Back to Part One - To be Con't
§2. Home is in Your Head:
The south-end of the city's peninsula was still ten trees to every rooftop, with its hushed, rustling narrow streets of closely-nestled houses. The major source of illumination from their picnic vantage were the rows of yellow klieg lamps along the borders of the dockyards. There was still not a trace of smog, not a whiff of expansion, no inclination at all to go overboard, and still not much really going on in general. Angie found this a staggering relief sitting on the slightly-damp grass of Citadel Hill that night overlooking the harbor. There seemed to be a few more cargo and cruise ships in dock than she remembered being normal, and the streets downtown looked a little more polished and colorful. There did certainly seem to be more tourists milling around the historic core, gawking at brick and wood and cobblestone like they'd never seen natural building materials before.
Everything else though seemed to correspond roughly to memory. You could still drive across town in twenty minutes top, could still walk the waterfront at three in the morning, still get a cup of coffee at the Tea Room for 75cents, free refills. After the two of them had taken the bus into the city from the airport, they decided to split up for a bit to make sure everything they needed out of the way could be gotten out of the way. This was the MO they had always worked under, forcing each other to always get the labor-intensive tasks out of the way first so that you could concentrate on the slothful, impractical and/or truly outrageous later on. Besides, Zoe and her had some friends here who didn't exactly match up perfectly. Film kids and day-jobbers on one side, theater and art-school grads on the other, with old grade school friends cropping up in-between. At parties, this had not always been a germane combination. Zoe also said she had some 'financing' she needed to iron out, the shadowy nature of which Angie felt she could hazard a glowering guess, but which seemed to laden a topic to move into immediately after their arrival. So she'd been free to wander the streets alone for a few days, in which time she'd done a great deal of careful comparison, dutifully trying to line up her favorite memories of places and things, sights and smells, to confirm all the images and sensations were still firmly intact, both in her world and the world.
This was not as easy at first as she would have thought. Firstly, she had to give excuses to her friends, all very eager to drink and catch-up and play cards, about why she needed to go out all day. She was quite sure if she told them the truth, that she was going down to the point to stare at the water, or feed the ducks in the Public Gardens, or sit in the cemetery, they would think she was gone completely soft in the head, because had she not already spent quite enough time in these places, enough surely to know them by heart? On grounds of pure rationalism and from a practical standpoint, this might, Angie admitted to herself, be empirically true, for surely these spots were now burned deep into her brain, had made indelible nicks and scratches that she never wanted to smooth over or wear away.
Movement was never that easy though for her, never just a simple matter of A - B, so she told her friends she needed to see her mom for lunch, or run to the drugstore, or whatever, and then just headed out for the day, trying, along the way, to counter arguments they had never actually voiced. Not unusual for Angie to be having spats with herself, twirling her braids, adjusting her shades, sauntering along trying to ensure her motives were, if not entirely well-reasoned, then at least pure. She thought sometimes people derive such pleasure, quite intentionally, from the very lamest of things and people. She thought the objects of our affections often wear out, or surely we should outgrow these things, but at day’s end adoration is as much habit as heart.
To wit: Angie didn't necessarily love feeding the ducks by the little artificial lake for the sight and smell alone, she knew that for damn-sure as she sat slowly dipping her and spilling the contents of a paper bag of popcorn, all the hedged and clipped Victoriana of the gardens abounding around her, willows bending over birdbaths and fountains spurting little trickles. Quite the contrary, while this may have a small, initial pull on her, all the tactile presence was now completely secondary. She loved it now for what was not there, what had been and was gone, that attachment seems all the purer, removed so. So much had happened to her here, in the confines of this well-wrought and treed city block, memories of hearing her name called by several boys over the years here, at the beginning of an evening, meeting up by the bandstand. The memory of all the last kisses and embraces she'd had. The memory of being here with Zoe in long skirts, thermal leggings and fingerless gloves, playing chess on the huge stone tables in autumn, big thermos of coffee and Bailey's at their side while the leaves made little pinwheels around their feet. There were tiny reels of recollection stored in this and a half-dozen other corners of the city, silently squirreled away, waiting to spring.
In beginning of that psychic walking tour, along the elm-lined alleys of her youth, suddenly she found herself confronting the second difficulty of her extensive re-visitation, that being the memories kicked up in the process where not universally pleasant ones. Some of the steps were simple. Spending an afternoon gossiping with her favorite professor from school was pure ease and splendor, watching her prof honorably pack up two armfuls of student papers with an indulgent sigh and cram them into a worn leather satchel, then lead the way immediately from her cramped office hidden away over the gymnasium to the campus bar and finally listening entranced as she launched into an account-taking of everyone who'd made good, gone bad or just vanished into the ether from the school since.
Equally comforting in some insubstantial way was making sure her initials were still carved into the girl's residence door, and just quietly circling the Quad of the tiny campus, picking up on ghosts of her and others coming and going years before. She sat down next to the flowerbed in the middle of the Quad, looked at the pillared steps of the Main Hall. Amplifying the wavelength of nostalgia and the amplitude of reverie was pure emotive science, if you knew how to twist and tweak the knobs properly, no matter how poorly timed or ill-fated past events may have sometimes transpired. Mounting years may not be forgiving to people, may not always hang well on their shadow, but time can sometimes be very good to places. The trouble began for Angie as her mind raced back and over some of the grimmer spots and blemishes of her remembrance, the slick-oily stillness never far from the edges of vision, just a hint of which could suck the air from her lungs, leave her blind and gasping in the light of day. Even sitting in the quiet of the campus, a sky of pure blue above, picking at the grass and just looking at the granite statues carved over the doors of the residence Bays she remembered a blurry night in one of those tiny rooms with the radiator popping and pipes banging in the winter head. The sun went cold then, the shadows darkened. The statue set into the building wall over the Middle Bay door was of two heroic Grecian figures in the Classic mode, arms locked and veins popping, struggling in stone and wrestling to a standstill, and Angie remembered struggling, and struggling and trying to breathe, breathe, breathe. She stood up now from the grass, wiped the dirt off her hands, off her dress, off her back, she shook out her jacket, shook it out well and turned and walked away. Not scared with the place, or herself, or even her minds ability to delight and haunt in the space of second, but just needing movement once again.
Zoe rescued her later that last day, as always appearing just in time as the mist threatened to close in. Now they were up here on the hill after a few days back, having gotten their bearings and already feeling themselves drifting back into the comfortable routines of the past, and subsequently they were each taking slow, thoughtful pulls on a couple of cans of Keith's. Zoe had spent her first few days checking in on numerous ex's, regaling them no doubt with further, Byzantine anecdotes about her trials and tribulations in the big city. These stories were largely just that for the most part, with some tertiary grounding in fact, but were by and large elaborated upon well beyond all objective recognition. Angie knew she could always rely on Zoe for veracity, so long as it was just the two of them, but once any other listener was factored into the equation it became largely a matter of simply nodding along in agreement with Zoe's kaleidoscopic imagination. So Angie, for example, had no doubt that Zoe had spent a dizzying weekend in Lake Ontario cabin country alternately watching and participating in the coupling of two sexually ambiguous, fey young hotties whom she'd noticed skulking around the café she hung out at on weekends. Certainly her observations and pointers on technique for such a charged situation were, if anything, theoretically interesting, 'watch the elbows, that's important, three people can make elbows a bit of a hazard', 'try to keep it as simple as possible at first,,' 'water, very important, always keep it in reach,' ' 'many showers, hot and cold, as required.' Angie found it a little exhausting just listening to it, wasn't sure how Zoe kept up the energy level for this sort of thing, or anything for that matter, the way she talked, the way she worked, the way she shagged. It was all art to her, maybe, and art was the territory where you either went big or went home.
There was wind carrying ocean air sweeping up the Hill, not Harbor air, which no doubt still reeked of untreated sewage, but the brine of the Atlantic, crisp and tangy and ever-wicked cold. Angie tugged her natty wool cardigan in a little tighter around her frame, tipped out the last drops left in the can, shook it, crumbled it and dropped it in their knapsack while fishing out another. Zoe was just watching the moonlight shimmer off the water around McNab's Island, setting its deep, dark forest slopes in contrast the quicksilver water lapping up against its shores. They were sitting shoulder to shoulder on an old woven blanket they'd borrowed from Angie's mom, dressed mostly in old clothes they'd both had stored in her basement, stuff they hadn't seen since leaving town. It was like they'd stepped back a few years in the space of a few days, recovering all their lost familiarity and patter in an instant, as if there hadn't ever been a cutting word or grievance between them. Angie wondered how many people might not have people like this in their lives, people that constantly amazed and inspired you to do things and think things you'd never for a second entertain on your own. She'd been a long time convinced she'd had that kind of flowering potential with Rob, yet that perfect certainty evaporated in a black flash after he left to work away and the calls just stopped. By the time they talked next, when he used the term 'thrill of anxiety' as an example of something he need, they both seemed to know already what had happened. Then she got a glimmer of that sense, though it was cut so short she couldn't be sure, when she'd literally tripped over Jason- but by then Zoe had already called her home, everything de-railed, and just started piling up.
The indefinable quality of people like Zoe was that they just seemed to always go on, no matter that conditions often far from perfect, or that her behavior frequently tried even the patience of saints, or how her own life got distorted through the lens of overwhelming personality. None of this mattered to these people, and Angie supposed this is what made them artists, even if they never picked up a brush, swung a chisel, bent some clothes hangers together, suspended a carcass from a ceiling or whatever other stunts or materials it was the new movements were into these days. The essential energy was the real gift, and the ability to spread that enthusiasm and kinetic spirit around, to share it and make it contagious. Angie sensed, for a second, that these people wandering the globe might be the most important nodes of energy in circulation and that without them always being shifted around, coming into contact with the ideas and situations that kept them going, then the lights might conceivably begin to go out all over the grid. It scared here that there were so few of them, that they were so easily misled, that they put themselves constantly in harm's way, forced the margins, and indeed were even often made targets. It scared her to realize how intrinsic Zoe had been to her developing a sense of self, with no big words or heavy hands, and it freaked her completely to think she might ever lose her.
"Hey. What the hell? Saving that beer for someone are you?"
"There's no need of that now. Getting catty."
"Oh you don't know from catty my little koshka. I 've a whole new arsenal, courtesy of a few years of city life, all prickly as would turn your little cheeks red. New barbs and slanders derived from a dozen different cultures. You're still toting the baggage of our lily-white ancestry, but believe you me, there is a whole world of caustic out there waiting for your curious little ears. Profanities perfected over a thousand years of strife."
"I don't doubt it."
The chill that spread uniformly through the air, caught in swirls and eddies around the slope, was like a delicious dream after the sweltering heat to be slogged through in Vancouver and Toronto. The wind was sharper while somehow seeming at the same time more fitting, or natural. These were the tug and push of a natural system, not the updrafts and undercurrents of city air. Angie thought she might simply wither on the vine those last, halting days out West, when the air hung still in the air and all the moisture seemed to drain from the usually lush landscape. Never mind that up until that week, most of the summer had been constant, cloying rain, that sales in all sectors were down, as people stayed home glued to their sun lamps or hydroponics apparatuses, waiting with bated breath for summer to make one brief respite before the autumnal rains of September swept up against the mountains out of the Pacific, plunging the city back into a misty gloom for another eleven months or so. Instead, her last memories of East Van were sun-scorched, over-exposed snapshots: wandering around Trout Lake in the early morning while little clusters of elderly Chinese-Canadian ladies in track suits did the pensive warm-ups of Tai Chi routines, drifting out into the night with a thirst crying to be slaked down to the smoky mirth of the Broadway Express for a cheap draft served in a dingy glass, scarfing down one final parting bowl of double-shot, shade-grown, soy-milk latte. All in the midst of heat wave that made her want to shave her body from head to toe, pack herself in ice, and not lift a finger until the sky finally clouded over again- but it never did, at least not until after she was long gone.
"Hey, girl. Where are you off to tonight? It sure doesn't feel like you're here."
"No I'm here, I'm here. In fact I was just thinking about how badly I needed this."
"Yeah, well, you and me both. TO was starting to get me snaky, this summer especially for some reason. Gives me great satisfaction knowing it will remain, from henceforth, just a stop-over on the way to anywhere else."
"Now you don't know that."
"Au contraire. I made some seriously solemn and sacred vows back there. None no more, that's all I have to say."
"You're never going back?"
"Not if I was begged, pleaded with, on bended knee, by a whole swim team offering me executive expense accounts, Rosedale digs, a different Lexus for every day of the week and any number of other Hogtown-style perks. Place has its charms, I'll give it that, some decent places to eat, good for shopping, some tolerable clubs."
"But what? You were there, you've seen it, the great grey invisible ballon hanging over the city - and I'm not talking about the smog either. It's the scene, the one-upmanship, the pure cut-throat antagonism that fuels the place. I mean I'm sure you get pockets of the same thing everywhere, in Van even, but at least from what I'm told people out there haven't actually completely lost the ability to unclench occasionally. And here, Christ people are so unwound out here most of the time it amazes me people don't blow away in the wind."
"It was like that out West too, people did all kinds of stuff all the time, but they weren't boneheads about it. It was pretty nice."
"Sounded nice. So why did you leave?"
"Well, I guess it was like you said, it was just time to come home."
"Has to be a bit more to it than that."
"Well your little rescue call certainly helped solidify it for me."
"Done like dinner. You know that. I have no regrets there."
"But you have regrets."
"Sure, yes. Yes I was pretty screwed up already and then things got compounded."
"Zoe it's a really long story."
"Oh really, well that's funny, I seem to be idly-rich at the moment, and last time I checked your little social agenda was pretty open too."
"Yeah, well I've been wanting to ask you about that."
"Like you said, some stories keep. Tell me what happened to you, or who rather."
Angie had already thought forward to this point, thinking there would have to be more to the beginning than this, something spectacular in the air, so that her arcing explanations would have started or ended under some dark star or strange conjunction, or even some wayward location, distant city, or far-flung hemisphere. She's felt on the plane the two of them ought to have been lounging in hammocks when this started to unfold, overlooking a tropical vision of aquatic beauty, pink and orange corals just glimmering under a blue open sea white-capped by warm winds. Maybe that's how all stories would ideally start and end, not with order, not with grace and perfection, but with at the least with a hope of reaching warmth. Angie reached into the bag for a cold can to pass to Zoe. She knew she had felt that way, had thought of lot of things, but they were all giving way to litmus tests along the way, toppling in rows all around. Now she though she'd had her fill of heat, been sweating for three years straight. What we really need now is cold…
To be con’t