Photo by Kourosh Keshiri
SO THIS IS LAST MONTH: we’ve got to the point in the night when no one’s really looking at cards any more. Two guys are still in, but Frank’s on the X-Box, and Rich and Tom and me are talking, drinking. One eye on the table but we’re not going to buy back in again and lose more money now. None of us are serious card players anyway, serious anything. Pretty fucking late and sometime later I go down the hall to the can and there’s a poster of Audrey Hepburn and I think fuck, since Heather moved in Ty’s really fucking changed. Almost lose my balance but hold on to the shower curtain, it’s like the ocean sideways, I think he didn’t have that before. Something Audrey Hepburn brought with her when she moved in. Some of us have girlfriends, some of us live alone, Tommy’s married and he has a kid, I live alone. Three little fucking seashells on the cistern lid, Jesus Christ. The kitchen and the living room are one big room, Ron and Ty are still at the table, they’re the serious card players, the couch is there next to them, but the four of us are talking—Frankie’s got killed on Halo too many times—backs against the kitchen counter, Heineken Heineken Corona Schlitz. Fucking Frankie, can of Schlitz. Where did he even get it. He’s talking about how there’s this wind blowing in at work and he knows he’s going to get fired. He’s in software, marketing. But these are good guys, good guys. It doesn’t sound like it but we went down to New York and all they wanted to do was shop, count celebrities. Tom tends bar but he’s a singer, got a band, eye called them the best unsigned talent in the city. There was moisturiser in the washroom, I saw it, that’s okay. Tired. I’m telling Tom about how I’ve started thinking that ball games inherently suck compared to games of luck and chance, something I saw on the web, and I hear Frankie saying, “I don’t want to see a picture of you pissing on a girl. Rich, Jesus. You’re such a fucking pervert. Jesus.”
If we are drunk Richie is drunkest. He sways, pushes the phone up at Frankie’s chin. Rich is short and stocky, he looks like a mound of something. Cauliflowers. But he’s built.
“I’ll fucking send it to you. I’m sending it to all of you.”
His big thumbs podge at the little buttons. Me and Tommy have come closer because this conversation sounds better.
“Doing it or talking about it?” I say and he looks at me like I’m gay or something.
Frankie: “Don’t want to know, don’t want to know, did I say I wanted to know?”
Rich looks up from his cell.
“You know how we’re different Frank, you know how we’re different? You’re a pussy. You talk about it all the fucking time but you never do anything. But I do.”
Tom asks them what they’re talking about.
Richie turns his phone round, he’s annoyed he has to start his story over from the beginning.
Tom groans at the phone and laughs.
“I was in Florida for RPX. St Petersburg. Big convention. All night I’m there at the bar with Terrence”—Frankie’s brother, they both work for Horseman—“Talking to girls, getting the cold shoulder. Finally dipshit wants to call it a night, so fine, we take the elevator up and on floor five these two girls come in, drunker than we are. Ten seconds to make a deal so I invite them up to our suite and they say they work for fucking Seagram—come to our suite, they’ve got a suitcase full of vodka coolers, amaretto, everything, free, because it’s publicity.”
He takes a drink.
“So we go. We’re talking about Florida, how in ten years it’s going to be underwater.” He lowers his voice for one sentence but then it comes up again. “Things are just starting to get interesting when your limpdick brother excuses himself and leaves. Which isn’t cool.”
“Terry told me his one was skanky. Dirty girl.”
“Bullshit. Bull. Shit. Pussy.”
I’m looking at the phone now. Rich’s hairy belly and the shining girl’s shining middle, midriff. His cock, seen from above, poking out of his fist. Didn’t need to see that. Little eye blinking.
Tom says: “I’m going to have fucking nightmares man.”
Frank says: “Couldn’t you have photoshopped yourself a bigger dick?”
“Gay. Anyway,” says Rich, and then he’s delicate all of a sudden: “ My comrade at arms vacates the field. His girl says she’s going back to the bar, forgot her purse, some bullshit. So we’re on the bed.” Whispers. “But I can’t fuck her. I’m too fucking drunk by this point. I’m fucking her, I mean, of course, fuck, but I can’t come. Too much beer, wine, vodka. She’s rolling me around like a fish on the deck. I get her to come, of course, but I know I’m not going to. Like I’m too seasick. I’m seriously starting to feel like I’m going to puke on her or something.”
Rich looks around to make sure it’s only us he’s telling.
Very quietly: “Anyway so I pull out, stand up, stand above her, I come this close to falling over and cracking my skull on the bedside table, the Bible. I go to the can and I’m standing there then I hold back I think wait a minute. I come out and she’s on the bed squeezing her tits together and I say why not.”
Now he’s talking in this self-amazed tone, wide-eyed, and I don’t know if it’s something he’s putting on, is he reeling us along or is he genuinely amazed, is he hypnotized. He likes to tell these stories, war stories, but this one’s different, and I wonder if he’s realizing he shouldn’t have started or if he’s just too far gone. Ty and Ron are listening now too, cards down on the table. There is music: i-Pod in the i-Dock: I’ll come to your emotional rescue.
“So I stand next to her and she turns her mouth towards me and I say no, just put a hand down to keep her there, and aim with my other hand”—he does the motions for us—“I hold my cock and I start to piss on her. I piss up and down her and I tell you it’s like fucking pissing and coming at once. And she’s writhing and fucking loving it. It’s like crack on your cock or something, it’s like a schoolgirl’s asshole, I have seriously never felt anything like this.”
We’re all shock and awed.
“Then I think fuck I’ve got to get this on tape and I get my phone from the floor; pissing on the carpet, fuck.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t just fucking stab you.”
“Fuck man. She was writhing.”
The sheets, I think: what about the sheets?
“Jesus fucking christ Richie.”
Rich says: “True story.” The phone comes back to him and he smiles at it like a dad at the playground.
Back there Ty flops his cards down on the table, says he’s out.
Rich is married, the fucking guy’s married.
LAST NIGHT I DROVE out to Christina’s mom’s house. I’ve never been there, never met her mom and dad. I just thought sometimes you’re going through things and you want to talk, maybe it’s even better if it’s someone you don’t know all that well. I’d run into Rich outside his work and I took him for lunch because he looked like he’d been run over by a train. When we were holding the little menus I couldn’t remember when I’d ever seen him except for poker nights. He told me Chris had moved out, she’d moved up to her mom’s place in North York, Bayview and Steeles. Up where there’s a mosque next door to a synagogue next door to a Chinese temple, and I said Oh Canada. He said all three were gigantic. I didn’t even say that much to him: I thought he was going to cry into his burrito. He hadn’t shaved, the top of his collar was yellow, I said to him you’ve got to look after yourself, man. When I got back to the office I Canada 411d all the Petruccis in North York.
I didn’t call or anything but sometimes things work out, like sometimes you switch into the collectors on impulse and it’s quicker than the express lanes. I was listening to a CD I made five years ago. Tom said to me a few months ago my problem is my tastes never change and I said I like what I like. The houses on Rolson are ranchy, American. Some of them it looks like you took on too many projects: a car on flat tires in the way of a sloping basketball hoop, cracked driveway. But then you don’t know, you might walk into a Sikh doctor’s house or a Russian accountant’s, you don’t know up here. In the car I thought: I hope she doesn’t think this is weird. I hope her dad doesn’t answer the door. But it was Christina. The first moment I think she didn’t recognize me: she was behind the mosquito mesh.
“Charlie?” she said. She showed me in. She was wearing these grey track pants that just hung away from her butt, and her eyes were puffy, like she was crying just before, like she was rubbing it out of her eyes before she answered. But some women, it doesn’t matter if they’re wearing a potato sack. She just looked domestic, and I felt it was like she was my wife, like I was coming home to my wife, and she was welcoming me back from a hard day at the office, making me a drink. You’re such an idiot, Richie, I thought. How could you be such an idiot? She asked me if I wanted a coffee.
“What are you doing here, Charlie?” she asked.
I asked how she was and she asked how I was and she shrugged and she said she was up and down. Then she laughed and said no, terrible, actually. She said she just got off the phone with him. She was about to say more but then she stopped. She asked when we’d last seen each other and I said it was Tom and Lynn’s dinner, their joint birthday thing. She said that’s right, the fondue, and I nodded.
Christina’s a teacher. She’s a brunette, Italian I guess, although the name Christina doesn’t sound Italian so I don’t know. Ponytail, not bangs. She was wearing this brown fleece that looked comfy. She looked down and said she hadn’t been expecting anyone, company. I told her it wasn’t that Rich had asked me to come, I said I just wanted to see how she was doing, if she needed anything. If she needed some consoling I wasn’t going to say no, of course. I’m happy to console. I thought: she probably hasn’t shaved her legs since she moved out.
She talked a bit about living back here with her mom for the first time in so long, how that felt. The conversation before the Conversation. We could have been in a bar, I thought, not sitting on the two sides of the island in her mom’s kitchen, sitting up on bar stools like little kids home for lunch.
“You know what’s going on, I guess.”
I say I kind of know.
She gets up, she says she totally forgot, she goes over to the coffee maker, asks me how I like it. Now her voice is all serious, like she doesn’t want to talk about her mom’s cooking anymore.
“I kind of thought Rich might mess around on me,” she says all of a sudden, “But I thought it would be in twenty years, I could see him getting bored. I expected it might happen then, not now.”
Then she breathes in quick, like she’s just realized and it’s got to her.
Looking down she says, “Someone sent me these pictures of Rich with…” She talks to the cupboards, in profile from me, she doesn’t look at me. “It doesn’t matter. I thought I could have dealt with—well no, I couldn’t have dealt with it, things would have happened, what happened happened. But the pictures were so.”
"This is hard for me to talk about. And obviously it wasn’t just his dirty secret. Other people knew. So what are you going to do?”
I wonder if I should have offered to make the coffee for her, instead of her making it for me. She looks exhausted. I get up from my stool and go round the island over to her. She’s shaking, but when I get close she freezes up. She’s crying and I give her my consolation hug, her hair smells dirty and strong. She starts shaking again. I move my hand down her back, nowhere dangerous, just testing, and she’s stiff.
“We were trying for a baby” she says in a dead voice.
“I know,” I say, “I know.”
“You know?” she asks.
She starts to slip away but then there are curls in the room, big glasses.
“Charlie, this is my mom,” she says, turning away from me.
“Hello, Mrs Petrucci.”
She smiles but doesn’t say anything, and I start to wonder if she even speaks English. If I ever have daughters they’re not going anywhere near guys, ever. I’ll insist on that.
Her mom asks about the dentist, only really sadly, and then she goes.
Chris puts my coffee on the counter and folds her arms. We don’t talk for a minute. She’s got green tea: she watches it steam. It looks like she’s done hugging so I go back to my barstool. Her mom didn’t want coffee. I wonder what she’s doing. I turn my coffee cup round 180, then 360 degrees.
“It was you, wasn’t it,” she says.
“You sent me the pictures of Rich.”
Saying what pictures would sound pretty stupid so I keep quiet.
“Because one of my students. I didn’t show him the pictures, I deleted them. But he did this computer thing with the message and it told him the server was owned by a company called Callway and he said do you know anyone who works there. It took him five minutes.”
I want to say because it seemed right or honest? But she’s talking.
“He said do you know anyone who works there. I guess you thought you were doing me a favour? Rich wants me to come back, badly. He couldn’t deny anything. But he wants me to come back.”
She listens for her mom for a minute.
Because it was gross, I want to say. You couldn’t even talk about it.
“I know. It’s better to know than not to know, something like this. Better to know. But I’ve got some big decisions to make now. Big decisions. Because of you, in a way.”
“I thought you should know,” I say all dry-mouthed. Her lips are tight together now.
“I love him,” she says, fearfully. “I love him. I can’t believe I’m even saying this to you—do you understand me?”
“Don’t be angry,” I say.
Even though she’s crying she keeps her voice down.
“What are you doing here,” she says in tears. “What are you doing here?”
She looks at my face for its reaction.
“I didn’t do anything,” I say at last.
Her eyes flare up like she’s going to hit me then they settle.
“You guys,” she says. “You guys. You love to piss on women. Why do you hate women? Even when you love us you hate us.”
It just comes into my head: because you’re soft.
“Isn’t it better to know?” I say.
“We were trying for a baby, you asshole. I don’t know what to do.”
I sort of understand. But now she looks hard and remorseless.
“You couldn’t let it be, could you. You couldn’t leave it alone.” It sounds like something she says in school to the kids.
“I just thought,” I start to say.
Outside in the car I think about when my parents used to fight.
(See the rest of Issue 33, Fall 2009.)