New fiction from Jowita Bydlowska.
I follow the tall girl following the guy downstairs. Her white ponytail swishes gently as she trots after him. He’s a big guy in a white hoodie with gold letters on the back, spelling something in Arabic.
She must be an idiot—she just right out went up to him, and I heard him go, “You alone?”
I could tell this wasn’t going to be good. She was indeed alone.
The whole place thumps. Downstairs, where the bathrooms are, it thumps less but the walls shake just the same. The silver eyeball drawn on the men’s bathroom door shakes, too.
I swing the door open and there it is, the guy pinning the girl against the wall in one of the stalls. “Come on, just hold it in your hand,” he says, all sulky. If this wasn’t a delicate situation I would laugh.
“Dude, put it away. Let the lady go,” I say. I’m smaller than the guy but I make it sound like I’m bigger.
He turns around and gives me a smile as if I’m one of his bros, as if we’re in on this together, but he moves away from the girl, fumbling with his pants. She bolts, rushes past me.
When I come up, I see her sliding into a booth in the dark corner near the entrance. She’s got her parka on and is staring at the door.
I watch the stairs for a while, but the guy in the hoodie never shows up. Probably left via the basement like a rat. He’s not the resident drug dealer and he has no idea who I am—maybe I'm someone important?
My phone buzzes. I pull it out and text back: everything’s ok.
“You good?” I go up to the booth.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” the girl says. She’s dressed all wrong for this place, glasses on, no hoops in her ears. From the flaps of the parka, a white dress shirt with ruffles spills out like she’s here for a graduation ceremony. She watches one of my brother’s co-workers walk by. He, like all the others, is wearing a T-shirt with “MySpace” spelled on it.
“I’m sorry that happened,” I say.
“I didn’t know he was psycho,” she shrugs. She has a slight accent. “I am usually not stupid, also. Bad mistake. What’s the deal with MySpace, do you know?”
“Oh, it’s a party. For my brother. My brother’s name is Tom, and someone at his workplace made a joke about how Tom liked to space out at his desk. Space-out Tom. My Space Tom.”
She doesn’t smile. “Hilarious.”
“Yes, comedy gold,” I say. “I’ll be back, I gotta talk to those wankers.”
“I don’t need babysitter.” She stares at me with big, dark eyes.
I walk away. The walls thump, the dance floor thumps; there are girls on the dance floor, in the mirror, so many girls, dancing. Some guys too, but I can only make out girls.
I send another text. I watch a couple of Tom’s co-workers at the bar, playing the old-school Mortal Kombat—there are two small TVs hung up above the register. On the screens, a masked female character holding two fans slams a blonde hunk to the ground, and he bounces off of it and dissolves into pixels before becoming whole again. But right away she slashes his face with a fan and he’s down for good. KITANA WINS, the screen reads.
“Want to go for a smoke?”
I turn around. She has taken her glasses off. She’s so long—you could fold her in two. I don’t know why I’m thinking about folding her; some women look like switchblades. Without the glasses she looks tougher, not at all the librarian-in-the-middle-of-a-nervous-breakdown type I first pegged her for.
Outside, there is a small group of Tom’s co-workers, smoking. The girl and I steer away from the group and light up.
“I’m Daria,” she says.
I introduce myself and shake her hand. “So what’s going on?”
“It’s a funny story. I want to buy this painting. I reserved it. It’s across the street, see? I come here to get some stuff.”
I look across the street and notice that the big, usually dead art gallery is glowing with light and filled with people. An opening.
“You a police officer? Just some blow. I need it so that I can be brave to go and buy this painting. I like the music here also. My boyfriend in Ukraine is a DJ. But here,” she says and takes a long drag, “here is what I told my friend—Toronto, it should be called Bob. Bob, Ontario. It is so boring. Bob is a boring name, yes? This place is boring, this club. Amateur.”
“Bob, Ontario. That’s clever,” I say and she nods. I watch her smoke. Tom would be all over her. She’s the kind of girl that Tom would’ve gotten high with, fallen in love with and married.
She says, “Will you help me with the painting?”
I pull out my phone: “One second.” Another text. “Do what with the painting?”
“I need somebody to take it to my house because it’s big,” she says.
“Sure. But why the blow, again?”
She rubs her fingers against the thumb a few times. “The painting is three thousand. I have too much reason. I need to be crazy,” she smiles.
The painting is wrapped in grey paper. I don’t know what the painting is of. Daria is walking next to me, texting. Zipped up in her parka, she’s like a void, a vantablack of a girl. Before we left, I had bought a hundred’s worth for her from Tom’s dealer. She locked herself in the gallery bathroom and came out after a short while, her glasses back on—I figured this was her library-gallery-girl costume—and we walked around the space, both of us vibrating, but for different reasons. Me, because I had never bought drugs before; her, because she just did some.
“Stop,” Daria says loudly now, startling me. The painting slides out of my arms, but I catch it before it hits the ground.
“I live here, sorry, sorry,” she says, pointing to a small apartment building.
Tom’s apartment is a street away from hers. Close to her, the bar, the gallery.
Daria’s place is all white. In the living room, there’s a white couch, a coffee table made out of an old door—repurposed hipster shit.
I take out my phone again and type that everything is okay.
Daria disappears, then comes back with a glass picture frame with no picture behind it. She hands me the frame.
“I don’t do this stuff.”
“Don’t be so small-town,” Daria says.
“Bob, Ontario. You’re Bob, Ontario.” She rolls her eyes and starts chopping the tiny hill of white on the glass picture frame, using a shiny black hotel keycard. She takes out a dollar bill and snorts a line.
“I have to go,” I say.
“You should stay,” she says, her nostrils flaring. I think of aliens for some reason, alien abduction.
“No, I have to go home. To my mom,” I say.
“Your mommy?” Daria giggles.
“Yeah, my mommy.”
“Go to your mommy,” Daria says and plops on the couch, the ruffles of her shirt billowing and then resting on her flat chest like a sigh.
I consider kicking the painting, putting my foot right through it—the painting is leaning against a wall at the sort of an angle that would cause rupture, were I to kick it. I don’t kick it.
I walk toward the subway, pass Tom’s apartment. The windows are dark.
I enter the subway station. I pull my phone out of my pocket and text our mom, again, that everything is okay. I text omw, erase and text on my way! Our mom is at home, probably not asleep—she stays up most nights, she is still on her leave, she says she might not go back to work, what’s the point?
She is probably sitting in front of her laptop scrolling through Tom’s Facebook page—contrary to his nickname, he has never had a MySpace account—reading, looking, studying all the pictures from all the bars. At breakfast, she might tell me about her findings, her eyes looking too big in her face, scanning my face—the way she scans the laptop screen—as if she could extract more of Tom from me, too.
But I told her whatever I could: nothing about Tom’s favourite place, where Tom’s work buddies are presently getting messy in celebration of his life. Our mom probably knows some of those people—she looks up his friends on Facebook, sends them friend requests. She studies them too, scrolls down their pages to see if Tom shows up anywhere—a Like, a comment, anything. She goes back to his page, looks through his photos again. Perhaps she’s learning something new every time, she’s noticing new things in corners of pictures—shoulders, elbows, a half-face in a mirror, or something even more subtle like a blurry swish of the white ponytail of a girl who could’ve been her daughter-in-law.