William wasn’t prepared for what was to happen next. He was not yet awake when the phone began to ring.
It was a young man. “Good morning. I would like to speak to William Kendall if he’s available?”
“That’s me. Who are you? ”
“Jerry Simons, Global News. Sorry for the early call, but I was hoping I could ask you a few questions.”
“Uh, about what?”
“I was hoping you could provide us with an account of what it’s like to be electrocuted, and then seemingly miraculously return to life after you’ve been diagnosed as dead.”
“Let me think,” William said. “You woke me up. What’s your name again?”
“Jerry Simons, Global News. Sorry about that.”
“How much of that is actually your name?”
“Sorry, look, would there be a better time to call you back? Or even better, perhaps we could meet for an interview if you’re feeling up to it?”
“Tell me your phone number,” William said. “I can’t talk now, but I’ll call you back when I can.”
“When would that be?”
“When I can. Sooner or later.” The reporter rattled off a number, which William ignored. “Got it,” he said. “Now I’m hanging up. If by some infinitesimally small chance I call you back, you’ll have a sense of what it’s like to be electrocuted, and then seemingly miraculously return to life after you’ve been diagnosed as dead.” Click.
Then it rang again. He watched as Stacey rolled over and opened her eyes. He pressed the answer button on the handset. “Hello?”
“May I please speak to William Kendall?” asked a hard female voice.
“Who are you?”
“Marsha Connor from CBC Vancouver.” William hung up. It rang again. He dug frantically down the side of the mattress to pluck the cable from the wall. He sat up sweating.
Stacey said, “You look afraid.” The phone in the other room was still ringing.
“I have an impractical number of phones,” he said.
Derek was to learn that when thousands of people are inconvenienced by an air ambulance landing on the Trans-Canada Highway because of a medical emergency, the media feel it is their responsibility to find out the nature of the emergency, and the outcome. When it turns out to be a miracle, they’re all over it. Apparently doctor-patient confidentiality doesn’t include miracles. A member of the press not only finds out that you were almost certainly dead from electrocution that particular time, but that it has happened before. Then another one finds out it happened another time. Then they find out you’re an employee at Burnaby Lake Regional Park, where, for whatever weird randomness that causes anything to happen on this planet, a nominate Asian Jesus is waiting for his local dance partner. And they all have the footage of you, which they show over and over and over, seemingly irate at the imminent arrival of the Jesus of the East, fighting with the camera man. They start to connect the dots.
That morning Stacey would be driving to Boundary Bay for the mud walk. She was going to go walk barefoot in the ocean and teach people about lugworms. William usually liked teaching people about lugworms. He came into the bedroom, towelling his hair, and asked if she wanted him to come along. She pointed at his body. She said she didn’t want him out walking with a boo-boo on his hip that looked like two raw hamburger patties. Plus she didn’t want his paparazzi. “You should stay by a TV and monitor this to see who they decide you really are,” she said. “You can call me when the results are in. By the way, Alan phoned your cell phone while you were in the shower. He wants you to call him.”
“Maybe I should go to his place to hide.” The land line in the other room rang again. He scampered to get it, but didn’t pick up. Stacey listened as it kept ringing. She got up from the bed, but stopped in the doorway, watching him hover over the phone like it was an over-boiling pot and he couldn’t find an oven mitt.
He looked at her. She was doing the easy but super-sexy yoga pose where you slide one hand high up the door frame and stand on one foot, the other foot pressed against the standing leg, wearing an over-sized t-shirt you had folded so perfectly the night before, and nothing else.
“You’re not going to answer?”
He shook his head, and then asked, “How do you say ‘Good morning’ in Korean?”
“Annyeong haseyo. But it’s a more general greeting. Basically it’s like ‘hello’.”
He picked up the phone, and with great enthusiasm said, “Annyeong haseyo! Annyeong haseyo!” Then he hung up on whoever it was. He unplugged the base.
She laughed. "But it's not how you answer the phone. Then you say 'Yeo-boseyo'."
"I should write that down." He looked around for a piece of paper.
"I should write that down." He looked around for a piece of paper.
“Who was that?”
“Someone who now thinks he mistakenly has the number of a friendly Korean man with poor phone skills. I’m throwing them off the scent. They know where I live. I have to get out of here. I’ll take the Skytrain to Alan’s place and hole up there.”
She stepped to him, placed her fingertips on his sternum and said, “Your friend, Alan. It’s cool that this famous guy is your friend, and with losing his wife and all I know he’s been through a lot...”
“But don’t you think that he’s maybe a little bit unstable? The freaky way he stared at you in the hospital, and what you told me about Hannah and you, and him, and everything?”
“Unstable, maybe,” William said. “But he isn’t dangerous.”
“You need to be,” she paused, “careful.”
“Maybe we should just go back to bed.” He meant it as a joke.
She looked at the clock on the microwave, and took his hand.
Alan had the television on when William arrived. “How’s the day gone so far?” he asked. He poured him a cup of coffee in an ugly brown mug with a chipped handle. None of his crockery or utensils matched. They looked as if they had tumbled out of a trailer home fifteen years ago.
William asked, “Where did you get this stuff?”
“Where do you think? Same place I got your clothes.”
It seemed to William that Alan’s apartment hadn’t evolved much since he moved in. Apart from a leather sofa pointed at a large flat-screen television, there was very little furniture – a simple table and single chair against the window. William found it particularly strange that there was no art on the walls, not even a calendar, nothing to cover the nail holes from a previous tenant.
They watched as the media commenced cannibalizing each other, as they do when the story is appealing but has no factual basis. The eventually settled on the storyline that the electrocuted park worker (William) represented a modern miracle. Was this not obviously connected to the recent Coming of the Jesus of the East? Theologians were interviewed. They seemed either annoyed, because this situation was not going according to script, or as flummoxed and amused as anyone else.
“They should be happy as shit just to be interviewed,” Alan said. “It’s the first time in modern history anyone gives a fuck what a theologian has to say about anything.”
And then one of them, from a small theological college at the University of British Columbia, said what the media all seemed to want to hear, “Of course another explanation is that the park worker is the Jesus of the West. He more or less sacrificed himself, and then rose again.”
“What? I was putting out a bark mulch fire, you moron.”
“How does someone ‘more or less sacrifice himself’?” Alan asked.
The TV blathered on. “Why is a western man seemingly able to rise from the dead so averse to cooperating with his Asian counterpart? The Faithful and merely curious are flocking to the Lake to see either a divine union, or a showdown.”
Alan said, “You probably won’t be comforted to know that we’re watching a national newscast.”
It switched to live feed from in front of the Burnaby Lake Nature House. An Ice cream truck rolled past in the background, playing a very familiar melody.
“Oh Jesus,” William said.
“From now on you could just say, ‘Oh Me’,” said Alan. “But yes. Milt is still obsessed with his beaver. Baba drives him to the lake and he wanders around with his marshmallows, looking for it.”
There was further repetitive babbling, silly conjecture, wild speculation, and palpable giddiness. Then, finally, a commercial break.
“You know what’s going to happen now? My parents are going to see this. My mother is going to phone me about this.”
“That’s bad?” asked Alan.
“What if she phones and Stacey answers? You’ve maybe noticed she doesn’t hesitate to answer my phone?”
“Yes, I’ve noticed. So that means she’s staying at your place now?”
“She was there last night, for the first time.”
“That’s excellent news.”
“Why did you tell her my parents are dead? It seems to be an important thing to her and I wasn’t bright enough to tell her they’re not.”
“You got laid.” Alan clapped his hands. “Fantastic. That right there is their miracle story. I should phone in a report.”
“She’s carrying a load of pity for me, which I don’t want and definitely don’t deserve.”
“You, of all people, with that girl. Did it go okay? I mean, you remembered how, right?”
“Thanks for nothing.”
“Nothing? It was nothing?” Is that what you said to her this morning?”
“No! What you told her! Now everything is complicated. Why did you tell her that?”
Alan leaned against his table and waved his right arm. “I was attempting to make you a more sympathetic character. Being an orphan was meant to account for your grumpy behaviour.”
“But now I’m living a lie. I don’t want to be living a lie — it’s not even my lie.”
“But it is,” said Alan. “I created it for you to help you out, and it worked. You’re sleeping with a very desirable young woman. It worked because you took ownership of it. You can’t give it back. Sometimes you have to live with half-lies and untold truths. Don’t you? It’s how we manage to function.”
“You had no right,” William said.
“Maybe not, but so what? It’s not really much of a lie, is it? Your parents might as well be dead. You have nothing to do with them. You don’t love them.”
“No, I don’t love them, but I also don’t hate them.” William believed this to be true.
Alan pushed off the desk, waving both arms. “I was playing Devil’s advocate! How can you not love your parents? It’s not like they sold you on the street to buy crack or anything.”
“You hated your father,” William pointed out.
“I didn’t hate him. We had disagreements, when I was 18.”
William said, “I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them either. They were not as much a part of my life as most parents are. There was no emotional support. I got used to not having them there. It didn’t even seem abnormal not having them there. Now I’m out here and they’re back there and it’s comfortable this way—and now look what happens. Some loony religious cult lands in my stupid workplace and I’m beamed straight back into my parents’ living room.”
Alan asked, “Do you presently love anybody?”
Alan waited for him to name someone.
“I love Tom. And Fooj.”
“You love boys,” he said. “There’s a name for that.”
William thought about her. He certainly enjoyed being with her. He said, “I’ll love her eventually, if our relationship doesn’t become poisonous, which it now probably will.”
“You already foresee it falling apart? It just started.”
“They always fall apart.”
“You, the way you treat women, is reprehensible,” he said.
William recognized those words. They were his own, which he had said to Alan in 1989 for his serial infidelity to the female counsellors and staff of Camp Ohmeemaw. How was he going to turn these words against him?
“Explain that one,” William said.
“Easy. You allow a woman into your life without any intention of giving yourself to her fully. You string her along, counting the ways she isn’t the person you remember your high school girlfriend being, years and years ago. Finally, when she passes a certain threshold of not-Becky Pang-enough, you send her a good bye note written in soap on the bathroom mirror.”
“That only happened once,” William said, “and it was unintentional.”
“It happens every time, one way or another. You need help.”
“You said my dedication to Becky Pang was Quixotic, and important.”
“I thought it was,” he said. “But reconsidering, and since you gave up on her so easily, maybe it wasn’t. First scary windmill pops up, you stop tilting.”
“Right,” William said. He walked over to the window and watched a yellow sea plane roar westward above Stanley Park’s light-eating conifer forest. It would be nice to be able to fly away like that and just keep on going.
Alan asked, “So what’s the last you heard of her, what she was up to — before you saw her with a big belly on Bloor Street?
William turned to look at him. He was wondering why Alan cared, how he intended to use whatever else he might tell him against him. “Again, piss off,” William said.
Alan went to the fridge and got out a beer and opened it with an opener. Not a screw-top. He handed it to William. “What did she do after her family made her break up with you?”
He took a long pull from the bottle. “Pharmacy. That was the plan. I expect she became a pharmacist.”
“Ahh, pharmacy,” he said. “University of Toronto?”
“No, Western. Why do you care?” He jumped back to the lie. “At least tell me how my parents died — what you told Stacey.”
William sensed Alan was reading him, wondering if he could push any further for information on Becky’s life post-William, for whatever Alan-reason. He chose not to.
“I’d rather not say,” he replied.
“Knowing you, it was violent and darkly comical.”
Alan nodded. “Pretty much par for the course.”
He wouldn’t answer, walked to the sink and rinsed his mug. William then noticed little twists of eraser scattered on Alan’s table. He pinched one up and rolled it between his fingers.
“You’ve been drawing?”
“It’s what I do,” he said. “Remember?”
“Can I see it? What species is it?”
“When it’s done.” He screwed the mug down among mismatched crockery in the rack.
William wondered, How would he know it was done without Hannah to tell him?
Alan said that he was heading to Burnaby Lake to keep an eye on Milt, to prevent him from getting tangled up in the lily pads. William said he would like to go along and meet Stacey when she returned from Boundary Bay.
“You’ll no doubt want to wear a disguise,” said Alan. “How ‘bout you dress up like a Jesus. We’ll get you a bathrobe.”
“How ‘bout I just hide in your car?”
On the way there Alan had the radio on. William kept switching stations to avoid newscasts, which proved futile. He switched it off and stared out the window and Lougheed Highway, the ugliest road in the Lower Mainland. He periodically glanced at Alan, watching him drive. He still drove the same way. The one near-death event notwithstanding, he had always been an aggressive but skilled driver. He could dart in and out of spaces in traffic without affecting the driving of others on the road. He noticed that White Lynx, Alan’s online stalker, was correct about one thing, that Alan was looking worn. He was wearing jeans and golf shirt, both of which also looked a little worn. He looked to be deteriorating, at least externally.
They turned south onto Piper Avenue, which ended in front of the Burnaby Lake Nature House. On the right hand side, just before crossing the train tracks and entering the park, there was a large warehouse used as a sound stage by a television production company. In years past a latter-day version of the Addams Family had been filmed in there, and sometimes Uncle Fester, in full costume and make-up, would wander around outside, even down the road to the lake. He was an eye-brow raiser back then, but if he reappeared amid the Jesus of the West crowd, would be just another element in a circus of insanity.
Baba was in the north parking lot, parked in the shade. They could see him in the front seat, reading a foreign language newspaper. A couple and crying toddler were walking away without ice cream.
Alan drove to the second parking lot, nearer the Nature House. He had to manoeuvre among satellite trucks, which had pulled up willy-nilly. William hunched down in his seat, despite the Mazda’s tinted windows. Media people were nowhere in sight, were probably down at the end of the spit with the Jesus of the East and company. Alan’s car ground to a stop amid granulated auto glass. The parking lot near the Nature House was a renowned smash and grab site for speed freaks. On sunny days the ground glittered with the diamonds of shattered windows.
William was reminded of Ed’s car being corned. He said to Alan, who had unclipped his belt and was about to get out and start searching for Milt, “Nice job on Ed’s car by the way. How did you manage it?”
Alan laughed. “Chilliwack Corn! God that was fun. It was rejuvenating! It’s always refreshing when it’s clear who the enemy is, for then the task becomes a simple joy.”
William was concerned. Alan was worn, and unhinged. “Ed isn’t Ian Puslinch.”
“He might as well be. I smashed his windows with a rock and stuffed his car full of delicious Chilliwack corn. Tom helped.”
“Tom?” William couldn’t picture that.
“He was laughing so hard I thought he’d give us away.”
“Wow,” said William.
“I have to find Milt. Can you get me one of those collars they put on bears so I can track him easier?”
“I can ask,” said William. “You want to walk around carrying a radio telemetry antenna?”
“Who would notice?”
He had a point. Before Alan departed, William asked, “Do me a favour? Could you go into the Nature House and get me a pen and a lined pad? I’ll be able to work on my wedding speech. I’m afraid to leave the car.” He held out his keychain, nature house key pinched.
“Sure thing,” said Alan. Alan passed several people on his way to the nature house. He pointed at his car and said, “Jesus of the West is hiding in there. Go, look!”
When Alan returned he said, “You wouldn’t want to be in there anyway. Something reeks.”
“Something dead?” There was that word again.
“Probably a rat that got stuck in the wall.” Now and then rodents crawled into cracks and crannies and died. There was nothing to do but wait for them to dry out or let the maggots to do their work. It happened in that old building every few months or so. Then came the swarms of flies.
“Some rat,” said Alan.
After half an hour William had accomplished very little. All he had written was, “I have known Martin Fujiwara for four years.” He should have paid more attention to the speeches at the wedding receptions he had suffered thorough. “Martin Fujiwara is never grumpy. Martin Fujiwara doesn’t get angry at dog owners. Martin Fujiwara is patient with idiots. Martin Fujiwara has poor judgment when it comes to picking a best man.”
His binoculars were wedged into the cup holder between the front seats. Periodically he scanned the near end of the spit for signs of Milt or Alan, or other unpredictable things. There were none. William couldn’t stop thinking about Hannah in the Gator, about Alan, about what was real and what was not, about why he wasn’t dead. He wanted to phone Stacey , to hear her cheery voice, but by now she would be out in the middle of the mudflat in the middle of her program. He wondered if Hannah was hovering around. Then he wondered if that wasn’t a crazy thought. He wondered about Becky Pang and if she had seen any of the newscasts. His heart broke a little more.
He had abandoned the front and was sprawled in the back seat. He closed his eyes. “Hannah?” he said. What if she were in the front seat when he opened his eyes?
He closed his eyes again and dozed off.
He had a confused dream – in the Kingbird Fields, on the mountain with the bear, of Stacey, of Hannah, of Becky—of Alan, of Fooj, of Milt, of Uncle Fester—of the angry woman on the horse, of jostling the camera man... then came shouting and chaos as the dream exploded in a million shimmering crystals. An arm came into the front seat from the passenger side and grabbed his binoculars. “Oh no you don’t!” William yelled, and was out of the car commendably fast for a person not fully awake.
The speed freak turned to run for the woods, but William tackled him. They hit the ground hard and William felt the bandages tear from his hip. He was a scrawny speed freak, not very strong. He stank of BO and urine. Despite his kicking and squirming William was able to hold him, and soon was kneeling on his chest. The speed freak responded by swinging a free arm and clubbing William on the side of the head with his own binoculars. A car drove up behind. “William! William!” Stacey was yelling. William snatched the binoculars, pushed himself off the smelly speed freak, and stumbled backward toward her car. She was leaning, holding the passenger door open. William fell in. The cameras converged, left, right, front and back.
“Mr. Kendall! May we ask you some questions?
“We just want to talk with you!”
“Are you the Jesus of the West?”
“Did you really rise from the dead?”
“Who are these idiots?” William shouted. “Get us out of here!”
Stacey was yelling, “Get out of the way! Get out of the way!” and was honking her horn. She leaned on it, flat out. It took a while, but did the trick. The media scrum dissolved and retreated back to the spit. The Volkswagen began to roll.
“Wait,” William said to Stacey. Why had they just given up? Something else was happening. There was more shouting, this time in Mandarin. A bustle of people, Asian and Caucasian, was heading their way. Far in the lead was Alan, his jaw set and determined, dragging by the jacket-sleeve a red-faced Milt who had bird seed leaking from his pockets. They were being pursued by ducks and geese and pigeons and Chinese and Caucasians and bathrobe Jesuses and camera crews and unaffiliated confused people. Milt was soaking wet.
Alan saw them. William rolled down the window.
“He was trying to wade across the Lake!” Alan yelled. “We should have let the damn beaver go on this side!” Then he shouted, “Why are all these pricks following us?”
Alan showed no surprise at his broken window, merely scooped an armful of nuggetized glass from the seat before Milt sagged in. Stacey waited until Alan started the engine, and then accelerated, spitting out gravel and glass. In the side-view mirror Alan was close behind. The rest of the confusion was lost in their combined dust. As they passed the ice cream truck, William saw Baba still sitting inside, reading his newspaper.
Instead of heading straight back to Vancouver, Stacey entered the labyrinthine neighbourhood north of the lake. Alan roared past, toward downtown. She parked in the shade of a purple beech tree and rested her forehead on the steering wheel to catch her breath. While driving she had been screaming, “Are you hurt? Who were you fighting with? What the hell is going on? I hate violence!” etcetera, without pausing for William to answer. He didn’t know the answers anyway.
William too was pretty well rattled. He said, finally, “The guy stole my binos.” It was then he noticed that one of the bottom lenses had a huge conchoidal chip out of it. “Shit,” he said.
“This is exactly what I was talking about,” she said. She meant her warning of that morning.
Soon, as usual, they were stuck in traffic on Lougheed Highway. “So, how did the program go?” William asked, as if nothing else had happened so far that day.
“I cut my foot,” she said. “Other than that, really good.” Then, thank God, she smiled at him.
Stacey let him out on the street outside his building and drove into the parking garage, into his virgin parking spot. William crossed the road to buy Vietnamese take-out.
Twenty minutes later William entered his apartment to the faint smell of nail polish remover, a somewhat toxic odour that was nevertheless a welcome addition to his life. Stacey glanced at him as she breezed from the bathroom. She had a bandaid peeking up the edge of her left heel.
She said, “Hey, Jesus of the Lake, what a nightmare this is turning out to be.” She had watched the beginning of the 5 pm news. The TV was on, but with no sound.
The phone rang. William disconnected it without answering. He said, “I thought I unplugged that thing this morning.”
She said, “I plugged it back in. I needed to call my mom, and my cell battery’s kaput. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”
At 6 PM the newscast cycled back to the beginning. William turned up the volume despite knowing he would be bothered by what he was about to hear. He sat directly in front of the television, the clicker aimed. It didn’t start out well. “An unidentified man was seen fighting the purported Jesus of the West, park worker William Kendall...”
Now it was ‘purported’?
“Jesus of the West was displaying un-saviour-like behaviour, fighting with a homeless man...”
“The Jesus of the East can be pretty unsaviour-like too,” William said. “Ask his little brother.”
They were interviewing the speed freak: “Yeah, he was pretty rough for a Jesus,” he said.
An interview with one of the Jesus of the East entourage, a wrinkled Elder: “We now strongly feel that the Jesus of the West is here among us, but is unsure. We ask that he please make himself known to us, for the salvation of all the people of the world.”
“They think you’re Obi-wan,” said Stacey. She was seated in his computer swivel chair next to and above him, wielding the gleaming nail brush.
Stacey in her Volkswagen coming to his aid. She was not in uniform, so they didn’t connect her to the park. “An unidentified blond woman” was how she was described.
“There’s me,” she said. “Now I’m famous too.”
“You’re the mysterious unidentified blond woman,” William said. He turned off the TV. “Show me your cut.”
“Not so mysterious.” She slapped her left foot onto his thigh. It was golden and pretty and the nails were in a rare state of unpaintedness. “Just a little cut from a clam shell, not very deep. I found your Polysporin. It’s okay now.” She lifted her foot to the chair to start painting. Tonight’s colour: apple green.
He asked, jovially, “Is there a set colour for every day of the week, or do you spin a wheel?”
She shot her eyes at him, finding no humour. It took a long time for her to say anything. She was painting her way along the row. Finished, she extended her leg, twiddled her toes, and screwed the cap back onto the bottle. Then she said, “Your past girlfriends were never silly like me. They didn’t waste time with silly things like nail polish.”
William was worried. This was one of those moments to pause, say nothing, and rewind the tape to find the slight that started the bomb ticking. What was it? She was still angry about what happened in the parking lot? She had seemed to have gotten over that quite quickly. Nothing untoward had transpired on the drive home, or since.
“Sorry,” William said. It was always the safest answer.
“I don’t like being taken advantage of.”
“I didn’t, I, ah...” William was lost.
“I don’t appreciate being made a fool of.”
“I give,” he said. “What’s happened in the last half hour to make you angry with me?”
Drawing her leg close to check the paintjob, she said, “There was another miracle, when you were buying dinner. I phoned my mom, and before I could unplug your phone, it rang. I’m not sure why, but I answered it.”
“Oh?” His blood ran cold.
Her foot fell back onto his thigh, harder this time. “Tomorrow call your mother. Like you, she has the incredible ability to return from the dead. By the way, she sounds very nice.” There was metal in her voice.
“Um,” William said, looking at her foot. He should have recognized the bright green spots as warning colouration, that this pretty thing had the potential to be cruel — nature was full of such devices. It pulled back, then lunged at his groin.
William had previously wondered on the three-second period of grace that allowed you to steer your bicycle to safety after your foot slipped from the pedal and your testicles were mashed against the cross-pipe. He got all the way to his bed before collapsing. Pain flooded his abdomen. To his credit, he would think afterward, he didn’t moan, although he did lose tears to his pillow.
To his surprise she appeared in the room. A helpful side-effect of the pain was that it made him more or less immune to her rant, which went something like:
“What’s all this crap! What’s wrong with you? Are you and your friend Alan the two most messed-up men on Earth? Why do you think you need to invent gruesome stories about your parents’ deaths? For sympathy sex? Is that why? That’s bullshit! You think Ed Daddle is messed-up, well go look in the mirror!” Eventually she stopped.
His back turned, he didn’t respond. He didn’t want to talk. This day had gone badly. He expected she would leave now.
“Ah, did I get both of them? I tried to step on only one of them, and not too hard, just squish it a bit.”
“Oh,” he said. It had been a surgical strike. “Mostly the right one, but it was a pretty solid squish.”
“Are you still, um, operational? Should I take you back to the hospital?”
“God, no,” he said. The media would be there, salivating.
She sat next to his head. “I’m sorry. Now I’m mad at myself too. I just lost control for a second there. I hate violence.”
“I know you do,” he said.
“I also hate lying.”
“It wasn’t my idea,” he said, weakly. “It’s one of Alan’s. He didn’t check with me first. He thought he was helping. He knows I’m not close at all to my parents. He claims he was just elaborating on our lack of connection. I don’t even know how my parents were supposed to have died. What craziness did he tell you?”
“Forget about it. It’s stupid. Please let’s forget all about this.”
Once the pain transformed to a warm, endorphin glow, William hobbled into the main room to retrieve the nail polish, an attempt to set things back on course. He placed the little triangular bottle on the bedside table within her easy reach. She was sitting against the wall with her chin on her knees, looking unhappy. “Maybe you should sit with me and tell me about you and your parents,” she said. “And maybe also turn off the light.”
He clicked the switch and sat on the edge of the bed with his back to her. He said of his parents, “They’re old. They’re far away.”
“What happened? Did you have a massive falling out over something?”
“No,” he said. “It was more like a slow realization that we weren’t a real family. Or we were a loveless family, which is maybe worse. When I was young, I lived in my books. My parents bought me lots of books. They sent me to science camp. They bought me binoculars and microscopes and telescopes and a really dangerous hunting knife.”
“It sounds like they did everything they could for you.”
“It sounds that way, but they didn’t. They were using my innate interests to keep me distracted so that they wouldn’t have to deal with what I really needed. My mother only phoned here because,” he paused. “I don’t know why she phoned.”
“Because she’s worried about you?”
He didn’t want to get into an argument with Stacey. He couldn’t lay out his life to her and make her understand what had gone wrong and when. He wasn’t prepared for her analysis, no matter how well-meaning. He told her a story instead.
“From the age of about 12 to the age of 19 I was in love with one girl. I didn’t know I was in love with her until I was almost 18, but in retrospect I had been connected to her forever. It turned out she loved me back, the same way, and my parents came to know that. She was an unquestionably wonderful person. They knew that too. But there was a problem. Her hair was black, and her skin was...purple.”
“Her skin was purple?”
“No. But it was better pigmented than ours. A small percentage of her genes were more prevalent in China.”
“She was Chinese?”
“No. A small percentage of her genes were. Anyway, her parents were ignorant about the difference between genetics and humanity, and their ignorance terrified them and because of that they worked very hard, and successfully, to destroy our dreams.
“My parents were similarly ignorant and confused, but their strategy was to pretend to be oblivious to it all and hope it would go away. They did nothing when I told them her family had intervened, that our dreams were being destroyed. They had never told me why I shouldn’t have her as my girlfriend, and then they never told me how I should deal with the pain of losing her. They did nothing while I was grieving the hard, unprepared grief that any heart-broken young person grieves. They didn’t even acknowledge my grief.
“So maybe I’m as messed-up as my friend Alan. Grieving is natural and therapeutic, but it has only a small window of opportunity, which, if you miss it, leaves you messed-up. You’re left to tear yourself apart forever, because while you’re trying to forget her, which you must do because the memory of losing her is too painful, you’re also trying to remember her every detail, to never forget her. Because Alan is obnoxious and seemed so strong before Hannah died, no one hurried in to catch him. Now he’s messed-up. My loss was less spectacular, but nevertheless left a big, dark, painful hole in my heart.”
Stacey sat silent, thinking, and then said, “William? That girl was a long time ago.”
“Yes. But it never goes away, does it? You’re learning that now, day by day. No matter what’s happening now, there’s still a part of you that cries for the dreams you had with Greg. When, if ever, will those dreams go away?”
“Please don’t talk about that,” she said. “We can talk about my story another time.” Her fingers tickled up his back. He lay down and she snuggled against him. She said, “As a child of divorce, I have never forgotten this quote I once heard. ‘First we love our parents, then we judge them. Rarely do we forgive them’.”
“That’s fair, I suppose,” he said.
“The real Jesus was known for forgiveness, correct?”
He said, “Another reason why I’m totally unqualified. I don’t understand forgiveness. I understand letting things go and pretending them away when it’s convenient, but forgiving? There has to be restitution. Otherwise, how can you not remain bitter?”
He said, “You know, things have become very weird lately.” He meant for himself, but by extension for everyone else ensnared by the resulting crazy spider web. “But let’s be clear. Whether or not there ever was a Jesus of Nazareth, who died on a Roman cross and on the third day rose from the dead—which I strongly doubt—there definitely is no modern Jesus, from the East or from the West, at Burnaby Lake or anywhere.”
After several minutes of silence she said, “I forgive you for the lie, now that I understand how it happened.”
He said, “I forgive you for stomping on my right one. I understand how it happened because I had a front-row seat. But now you have to paint your other foot. I’m very task-driven, even about other peoples’ tasks. You’re asymmetrical and I can’t possibly sleep tonight if something isn’t done about your other foot.”
She said, “You keep evading the real issue, but I like that despite everything you can still be funny. To hell with my other foot.”
“Okay, to hell with it,” he said.
At 11:30, Stacey was snoring. William checked alt.art.alan-lennox.
White Lynx: Alan is now in the midst of the Burnaby Lake Jesus of the East fray, hanging out in the company of the Jesus of the West, who is a park employee named William Kendall, who was dead, but came back to life.
River Fox: How cool that Alan would be hanging out with a dead guy/a Jesus.
Who the hell was White Lynx? William’s guess was Milt. He must have been an insurance scammer who at night enjoyed the pseudo-fame of being an authority in the intimate world of an internet discussion group, while by day wandered the world disguised as a semi-invalid bird watcher and rodent lover.
The talk with Stacey left him toying with the idea of phoning his mother, but he was automatically off the hook because it was the middle of the night in Toronto. Time zone differences were topnotch facilitators of estrangements.