wildly Cheshire cat smile on Zoe's face as they headed away from Angie's home and towards her own. The wide water was pure slate gray ahead of them as far as the eye could see, the peaks of the Highlands behind them beginning to burst into frenetic shades of yellow and red as autumn stepped up its program of decaying pageantry. Angie raised the mug of red wine in gloved hand and tink-tink two went under the sound of the wind.
        "What the hell's that?"
        "Croat. Means, to living."
        "That's nice, rather pleasant for Eastern Europe."
        "Well, literally I think its more like, here’s to not dying."
        "Right, that's more like it. Roommate teach you that?"
        "That and how to curse the entire Serb peoples. It's a big theme with them."
        The rusting ferry pulled out of the rusting town just after noon, would sail eight hours to Placentia Bay on the south-east part of the island, from which point they'd be picked up, according to Zoe, by one of her 22 cousins who were all apparently so excited, after five years, that she was finally coming back home that there had been a fairly large-scale to-do about who was going to fetch her around the dinner-table of her nanny's place, to the point where Nan had actually needed to step in, bash a few fingers over all the cursing that was going on her kitchen, right under the face of the Blessed Jesus. There was going to be a wedding in a few weeks, her cousin Jerry on her father's side, and in fact Zoe said if the two of them wanted to stick around for a bit they'd probably end up at half-a-dozen weddings, baby showers, stags, or wakes, which in Newfoundland, in case you've not heard, all seem to bleed together some months as the whole cycle of love, birth and loss runs its course.
        Since their card-game confessions, the two of them seem more inclined to let the matters rest, and the implications sink in, about what they knew, or maybe had thought they'd known about one another. They certainly seemed at first floored, then after a little consideration the surprise gave way to wider sense, and now it was like a last curtain had been pulled back. Angie had cried and cried when she'd heard it was her botched, confused letter that had given Zoe the idea to scrape together some extra cabbage. Zoe never actually said that, never in so many words, didn't address the reasons why at all, but Angie still knew, but didn't want to say she knew. So instead she pretended to by crying apologetically over thinking that Zoe had somehow embezzled the money from Death Co. She really was crying with apology, and with shame, and with a great many other emotions all true and painful, but Zoe eventually made her stop. She said she'd been toying with the idea for a while, that there was one charmer at the office, VP of Investor Relations who Zoe knew for a fact had just been handed a very hefty 'retention bonus' to ensure he didn't get any ideas about jumping ship at the dark time in the Company's history. He'd always seemed quite keen on listening, or pretending to listen to what Zoe had to say, and he was in decent shape for his age, wasn't even balding, and managed to actually look somewhat fetching and dignified in a one particular charcoal-grey Armani.
        Angie could just imagine the poor sop once Zoe had made her mind up. Zoe said with the place in the shape it was, he had ready-made excuses to be away from home, so what started out with some late-afternoon questions about share holdings by school trustees in Oklahoma turned into a 'working dinner' and that was pretty much that. She let him buy her some PVC and some schoolgirl skirts very similar to the ones she'd donned for class at St. Pius X everyday of her grade-school life. In other words, complete kids play. Within a few short weeks of some very, late nights, he got very guilty, or very exhausted, or both. She played it to the hilt, got very despondent, very depressed, played up how far away from home she was, how much she needed him, how impossible it would be for her to manage at the office now, just seeing him there and wanting desperately to come across the desk at him. This seemed to clinch it.
        He needed to do what was right for everyone he said, for himself, his family but for Zoe too, and confessed that from what he'd been told and surmised, the Company was going down in a ball of flames anyway, might not even last the year. Given that, wasn't this a perfect time for Zoe to return to her distant island home, be with her family, before things at the office went from bad to worse? He could make it very easy, she would be sacrificing nothing, would get the best references for whatever she eventually decided to do next, and he didn't want her to have to worry about money until she was sure, wanted her to have time to think about it all she wanted back home. All the time she could possibly want- back home. She grinned and called Angie the moment he'd kissed her on the forehead, turned away, let out a sigh of relief and closed the door. Everyone wants to move on, all the time anyway- this way everyone's happy, everyone's a winner, she said.
I am most myself in the place where I am not. I read that line not long ago, so French I thought, but couldn't quite grasp it, even as it stuck. I've been in your arms for hours at a time, they feel like seconds. I trace the line of your spine and time stops, the pounding of my heart the only clock. I think to myself how much I want to be engulfed in you, and I catch myself. I think how I want you on top of me, or beneath me, forever, and I catch myself. It's that phrase, and I realize now why it rings in my ears. Too long I've been only able to be me in places, or people, where I'm eclipsed. I find those situations or personalities, I seek them out, and bask in the shadow. Already I want the negation of devotion, because I can feel the overwhelming lust to affix to you and never release. Assertion, not absence, from self is what I need mosy. But my Christ its hurting right now, after peeling off your clothes in the moonlight, running hands across skin, coming down, after holding you to me, after holding you down, after being able to make you half-laugh, half-cry. With you I've turned into someone better, at exactly the moment I was fleeing the person I'd been before. And still, I have to go. But without having met you I would have left here someone else, someone who wouldn't have even known where to start. I know now.
        The legion hall was decked out in every manner of light and flowers, the tables had been pushed back after the cold-plate ham dinner to make space for the dance, the strobes were on, kids in their Sunday best ran everywhere around your legs, the crowd around the tiny bar ran five thick. The cigarette smoke was unreal, like it had been pouring out of a machine, and Angie was having trouble enough as it was remembering everyone's name, as Zoe's family here this evening went four long generations into permutations too elaborate to plot on paper, let alone keep straight in her head, so she found herself going largely on age and mode of dress when trying to distinguish cousins from uncles from nephews. For a populace in a the throes of an eight-year economic catastrophe, for people hanging on by their fingernails, the Grady clan certainly knew how to get it together and host a proper blow-out. The best man had already macaranaed with Nan twice, while just about all of the wedding party seated at the head table did little cage-dances or faux strip-teases at the behest of the whopping, howling, nearly in tears crowd. Angie had witnessed toasts to the wedded while standing on chairs, toasts from atop the bar, toasts from under tables, even a toast sung out in acapella from the lavatory while a string of the suited boys did their business.
        Zoe was of course the guest of honor, and the center of the lion's share of the attention from males both familial or otherwise, and so in sleek silver evening dress, with a succession of gins in one hand and a long sequence of cigarettes that twelve men would consistently lunge forward to light in the other, she laid down stories from her exploits abroad that made the most seasoned and world weary of the bunch alternately pitch over laughing or blush to their bones. When she finally broke into the DJ booth and sweet-talked some truly pulsing techno onto the play-list, she not long after found herself barefoot and kicking it up with about ten guys just struggling, as usual, to keep up.
        Angie had initially not felt herself up to the challenge, having already spent some fantastically late-nights bopping from bar to bar along George Street in St. John's. She's fallen in love with the city immediately, the mis-matched colors of the houses, the twisty sloping, pot-holed streets, the deep smell of salt, the long banks of dense fog you could just stand and watch from Signal Hill as they rolled in off the Atlantic. With so much to see, and so much to drink it really was getting exhausting keeping up with the Bacchic pace Zoe seemed intent on maintaining. Again, Angie half-expected her friend was doing this for her own benefit, taking a medicinal holistic approach to the psychological benefits of impending kidney failure. She was trying to keep her moving, keep her entertained, keep her laughing and basically buying her time to let things slowly settle and stitch. All this was still on her mind as Angie sat with 'cuzin' Charlotte, all of nine, who seemed deeply intrigued by the whole notion of body modification once Angie had unwisely mentioned that she's lived with someone who made their living at it. The girl with a tangle of red hair, sitting there in her flower-print Sunday dress, now wanted to hear, in anthropological detail, everything there was to know about the styles of puncture, inking, branding and amputation back there on the Mainland. So it was not with some relief to Angie when Zoe finally plunked down on the chair beside them.
        "Hey, isn't it past your bed-time?"
        Charlotte didn't look very impressed, just narrowed her eyes.
        "I'm going to get a root-beer and you're going to pay for it Zoe."
        "Oh am I now?"
        "Yes. Or I'll tell Angie about Tommy Buttle."
        "Right, Angie, give this girl some money, my purse is in the car."
        "Who's this Tommy character?"
        "Never you mind."
        Angie handed over some change to Charlotte who ran off chanting Tommy Buttle's name, and Zoe just rolled her eyes and shook her head while rubbing the sweat off the back of her neck. They were playing 'I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll' for what was possibly the tenth time that evening, and everyone was still loving it. At this point, much to everyone's amusement and to cat-calls from all the present ladies, even cousin Gerald's parole officer seemed to be kicking it up, having set his Mountie jacket aside while keeping the hat, doing a kind of barn-dance shimmy with the blushing bride. Angie knew she never would have believed any of this if she'd heard Zoe tell to people later and was a bit shaken to see reality itself seemingly bending itself to her friend's hyperbolic demands. This subsequently led her to re-examine her skepticism towards all those other tales of wonder and frenzy and weirdness she'd heard.
        "Great, innit?"
        "I was just thinking that. I'm glad you dragged me out here, because I wouldn't have believed you for a second otherwise?"
        "Are you saying I tell stories?"
        "You most certainly do. And up until now that's what I thought they were."
        "So help me god, that's gratitude for you."
        "Zoe I've never been so thankful for someone in all my life."
        "Sure, you're just trying to get on me good side now."
        "Okay, maybe just a little."
        They sat and watched Nan Grady wheel again around the dance floor, eighty-five and zipping about under blue and green streamers and throwing her head back in peals of laughter. They watched Uncle Jared take bets from all collected him around him, finish his Blue Star, set the bottle down then set the back of a chair on his considerable square chin, and proceed to balance it there while the crowd slowly screamed to a count of ten. Angie had her braids tied in a topknot and was bouncing her hair from one side of her head to the other along to the beat. Her skin had oddly cleared up since they'd left Sydney, which she could only attribute to the air given what she'd been inflicting on her body for almost three weeks running now, but whatever the cause she's wanted to show it off. Her dress was a full-length crushed velvet that would've been murderously hot anywhere else this time of year, but seemed perfectly apt for a down-home outport September wedding out here at the edge of the world. She felt perfectly apt for it too, somehow.
        "How do you think your boy would react to all this devil's business?"
        "Zoe, he's not my boy. He was a boy, a very sweet one at that, but I think its fair to say he'll most likely be moving on."
        "I don't know Angie, sounded pretty hot and heavy there. All that pitched, go here, do this, harder, slower stuff. Sounds like he had an appetite for you."
        "Stop it. It wasn't all like that. I knew I shouldn't have told you."
        "Hey, I'm not poking fun here, you of all people ought to know that. I'm just bursting with pride that you finally came out of that shell and thought to do what you wanted to do. Have a little of the fun like the rest of us. And I want you to be comfortable with that. So no, I'm not going to stop it. All indecency's in restriction sweetie, not freedom. You just remember that next time you decide to chastise yourself. Take a look around, you're a paragon of virtue."
        "And you are completely loaded."
        "You're some right. But you look like you could use another, some come on."


        Eventually even Zoe looked like she was ready for bed, her eyes gone all sort of sleepy-wandering around as she moved about the room, and Angie had to catch her once as she made her way out of the washroom, something she could never once remember doing before, and after the straightened up in the hallway, under the blue lightbulb and against the fake wood paneling, there was a split-second of sobriety as they looked back and forth at each other, instantaneously seeing everything for what it was. Then they just laughed and went arm-in-arm to try to flag down a taxi ride back to Nan's place, and when they burst through the fire-doors out into the pre-dawn air, crossing the gravel parking lot as the sky above went into less-and-less drastic shades before the sun broke across the water, Angie couldn't ever remember air, just simple fresh open air ever tasting so good.
        They sat on the bumper of Jared's pick-up, sharing the last cigarette they had between them, while Zoe explained how great the home-made bread, and raspberry jam, and sugary tea was going to be when they finally got back home. There were still a few stars left over head, Angie could pick out Cassiopeia down near the west horizon, like it was hiding away from the rising sun, and she fixed her gaze there, holding it steady, wondering if these were the same stars she watched out her bedroom window. To Angie's eye, the positions didn't look the same, their brightness didn't even feel the same, and she guessed that meant they probably weren't the same. No, she thought, these are most certainly not the same stars as before, and she made to say as much until she held the cigarette out to be taken from her only to find Zoe snoozing nosily against her shoulder.