he story was going to end. It said right on the cover that it wouldn’t, but he’d had a lifetime of experiences with false advertisements and broken promises. Love you forever, like you for always. Sure, he could see there were a lot of pages, a lot more than most of the books he’d read, but the amount was measurable. Finite.
The grim inevitability had sank in as the sun sunk down. There had been a lot of sinking in his life of late. Hairlines, belt lines. Punchlines. None of the borders he’d drawn seemed solid. So, after supper and before indigestion, he got in his car and drove downtown. Winding his way in from the suburbs, like a brook trout fighting upstream.
The bookshop was gone, of course. Just another empty storefront on the main drag. But he didn’t need it. He never returned the book. It was in a plastic grocery bag in the backseat.
They’d wrapped the school in chainlink, but he found his way under, ripping his shirt and then cutting his hand struggling through a broken basement window. He was covered in blood, cobwebs and years.
The halls were hollow and hallowed and the place reeked of memory. He walked with his head bowed, like a monk in ceremony, filing past the procession of lockers. He thought of mistakes and missed opportunities. He took a piss in the girls’ washroom on the third floor. There was no one to tell him not to.
He had to bust the lock on the attic. He climbed the old stairs. He found an old blanket. He lit an old stump of candle. He sat down on the old wooden floor. Everything old, just like old times. Only he was also old this time.
He read and remembered most of it. It seemed shorter. Smaller. They were just words on the page. A rectangular object. The magic in it was gone. It was that bare nub of dandelion after the dust had blown away.
And here he was. Ten or twenty pages left. Then he’d have to go. Back up those streets, driving not flying, where there’d be no bullies waiting to throw him in a dumpster. They’d moved on. Got real jobs. They didn't miss him. Not the way he did, with a fierce and clutching love, for them and all the lost comrades that now seemed to loom from every dark corner of the attic.
It wasn’t a bad book. It was just ending. Like everything. He was all grown up, there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing.
t’s been another one of those days that take everything you got and a little bit more. You’re walking down rain-wrought streets, inner city symphony and you’re oh so weary. Too weary to go home and face your four walls. Your stack of bills, dusty rusted life. You just want to take a break from all these worries.
So you tuck in here, following a sign, the hand pointing you downward a short flight of steps. You reach a door, thick, wood hardened by time and salt. There’s a small pane of glass cut into it, frosted, but when you lean your forearm against it you see light and colour.
You imagine making this your place. Putting in your time, coming every day, day after day until you can use words like Regular and Usual. You’ll pull up a stool, put a foot on the rail and a pint will be waiting. You’ll get relationship advice from the bartender. You’ll banter with the barbed-wire gargling, heart of gold waitress. You’ll swap war stories with the resident experts. You’ll see that your troubles are all the same. You’ll be balm for each other’s pain.
It’s cold out here, so you push through the door, into warmth and noise. It’s everything you pictured. Dark oiled bar like a brass-railed schooner on a terrazzo sea.
Only, it’s empty. Nobody shouts your name at your arrival. No one returns from a game of darts in the back to buy you a round.
There are two college kids in ball caps, sitting in a booth watching the game on the teevee. They don’t even notice you. They’re not glad you came. It’s just another bar full of old glory gone sour in the taps. You just want to get away.
e’d done ten years and he’d done them hard, upstate. It’d been especially hard on him, hammering away at his cherubic face, his buck-toothed smiled. He was now just a collection of right angles. They gave him a plastic bag with his clothes. The brim of his hat was all bent out of shape. There was no one there to meet him.
They dropped him off at the bus station on the outskirts and stuck a pamphlet in his hand. He wandered until he found a driver outside on the platform, having a smoke. There was a blue tattoo on his forearm, too smudged to make out anymore. He understood. He took him downtown. Everything seemed so fast. People, cars. The world in fast forward, and him stuck on rewind.
He found the shelter, a hump of brick squatting on the corner. There was a park across the street, but not the kind you’d want to walk in without a HAZMAT suit. They put him in a room with three other guys. The food was bad. Things hadn’t changed much.
He went to see his parole officer. They set him up with a job, just down the street from the shelter, cleaning a burger joint after hours. The sign only had one arch, instead of two, and it was so rusty you could hardly call it golden. Still it was like throwing him in a candy shop full of razor blades. Maybe they did it just to screw with him.
At the end of his shift, he’d sit in the change room, naked. He’d put on the cape, the hat and the red gloves. He’d imagine the sound of grease popping as the slabs of meat fried. He could still smell it. It would be so easy. Just one bite. But that’d be the end of him, he’d tell himself, pretending it wasn’t all over already.
he has her back to the wall, eye on the door, like some old prizefighter catching a breath. It’s a good vantage point to watch the women in last year’s fashion and men with none at all mingle in the dim light, their conversation dimmer still. The band, more out of tune than touch, is playing a black hole into the dance floor. The food, at least, is sufferable.
John is out there, somewhere, dazzling some young thing with his Cheshire smile. She scans the crowd, eyes hungry. Maybe the next song. Maybe the one after. Something would get her moving. A toe tap, or two. A head bob. A shoulder dip. Then up on her feet, hipshake, gyrate, make her way between the tables, march one two, sucking up stragglers, a few, three four, a few more, fingers snapping, feet stamping, clearing out the dance floor, to soar soar soar, again.
The gin sour burns a trail down the back of her throat. She puts the highball down and settles back into the corner. The band finishes another bitter number. Maybe this next song. Maybe the one after.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.