HOW I CAME TO WRITE THE SALVATION ARMY TALES
by Nancy Naglin
When members of the Vietnam War era war resister community in Vancouver contacted me about resurrecting The Salvation Army Tales, which I'd written in 1972, I thought, "Don't look back." That's what one of my war resister characters said—and it's a good enough mantra to live by when you're starting out—but I did, with trepidation and then excitement, at a forty-five year-old manuscript–and discovered anew in a coming-of-age tale inspired by a needless war and its many regrets, the joy, discovery and ordeal of youth.
It was the summer of '69. I was an American student at McGill University in Montreal, and as a foreign student with a work visa permitting me to work in the summer only, hitchhiked to Vancouver. It was easy. You went to someone's backyard, ducked beneath a clothesline, and there was the 401. One long road west…Vancouver at the end. Everyone young was on the move. The Vancouver I discovered filled me with wonder. I grew up in Boston and the West Coast was exotic. Vancouver then was on the verge of becoming. There was the crispness of dawn, the sea breeze; it was clean, fresh, exciting, vibrant and young—a city still close to its pioneering roots. Turning twenty, I had already done two years in Canada, when I fell in with American war resisters—dodgers and deserters—who were struggling with retaining an American identity while trying to get a foothold in a new country. The locale where these war resisters rented a house reminded me of the mood in Steinbeck's Cannery Row. It was the right time and the right place to start enjoying life. The quirkiness of the situation, with its poignant and painful blending of the personal and the political, the many charms of the city, my own personal wanderlust and yearning, all suffused with the mores and norms of a counterculture, excited me to commit as a writer and to find in what I was living the makings of a novel. I was so taken with Vancouver I wanted to transfer to the University of British Columbia. Foreign students were not allowed transfers. I returned to Montreal, and upon graduation, moved to Toronto, with the express purpose of writing a first book, this novel. I wasn't sure how, but I needed to find a way, and I did. I was young, I went with my intuition, opened my heart and poured out my soul.
In writing The Salvation Army Tales, I tried to epitomize the most hopeless and frustrating aspects of exile. Looking back, it was pleasant to spend time again in The Salvation Army with characters who grasped then and, growing up, came to understand with certainty the meaning of "You Can't Go Home Again."
In the intervening years, new wars have overtaken the old. Veterans of The Salvation Army and the regular army, meaning today refugees and political exiles from around the world, keep coming to Canada. I caught the feeling of that, in my time and place—lightning in a bottle. The Salvation Army Tales was timely then and now.
The house Faggot rented was a gray weather-beaten two-story frame house with no heat and no utilities. The landlady was a single woman who lived with her miniature barking dog somewhere in the Oak Ridge Development. She never asked any questions as long as she received one hundred and twenty-five dollars every month in a wrinkled brown envelope.
Faggot would personally drive to the landlady's place in the first, but usually the second week of the month. He slapped his hair into shape, pulled up his pants and walked across the badminton grounds to the side door where the lady waited behind a crepe curtain. She opened the door as far as the inside lock and chain would allow. Then she slipped her hand through the crack and took the envelope without a word.
Faggot got the address of the landlady from the Committee. She never asked if she was renting to fugitives of the law. If she knew, she said nothing, for the badminton set and the clipped hedges and the pickaninny on the front lawn were twenty-five minutes by car, forty-five minutes by Faggot's car, from a house that could never be called a bargain.
A broken wire fence set the house off from the sidewalk. Inside were the remains of a garden that survived on the scraps of love and care that some unknown gardener lavished on his home years ago. Flowers accustomed to years of regular care were beginning to straggle out of set patterns and borders. They were wild and abundant and, unasked for and unattended, they grew carelessly for whoever stopped to look.
Now nobody who lives in that house knows the names of any of those flowers. There are beer caps lodged between the roots of tiger lilies and dandelions. Cigarette butts and flower petals lie side by side. In the summertime the grass is knee-high and the sun shines on broken glass.
The house was old. Mild climate and gentle neglect combined to let it weather naturally. Good fortune and benign indifference on the part of all the former tenants were responsible for holding it together. The water ran and the windows shut. With occasional manual adjustments to the inner workings, the toilet flushed. The garbage collection was free--whenever someone remembered to put it out.
Lilacs leaned against the house and drooped onto the porch. They began to die in the steady heat of summer and filled the early mornings of Vancouver's year-long spring with the sweet, rich smell of decay. In the evenings the smell of dying lilacs filtered through open windows and settled in radiators that would never work in the wintertime.
There were four cabinets in the kitchen. An old-fashioned sink, a pantry and a rickety green table came with the house. They attached a string from a bakery box to the insides of the toilet while they talked about the real repair. They bought a stove and watched its four replacements fall apart one after another. The refrigerator came from a friendly junk man. They never remembered to put the garbage out.
The front porch and the view from the bathroom window were the nicest features. There was never a curtain or a window shade in the bathroom. Just the open window with the breeze curling around the remnant of plastic shower curtain. In the backyard a huge tree with quivering leaves leaned against the house and there, in the bathroom window, was nearly close enough to touch.
From the bathroom window it was possible to see the whole city. You could stand beside the sink and see mountains in the distance. Below you was the glistening steel and glass and concrete of Vancouver. The bridge was to your left and farther away on the edge of the city where the land meets the water were the pleasure boats. Hidden away in different pockets of the sea were the scraps and shreds of timber. Everywhere were wood telephone poles, totems of another era.
The railroad ran directly behind the house. Signals, tracks and a bell. The train that comes and goes with its load of lumber or produce or machinery and sends up its whistle in the early morning and the afternoon…and in the nighttime when it reaches you across the pillows and slides momentarily between the bed sheets.
There they saw the early morning for the first time in Vancouver. From the first bathroom window in Canadia they viewed the exile beginning--with the ash cans and railroad ties and telephone wires and Voice of China radio station that make up the backyard of Vancouver.
Faggot rented this house in his name with the money he collected from his friends and from borrowing and from pawning his tape recorder three weeks out of every four. Faggot lived in the front room. Mother lived in the living room. Salamander and Mushmouth lived upstairs. For the short time Tex was there he lived somewhere on the floor.
There were no jobs. There was no money and nobody was landed. War had come to the States. They refused to go or had refused to go on anymore after they had already refused and had come north to This City. Here the Committee sorted, consoled and advised. In hopeless confusion and lack of funds and make-believe solidarity, they did what they could, then left them to manage on their own.
Occasionally people were discovered and deported. Oftentimes people took on false names and identities, scouring the library files of birthdates and names and years to assume a new personality. Frequently people returned home to the States in a frenzy of disbelief and homesickness that was madness and many were never heard from again. Mostly people stayed and lived off of one another and off of hearsay and rumor and canned meat and peanut butter, imagining in wild drug fantasies that the President of the United States had ended the War and called home all the boys from Canadia.
But they awoke to find newer arrivals until weathering one month, then two, then six, seven, eight different hostels, they knew they were veterans of sorts. Finally there was some bitter-sweet pride in that, too.
Some got landed on the merits of college educations that their parents unsuspectingly purchased two, four, five, six years ago and which were never fully appreciated or valued before. Others went to the Plains to find work. A few hitchhiked east to get landed. A lucky few married Canadian girls, were saved and left one army for another. Some, the most misguided, wandered to Montreal, only to join up with Easterners who slowly grew to realization through the long winter nights that they would never survive and function in the too-French, too-European background with their New Hampshire educations and Boston activism. Many never got landed.
Some foot-loose New Yorkers got off the 401 at Toronto. Others, traveling now with dope dealers, deserters and McGill students, now with fourteen year-old virgins in search of the impossible lay, cowboys and small-town teenagers out to make a cool million, camped out for days and stole fruit from the A&P while the Plains' winds snuffed out their Eastern prejudices and attacked their Brooklyn accents and made Westerners of them. Later, they would live on the communes off the coast of Vancouver Island and wonder how they ever lived in and loved New York City. They would spend five years forgetting while they religiously stood in line for thirty-five minutes to buy tickets for the one and only International Film Festival in Vancouver.
Perhaps one in a thousand found the Edmonton real estate financier, an exiled resister of the Korean War, who fed and clothed and occasionally employed the younger image of himself. The majority, however, silently melted into Kitsilano. There they wore away at indifference until an angry mayor in a fit of rage that was lunacy of another sort lashed out at the hippie convergence on The City.
All day they sneak around the streets wondering at the mess in their minds and how it got there. Afraid to cross the street against the light for fear they will be picked up and prosecuted and sent home to stand trial and to see their mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles lined up with handkerchiefs at their eyes and their faces frozen into agonizing looks of anger and reproach and love, all framing the unanswerable question: WHY? WHY YOU MY SON WHO IS THE FLESH AND BLOOD OF OUR BODIES AND FOR WHOM WE HAVE WORKED AND SAVED AND SLAVED SO THAT YOU MAY DO BETTER THAN US? WHY YOU MY SON WHOM YOUR MOTHER AND I LOVE MORE THAN WE LOVE OUR OWN LIVES?
For fear of that question and some in utter hopelessness because there exists no one for them and no girl-woman-child who will raise the sincerity and faith and trust in so young a man to ask that question, thousands wait aimlessly on the corner for the lights to change. There are endless excursions to Murchie's Import Coffee Shop, the post office, the library, the parks and the Committee while some small mechanism in the mind stumbles toward resolution or limps into some new rationale. But always the crazy flea brain in their heads buzzing round and round and…
Salamander got down the huge black cast iron fry pan from the hook above the stove. He stood in front of the stove in shirtsleeves with his two scrawny arms bent at the elbows, contemplating the shiny black bottom of the fry pan. He turned the pan over and saw the thick lines of rust or dirt or caked-on grease from breakfasts of bacon and eggs that had been cooked months ago.
"Where does Faggot get all this stuff?" he asked himself.
He balanced the fry pan in one hand and gave a nervous shake of his shoulders. He was not very tall but he seemed taller than he was because he was so skinny. Without a shirt his ribs showed through his skin. Faggot said Salamander was an animated fish bone.
Upstairs in one of the two suitcases he hadn't yet unpacked, Salamander kept a large jar of nutriment. Every morning at breakfast he drank two heaping tablespoonfuls in a large glass of milk. The nutriment came in three flavors, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, but Salamander always drank chocolate.
"What's the difference what it tastes like?" he wanted to know. "The important thing is what it does for you. There's no point in eating food that doesn't do anything for you. What's the point of eating after all?" he asked. And he answered himself right away before anybody could tell him how food can be tasty and give
real pleasure like a cigarette with coffee in the morning. But since he didn't smoke, either, it was hopeless.
"The point of eating is to eat food that counts. Only dumbasses put food into their mouths that isn't food. Like potato chips and shit cereals that aren't food, that have no nutritional value, that do nothing for you but pollute you with non-food."
Salamander held the fry pan up to his nose, then placed it on the burner and turned on the stove. He scraped the inside of the pan with his fingernail and was satisfied. He went to the refrigerator and brought out a package of meat wrapped in a brown bag. There was blood on the outside of the bag.
"When is that meal going to be ready?" a voice called from the porch. The front door was open and from the stove there was a clear view to the street beyond. There was a patch of blue sky visible above the mound of earth in the vacant lot directly across the street.
"When it's done," Salamander shouted back.
"Well, when is that going to be?" the voice wanted to know.
"When I decide it is. That's when it will be done."
"Salamander, I sure as hell hope you know how to cook those steaks."
There was laughter from the porch and sounds of a scuffle and then everything was quiet again.
Blue smoke rose in a haze from the fry pan where the steaks were beginning to relax on the stove. The smoke hung about the stove in lazy circles like weird cigarette rings from the lips of an invisible smoker.
The fry pan was larger than the burner and hung over the sides of the red coils. In the center of the pan the steaks were sizzling. Salamander poked a few with a fork and they bled. He turned his back on a joke of a stove that was a four burner enlargement of a hot plate. He opened the refrigerator and stared inside.
At this time now his mother would be cooking dinner. His father would have been home from work for at least a half hour. He would be eating earlier because he would be going out. Besides, he would prefer not to eat with his father anyway and his mother always gave him his dinner early on the nights he wanted to go out. He never realized that his mother was an excellent cook. He could not remember a single time he felt his mother cooked a good meal when she used to make lunches for him when he went half days to the University of Portland and worked half days in a Federal Reserve Bank. He never questioned if he loved his mother or if she loved him. It never crossed his mind. It was her job to make
his meals and to serve them to him whenever he wanted to eat them. It was that simple.
He shut the refrigerator door. In his hands he held two large onions. Awkwardly Salamander brought them to the sink and prepared to cut them. He began to slice the first onion. He remembered he hadn't had any decent cookies or cake since he left home.
In the first hostel there had been a cook. He and his girlfriend used to cook for everybody in the hostel. Mark's meals weren't too great but at least he didn't have to cook for himself every day. Everybody gave three dollars a week and Mark and his girlfriend shopped and made lunches and suppers. Motherfucker said that they used too much cheese and everything they made tasted like cheese. He thought it was all right because it was better than he could do for himself.
Faggot said that Mark and his girlfriend would probably get married and then get divorced. Salamander never thought they would get married. Faggot thought they would get divorced because he had been married twice and thought that all marriages end in children, then divorce. But then Salamander couldn't see how any girl could stay married to Faggot. Mark didn't know how lucky he was. He would find out, though, if that girl left him in the wintertime.
The onions were in a small pile on the sink. Salamander brushed his eyes with the back of his hand. Then he scooped the onions into his palms and brought them to the stove where the steaks were smoking. The steaks in the middle of the pan were burning and the steaks on the outer edges of the pan where the heat never reached them were raw. He shifted the positions of the steaks and poured the onions around the edges of the pan. The onions steamed and smoked.
Salamander's eyes darted here and there inside the pan. He made periodic jabs at the meat with a fork. His face was expressionless.
The mixture of steam and smoke rose from the pan and curled around his head and his brown hair, cut short in order to get landed on his job offer from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He seemed to belong more to the rigid self-righteousness and reserved frigidity of Protestant New England than to the lush Pacific undergrowth and the Oregon strawberry fields where he had worked summertimes as a boy. Non-smoking, non-swearing, non-coffee drinking Midwesterners could claim him more securely than the crisp, efficient FBI agent who would appear unannounced some day at his mother's house in Portland. But his people were pioneers--the original settlers immigrant Jewish boys read about and believe in three thousand miles eastward in New York City. His grandparents came from Ohio to settle in the mountains and forests of Oregon. The wild fecundity of the land overwhelmed them and they clung desperately to their prairie innocence and insulation.
Salamander made his discovery in the reading room of the University of Portland Library. There the young librarian mindlessly filed away the subversive reporting of another world, all the while thinking of her boyfriend and her wardrobe and the campus social calendar.
For a year Salamander read each new edition of Ramparts and The New Republic. He stopped going to his accounting class. When a small group of activists at the commuter school began to hold noon vigils for the Vietnam War dead, he held a candle for fifteen minutes a day. He grew his hair long and read underground literature. He doubted what the school taught him and what the President said on television. He laughed at the finger-pointing Oregon road signs of Uncle Sam asking the American public why the United States trades with communist countries. He spoke less. He sneered more at the campus coeds who simultaneously attracted and repulsed him. He dropped out of school for one quarter and read the history of Vietnam in the school library and worked in the Federal Reserve Bank. He carried his draft card in his wallet beneath his license.
Salamander stepped away from the stove because the smoke was bothering his eyes. From the cabinet above the kitchen sink he pulled out a dirty plate. When he'd rinsed it, he used it for the two steaks that were burnt.
"It'll be ready soon," he yelled out to the porch.
"You've probably ruined them by now. That's our fault for ever letting some dumbshit like you try to cook them."
Salamander recognized Tex's voice. He smiled. "If you wanted it any other way, you should have cooked them yourself. I wasn't stopping you. I never said I was the great chef."
"Fuck you, boy."
Salamander laughed. His lips curled upwards and his eyes came alive. He reached for the pan. Another steak was burning. Immediately his lips compressed away the warmth. He wasm't aware he had changed.
He was endlessly amazed when he found out how most people came to Canada. Faggot flew from San Diego with the FBI hot on his trail when the plane fuelled and took off. Breeze blew in. Tex just got here somehow…
But he had been much more careful. Now Vancouver seemed much different than that day in April when he had driven up. He knew the day his mother handed him the sealed induction notice. He never had any intention of showing up because he knew that there was no way to avoid being drafted--he had that much respect still for the United States Government. He could not fake homosexuality or bedwetting or being crazy. The deceptions the people from New York and California attempted seemed outrageous. He refused to allow them to let him debase himself like that. He retained that much of a public school education and had acquired that much new righteousness.
He had never been outside of Oregon in his life, yet he managed the border perfectly. He located the Committee and the hostels where draft dodgers could stay. He received legal advice about getting landed. For the first time in his life he spoke to someone from Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis. He made an appointment with a representative from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and received a job offer as a Bank Manager Trainee. He had every intention of holding that job.
Today was a Friday. On Monday he would be at the Bank at 8:00 o'clock in the morning. It was money.
Salamander put the rest of the steaks on the plate. He threw the fork down on the stove and wiped his fingers on his pants. Then he took another plate from the cabinet and without wiping it off, took two steaks from the pile on the stove and potatoes from another pot on a back burner.
"Okay, it's done. Come and eat."
Four people came in from the porch.
"You could smell those steaks all over the street. From here to Texas. You must have burned them away to nothing, boy." Tex held one up on the end of a fork and dangled it over a plate for everybody to see. "Look how small they are."
A boy with bell bottom jeans and a leather vest held a plate underneath Tex's steak. He looked like a high school kid who was dressed up to take a girl to the Fillmore.
"C'mon, Tex. Put it in. Just drop it in the plate. Don't look at it. Just put it in the plate." He shook the plate up and down while Tex slowly let the steak down. A dirty white handkerchief flopped out of his back pocket. He wore wire rimmed glasses that looked expensive. He laughed and made jokes. He and Salamander stood together and watched the potatoes.
Tex joined Mushmouth and Salamander at the stove.
"Hey, Mother. Quit staring. Get something to eat before it's all gone," Faggot said.
"Yeah, everybody eat fast and eat as much as you can so Faggot won't get anything to eat," said Salamander.
Mother laughed. "Sure." He strolled into the kitchen and began looking for a plate and a fork. He picked out a fork from a cardboard box on the floor.
"It's dirty," he complained. He looked for a knife but he couldn't find one. "Who has a knife I can use?"
Mushmouth slid a knife across the table and Mother picked it up and wiped it carefully on his jeans. Salamander stayed by the stove eating with rabbit-quick bites. He never ate much in a single bite. His hand and fork made a series of semicircles in a path from the plate to his mouth and back again.
"Did you cook these potatoes, Salamander?"
Salamander watched Motherfucker push potatoes around in the pot. "There's still skins on some of them. Why there's dirt in there, you little bastard. Don't you know how to cook potatoes? You take the dirt off them."
Salamander turned his back. He balanced his plate on the edge of the stove and opened the refrigerator. "Next time you cook them." He poured himself a glass of milk.
"Hey, Salamander, can I have some milk?" Tex was wearing his cowboy hat made out of some kind of fur with the imitation leopard skin hatband. "C'mon, man, give us some milk." He was rolling a cigarette. He raised it to his lips to glue it together. Expertly his tongue ran along the gummed edge. At the end of the paper, he flicked in his tongue lizard-like. All the time his eyes never left Salamander's face.
Salamander was thinking about the chocolate nutriment upstairs in his suitcase. He should start drinking that stuff again but with all these people around it was impossible to buy any food and have any left for himself. He thought if he left the nutriment lying around, Tex would learn to roll it and smoke it. That way it would be cheaper than tobacco.
"No. Buy your own milk."
Mushmouth wiped his mouth with the handkerchief he pulled out of his pocket. He blew his nose and put his plate in the sink. Faggot stood by the table eating in big mouthfuls. He went to the cabinet and took out a loaf of bread. He cut off a huge slice, then a slightly smaller one that he pushed across the table to Mother. Mother didn't say anything to Faggot. Instead he turned to Salamander. "Get out the butter, little creep."
Salamander brought the butter to the table. The others cut off bread for themselves.
Faggot left his plate on the table. He belched. "You boys decide who's going to clean up the kitchen. I want this place spotless. Somebody wash the dishes."
Nobody listened to him.
"Sure," Mother said. "We're gonna clean up the kitchen. Tex, you're gonna wash the dishes for Faggot, aren't you?"
"Okay," Tex said. "Okay." But nobody believed him. He cut the end of his ash off with his fingernail.
"Who's got a cigarette?" Faggot asked. "Mother, you want to roll me a cigarette."
"Won't you ever learn, Faggot?" Mother bitched. "When are you gonna learn to roll your own cigarettes? You're a big boy now."
"Never, I'm going to get a job that pays me five hundred dollars a week and I'll buy cigarettes to throw out."
Faggot kicked the box of silverware on the floor. "I think I can get more stuff from where I got this. They have more dishes and some pots."
Mother lit a cigarette from the stove and left the kitchen. Mushmouth and Salamander walked around the silverware box and followed him to the porch.
"You there, boy," Faggot pointed to Tex. "Do a nice job on the dishes, you hear? A nice clean kitchen."
Tex leaned up against the stove and laughed. "Sure, Boss. Sure thing. I'm gonna…."
"What are you gonna do, Tex?"
"Well, now. I don't exactly know." Tex crossed one foot over the other. "Maybe I'll stay here a while and maybe I won't. Maybe I'll start east and get landed." He whistled through the hole that belonged to his missing front tooth. "Regina maybe. But there ain't nothing left of today, so there ain't much point in deciding anything, is there?"
Faggot laughed. "Sure. Sure thing." He stood in front of Tex. Half-gently, half-roughly, he shook him by the shoulder. "You tell 'em in Regina."
In the morning Faggot lay across his bed asleep on his back. One arm was flung to the side, outstretched on the mattress of his collapsible frame bed. He always draped a dirty yellow blanket over his body and in the morning it settled in dusty folds along the floor. Sometimes he twitched in his sleep but Motherfucker, who shared the next room, was oblivious to anything he did. Tex was in his sleeping bag near the threshold of the kitchen door. He slept in the hall outside the kitchen, a sort of living room when everyone wasn't in Faggot or Motherfucker's bedroom.
There was an old man who lived in the room opposite the bathroom. When Faggot took over the lease he made an agreement with the landlady. Jimmy was supposed to move out in two weeks but nobody ever saw him. Maybe Jimmy moved around in the middle of the morning when everybody was supposed to be at work. In that case, Motherfucker never believed in his existence at all because he slept every day until noon, curled up on his side in his big brass bed in the front room with the blanket neatly pulled across his shoulders and his thin legs and slender waist in tidy silhouette. And he never moved in his
Every day Faggot was the first one to get up. He would lean over the side of his bed and fumble for a cigarette between his broken alarm clock and his watch. In the next few minutes he tried to locate a match while his body drifted in and out of sleep. But once he lit his cigarette, he stayed awake.
Faggot was the first to get up because he drank the most and had to go to the bathroom first.
On the way to the bathroom he woke Tex who slept fitfully like a child, all rolled up in a ball. Faggot always expected to see him with his thumb in his mouth. When he came into the hall, Tex opened his eyes. He turned over on his back and looked up at the Faggot pleasantly. "Mornin'." Tex smiled and pushed back his sleeping bag with his long tanned arms. He stretched his bare limbs leisurely beneath his flannel coverings.
"Hmph." Faggot looked down at Tex. His lips congealed. He took a deep drag on his cigarette and exhaled partly through his nose and partly through his open mouth. It looked as if it hurt him to smoke so early in the morning.
Faggot's feet made heavy banging noises as he walked up the stairs and tramped across the upstairs hall to the bathroom.
Tex lay back and smiled. He sat up and began to make a cigarette from the tobacco pouch and paper wrappers at his side. He heard Faggot moving around in the bathroom and he stopped with his tongue hanging over the paper. Absent-mindedly his tongue fell backwards into the hole under his top lip where his front tooth used to be. Then he remembered the cigarette in his hands. "Yep," he said. "I'm gonna get me a new tooth, too. That's one of the first things I'm gonna do. Of course, after I have breakfast, that is."
He lay back on the floor and listened to the other noises that came from Faggot through the grate. In a little while Faggot came down the stairs and re-crossed the hall floor, gingerly skirting Tex's bed. He put on a blue perma-press shirt and a brown hand-woven tie. Then he got down on his hands and knees and picked up all the things that had fallen from his pockets the night before when he had taken his pants off. Then he put all these things into the pockets of a suit that hung from a hanger above his bed. Last he put on his glasses and immediately became more coordinated. He patted his hair in place and ran his hand across his face. Then he carried his shoes in his hand and dropped them on the floor next to Tex's head.
Tex looked up to see Faggot's feet descending into his huge shoes. Faggot leaned over to fasten one of the buckles. He leered into Tex's face and said, "I hope that one of these days I'm going to get up and you're going to be gone."
Tex smiled. "Sure, Boss. Sure thing. Why I might even go tomorrow, I feel so good today."
"Fine." Faggot straightened up and checked the change in his hip pocket. "Have a good day," he said as he walked out of the hall.
Tex waited for the door to close. When he heard the door fit itself back into the frame, he inhaled the last of his cigarette. He rolled over on his side and in a few minutes he fell asleep again.
The next time he woke up he was sweating. The flannel padding of his sleeping bag was sticking to his body. The sun was coming directly through the window in the front room where Motherfucker was still silently asleep on his side.
Tex pushed back the bag and lay on his back. In a few minutes, right before stupor overcame him, he slid out of the bag altogether. He lay on top of his sleeping bag nude for a while and then he got up and put on his jeans. Stealthily, without making any noise, he left the room and went upstairs.
When he came down, Mother was sitting up on the edge of his bed. He was rubbing his hand back and forth across his mouth. "Give me a cigarette," he said.
"Why should I?"
"Shut up, Tex. Just give me a cigarette. Don't give me a lecture."
Tex threw a rolled cigarette across the room to Mother. It landed on the bed.
"Faggot's gone, huh?"
Tex stepped into his cowboy boots.
"When did he go?"
"I don't know. I think it must have been about 8:00 o'clock."
"It should have been 8:00 o'clock," Mother said to himself.
"Maybe later. He woke me up."
"But he's always late." Mother put his elbow on his thigh and turned away from Tex.
"Where'd he go, Motherfucker?"
"That's none of your business." Mother lit the cigarette and inhaled delicately. His eyes shifted over his shoulder. They were half-closed. "When are you goin'?"
"That's none of your goddamn business, Motherfucker." Tex wriggled back and forth in front of Mother's doorway. "My, my aren't you touchy this morning, you poor baby. You sleep up there in your big brass bed and you get touchy when you wake up at noontime and don't know what the fuck from four hours ago."
"Tex, you were upstairs already, weren't you?"
"Yeah, so what? So was Faggot and Salamander and Mushmouth." Tex stopped wriggling his ass around. "Why? You afraid I'm gonna steal your razor or something?"
Mother slid off the bed and stared at Tex from the undersides of his eyelids. "I hadn't thought about it," he said, "but now I will." He turned his back and lifted his shirt off the bedpost. He walked deliberately in front of Tex. Barefoot he walked up the stairs smoking his cigarette and carrying his shirt over his arm.
"Mother. Hey, Mother," Tex called.
Mother didn't turn around. Tex heard him open the bathroom door.
"Hey, Motherfucker," Tex yelled. "Fuck you."
Upstairs Mushmouth turned over in his mattress on the floor. He hated to get up because today he promised Salamander he would go to the Vancouver Library and start looking up suitable aliases for himself. He needed a new name if he wanted to get some kind of temporary work. He groaned in his bed. He had so few points towards getting landed.
Through the grate in the hall Tex heard the sound of running water. "Jesus, that Motherfucker's going to take a bath." He went into the kitchen and poked around the cabinets. There was some rice and a loaf of stale bread. Somebody had left the bag open and the first few slices were hard.
He opened the refrigerator and brought out a brown bag. It was a half pound of sliced salami that belonged to Salamander. The bag said, "Fuck off. Keep your fucking hands off my food. Fuck you." Tex peeled off three slices and put the first one in his mouth. He went to the window and pushed the plastic drapes aside. Outside he could see the Voice of China Radio station. "Funny," he thought. "You never see any Chinese go in or out of there." Tex dropped the curtain and looked at the fry pan in the sink. He wanted bacon and eggs for breakfast. With toast. Who was the dumbass who left the fry pan in the sink? He went to the sink and ran water over it. He ate another slice of salami and congratulated Salamander on buying that brand. It wasn't bad stuff.
He shut the water off because he felt somebody was watching him. Mother was staring at him from the doorway. Tex could feel the last slice of salami sweating into his hand. They said nothing to one another.
Tex turned back to the fry pan and Mother watched him clean it off and wipe it with the corner of a dirty dish towel.
"You know that Faggot used my razor this morning," Mother said.
Tex kept wiping away at the inside of the pan with the dirty dish towel.
"I can't stand to have anybody use my razor."
Tex walked to the stove and put the pan on the largest burner. It was the only one that worked. When Faggot first got the stove, it was possible to have either burner on high or on low, but never both at the same time. Now only the left-hand burner worked.
"And if he has to use my razor why can't he clean it off? Why does he have to be such a slob? I can't stand a dirty razor. Especially before I eat breakfast. It ruins my whole day."
"Maybe you shouldn't shave then. Maybe you should grow a beard," Tex suggested.
"I've done it before," Mother snarled. "And I didn't like it." Motherfucker was glum again. "Did you eat anything?"
Tex closed his fist over the salami slice. "Nope."
"Is there anything to eat?"
"Did you look?" Mother's voice drilled a hole into the kitchen wall.
"Well, there's bread in the cabinet."
"I didn't know that," Tex said.
"Sure." Mother nodded at the cabinets. On the bottom door someone had written, "Fuck off. Leave my fucking food alone. Fuck you," in red letters an inch high. "There's bread left over from last night. We can have toast. And then when Mushmouth gets up, we'll see if he has any money on him. We'll have eggs."
"Mushmouth doesn't have any money," Tex said. "He gave the rest of it to Faggot last night."
"How do you know?" Mother had his hands on the sides of the doorway and leaned forward like he was going to take the doorway with him.
"'Cause I was there. I saw Mushmouth give over the last. He doesn't have any more. Where did Faggot go so early this morning?"
Mother shifted himself around in the doorway. He was the only person in the world who could be more comfortable in a doorway than in a chair. "He went to see an employment agent who can get him a good job. No more part-time shit like the record store he got landed on. I hope he took all his recommendations with him. You know what, Tex?" Mother drove his eyes into him. "You're going to buy breakfast today. I'd help you," he shrugged, "but I bought it yesterday and I don't have any money." His eyes tightened. "I don't even have cigarette money."
Tex looked back at him in the doorway. "All right," he said. "That's fair. I can understand that. But Faggot'll buy supper."
Mother took his eyes off Tex for a second and Tex slipped the salami into his mouth. His face didn't move. He took out his cigarette papers and started another cigarette. He watched Mother watching him from the doorway. He smiled and threw the cigarette to Mother who caught it easily in one hand. "It comes with breakfast," Tex said.
Mother looked Tex in the eye and nodded. He stepped out of the doorway to let Tex through, then followed him to the front porch and watched him go down the three steps and through the gate. "Where you going to buy it?" he wanted to know.
"Leonard's," Tex said as he turned out the gate and started down the street.
"Tex. Hey, Texas. Buy cheese." Mother wanted to be sure Tex heard. He grunted in disgust. Tex wasn't in a rush for anything. That was his problem. He would never turn around and ask, "What do you want cheese for?" or "What kind of cheese do you want?"
"The trouble with people like Tex," Motherfucker thought as he shook out a chair and sat down on the porch, "is that they have no imagination. They have to be told everything." If he'd been Tex he would have asked, "What kind of an omelet are you going to make?"
When Motherfucker and Tex were finishing their morning cigarette routine, Mushmouth had come downstairs. He was wearing his vest and his pinstripe shirt. "Hi, Mother," he said barging through the front door. Because he didn't smoke he had less to do with Motherfucker than anybody else in that house except Salamander who told Motherfucker to his face that he wasn't exactly crazy about him. "Where's he going?" Mushmouth asked, waving one hand up the street after Tex and fumbling around with his glasses with the other.
"To buy eggs."
"Hey, Mother, did Faggot go this morning?" Mushmouth was polishing his glasses with his handkerchief and leaning over the porch railing at the same time.
"Goodie. Boy, I was afraid he'd oversleep or something." Carefully Mushmouth placed his glasses on his nose. He checked to make sure the wire frames fitted securely behind his ears. "It's a nice morning, isn't it?" he said shaking the lilac bush.
Motherfucker didn't answer. Mushmouth picked some dead lilac blossoms off the front of his shirt. He turned around. Motherfucker was gone. He'd probably been gone since he said hello to him.
"Boy, I wish Doreen was here," Mushmouth said aloud. He broke off a lilac branch and beat the railing. He scuffed around the porch in a pair of boots that looked expensive once. He fished around in the side pocket of his bell bottom jeans. He pulled twenty-five cents out of his pocket. Two nickels, a dime and five pennies. He threw the lilac stalk over the railing.
"What took you so long?" Motherfucker demanded to know when Tex came through the kitchen door with a bag of groceries. "I know. I know. The old man is dying every minute--but he usually takes quicker than this to find everything."
"Well, today he was having trouble adding it all up on his little machine," Tex said.
"That's because he's got a little brain, littler than yours. Did you get the cheese?"
Tex took it out of the bag and waved it back and forth. He threw it on the table and started to roll his sleeves up. "Now, you want to leave me alone while I make breakfast or do you want to make breakfast while I leave you alone?"
Mother melted into the living room. Tex broke a dozen eggs into a large mixing bowl. He shook the silverware box on the floor, noted a few pieces he particularly liked, and picked out the lightest fork. Mother could have cut the cheese or made toast but Tex didn't want to be watched. Even when he worked as a short-order cook, he didn't like anybody standing over him and watching. He put each of the broken egg shells back in the egg carton. He cracked nine of the twelve eggs perfectly. It made him nervous to have Mother in the same room with him.
He dropped a chunk of butter in the pan and waited for it to bubble. In a few minutes he knew that Mother would be in the doorway smelling the eggs. He bent his wrist and the eggs slid into the pan. "He's waiting for me to fuck up." Tex waited with the fork in his hand.
The sound of the eggs muted other noises. Tex turned around and saw Mother take plates from the cabinets above the sink.
"Mushmouth is eating?"
"Is there anything to drink, Tex?"
"I bought milk."
"That was nice of you." Mother took three cups from the cupboard. Tex turned around to see Mother's face but his back was turned to him.
Tex scraped the sides of the pan. He watched the egg fall into holes behind the fork. He lanced the eggs again and again and when they had scarred and re-healed, he spooned them into the three plates. "If you want to be useful," Tex said, "you can tell Mushmouth that breakfast's ready."
Mushmouth came in eating a Mars bar. Mother looked up expectantly but Mushmouth ate the last bite out of the paper. He tossed the wrapper into the egg carton and dumped the whole business on top of the rest of the garbage beside the stove.
Single-file they followed each other to the porch. Tex sat down in the wicker chair where Faggot always sat. Mother sat in Tex's kitchen chair. Mushmouth leaned against the wall of the house, holding his plate under his chin and shoveling eggs in with a spoon. He didn't like forks.
Tex leaned back in his chair and looked up at the sky. "It's a mighty pretty day," he said.
Mushmouth balanced his plate on the railing and got out his handkerchief. "Those eggs were good," he said. "Why don't you do all the cooking around here?"
Tex laughed. He was rolling two cigarettes. Automatically he handed one to Mother whose hand was already outstretched for it. "Because I have to get it all together again and all," Tex said. "I have to start doing the right things again."
"When are you going to go?" Mushmouth asked.
"I don't know. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day." Tex gave a side glance at Mother who was getting up to bring his plate to the kitchen. "Before my money's gone."
"Do you think you can get landed in Regina?"
Tex laughed. "Boy, there's one thing I know. I can't get landed here."
Mushmouth broke off another lilac branch and began hitting the wall with it.
"Boy, just look at what you're doing to that lilac bush. You've chewed up half of it already. Now that's no way to treat nature."
Mushmouth stared at the lilac bush.
Motherfucker came back with the Warren Report. He pulled his chair to the other side of the porch and began to read.
"Shit. I don't know," Mushmouth said. He threw the branch over the railing and went inside.
Tex went into the garden and hunted around until he found the perfect blade of grass. He was just breaking it in when Mushmouth came back outside. He was wearing his camera. He told Tex he was going to the library to look up birth records and take a few pictures. Tex nodded and watched the end of his grass wag up and down. "Have a good time, boy," he said. "Write if you get work." Motherfucker didn't look up from his book.
Mushmouth bounced down the three steps and stopped in the middle of the walk. He turned around and ran back to the porch. "Gee whiz," he said. "Oh shit." He handed Tex and Motherfucker a penny piece of licorice each. "It's for the afternoon."
Tex nodded to him as he went down the steps. Mushmouth opened the gate and said, "Bye. See you guys later."
Motherfucker put the book down. "Wait."
Mushmouth froze with one hand on the top of the gate. He looked behind him without moving the rest of his body.
"Did Salamander go to work this morning?"
"Yup," Mushmouth said shaking his head so fast his hair fell over his face. "Yeah, it was his first day. That's why he went to bed early last night. He had to be at the Canadian Imperial Bank for 8:00 o'clock." Mushmouth waited with one hand on the gate but Motherfucker didn't have anything else to say. He picked up his book and said, "Hmph," to himself. Tex waved good-bye from the porch and Mushmouth let the gate fall shut.
When Mushmouth went to the library he usually made a whole day of it. Nobody really knew what he did in there, except maybe Salamander who believed in keeping his mouth shut about other people's business. Especially when he lived with what he called a bunch of half-assed rip-off dipshits. He said he didn't know how anybody could be interested in what a half-assed dipshit did with his day unless it was another half-assed dipshit who was asking.
Salamander was working at the Bank and Faggot was working at finding a job and Mushmouth was busy keeping busy until Doreen came. Tex was busy doing nothing and Motherfucker could keep himself happy all day minding the house and not talking to anybody. He liked that.
So during the afternoon Tex and Mother did very little except make each other nervous. Tex chewed up three or four pieces of grass. After a while he let Mother smoke as many of his cigarettes he wanted as long as he made them. Tex looked up and down the street "looking for things" he said while Motherfucker tried his best to ignore him.
Motherfucker said he was tired of Tex and went inside in the afternoon. In the late afternoon he got hungry and then tired. He tried playing some of Salamander's records for a while but it didn't take away his hunger. Then he played guitar on his bed and wound up taking a nap.
Tex spent the whole afternoon sitting in the kitchen chair watching people from the porch. He had a rush of activity around 12:30-1:00 o'clock when people on their lunch hour came down from Broadway to buy soft drinks in Leonard's or use the phone in The Trade Winds. He was busy for the full hour with all the comings and goings on the street.
After lunch hour Tex inspected all the cars on the street and decided which ones he would or would not steal. At one point he was advanced enough in his thinking about an MG Midget that he was driving through Banff along the Trans-Canada. Right around this time Mother got hungry again and woke up. He wanted cigarettes all the time. Tex said he was the most difficult person to be with in all of Canada. He said it made him glad he hadn't stolen the MG because he couldn't bear the thought of having to be cooped up in the same jail with Motherfucker. "Boy, you just have to learn to control that restlessness," he told Motherfucker but Mother didn't take any notice.
Later on Tex got involved with the people who came back from work and got in their cars and drove off. He watched for the owner of the MG but he went to the bathroom sometime around 5:00 o'clock and missed whoever came for it. Sometimes he thought a man owned it and sometimes he thought it might be a woman with patent leather boots and tiny kid gloves. For a while he thought about the man and for a while he thought about the woman. But he couldn't get anywhere thinking about either one because Motherfucker started waiting for Faggot.
But Mushmouth came home first. "That figures," Tex said, "because he doesn't have a job and if he comes home too late, he might miss Faggot and Salamander who do." Motherfucker said Salamander and Mushmouth didn't count. Only Faggot counted. Tex disagreed and said, "You can never tell who counts."
Mushmouth jumped up the steps and shouted, "Hi," as he went through the house and upstairs. Tex opened his mouth to say something but Mushmouth was gone. He listened and heard the toilet flush. Then Mushmouth came bouncing down the stairs like Peter Cottontail and burst through the porch door. Mother recoiled in his corner. "Boy, what a day I had! I was watching this girl with blond hair and her girlfriend all afternoon. And I looked up about a hundred names and I had three Mars bars. Boy, Canada's great."
"Are there a lot of girls in the library?" Tex asked.
"Are there a lot of girls? The place is loaded with girls. The place is loaded with Canadian girls."
Mother dropped the Warren Report into his lap.
"Look, I go in there, right, and I don't know where the birth records are or anything so I ask this girl. Well, this girl doesn't know so she asks her girlfriend. Then we all go and ask this librarian who sits behind this little desk and she takes us to the birth records. And then these two girls help me look up all the birthdays. And then we went into the Reading Room and then we went to this patio outside with tables and chairs. It was really nice there." Mushmouth pulled out his handkerchief and started to rub his nose. "One is a Pisces and one is a Gemini," he said from behind his handkerchief. "I talked to the blond one, the Pisces, for twenty-five minutes. She was really nice. You know, I didn't tell her I was a deserter or anything."
"Why not?" Tex asked. "You tell everybody else."
"Because I didn't want to scare her away or anything. She was just a young girl, you know."
"How young?" Motherfucker asked.
"Oh, I don't know." Mushmouth threw his hands up in the air. "About fifteen or sixteen."
Tex hissed through his one front tooth. "You should have told her how you ran away from the United States Navy and all. How you jumped ship and escaped with your life. Girls, they like that kind of thing. Especially when they're only fifteen and sixteen."
Motherfucker picked up his Warren Report. "Oh, c'mon, Tex. They're not stupid, you know. Just young."
Mushmouth broke off another lilac branch and let the bush swing free.
"LEAVE THAT BUSH ALONE," Motherfucker said.
Mushmouth dropped his branch. "Jesus," he said.
"What else happened in the library? Did you get a new name?"
"I have to go back to look up some more records." Mushmouth kept moving around to get a better view of the street. He was waiting for Salamander. "It's one helluva pain in the ass, you know that?" He looked at Tex. "How's this for a name? Daniel C. Farbus. I tried it out for a couple of hours this afternoon but I don't think I could stand people calling me Dan or Danny. Then I found this one. Listen. Chadwick Bowering. Distinguished isn't it? Then there's this one. Mark. J. Whittaker. I like it because it's close to my real name but then I realized they'd ask me for my name and I'd blow it."
"You gotta pick a name you can feel comfortable with. It's gotta fit you," Tex suggested. "Like a glove."
"Yeah. So what do you do? Walk up and down the street saying over and over, 'My name is----. I was born----. My mother's name is ----.' That could drive a person crazy." Motherfucker groaned. "Yeah, well, it could," Mushmouth told him. "After a couple of days of that I'd wonder just who the hell I was anyway. I'd get up in the morning and stand in front of the mirror and say, 'Okay, Mark, Simon, Paul, John, haul ass. George, Steven, David, Peter, Robert WHO ARE YOU?' I'd say, 'Answer me, WHO ARE YOU TODAY?'" He was waving his arms around and beginning to drool.
"Lord," Tex said. "Take it easy, boy."
"'Take it easy,' he says," Mushmouth repeated. "I gotta get a name if I want to stay here. I gotta…"
"Do you think that girl will be there tomorrow?" Motherfucker asked.
"Girls. You ask me about girls when I need a name." Mushmouth rolled his eyes to the sky. "Girls. There's a million girls in there."
"You don't want one of those girls," Tex said. "They're all part of the bourgeoiset."
"Don't tell me what I want." Motherfucker smacked the Warren Report against the side of his chair. "Don't tell anybody anything around here."
Tex shut up.
Mushmouth stayed on his side of the porch near the lilac bush. "She said she might come tomorrow but maybe her girlfriend won't want to. If her girlfriend doesn't want to go, they'll probably stay home. Girls always do what their girlfriends want to do." He swallowed. "Hey, Tex, what do you think of this one? Leslie Ross." He said each letter slowly and spoke very clearly. "L-E-S-L-I-E-R-O-S-S."
"It sounds like a Jewish name to me," Tex said. "What the fuck do you want to be Jewish for?"
"Oh fuck you," Mushmouth exploded. "What do you know? And you…" He pointed at Motherfucker and ran into the house before Mother could get out of his chair.
Mushmouth went upstairs and lay down on his mattress in the room he shared with Salamander. He tried to sort through the various names he had discovered in the afternoon and he tried to remember exactly what the blond girl looked like and what she said and how he felt when he sat with her at the table in the courtyard at the back of the library. Then he took the picture of Doreen out of his wallet and counted off the days until she came on a pocket-size calendar from a Wells Fargo Bank.
Tex kept himself quiet on the porch. Motherfucker didn't talk to him. He'd had just about enough of Tex for one day. He was staring at the overpass at the corner of the street leading to the bridge that crosses the water to downtown Vancouver. Mother was thinking how Leonard must have had a heart attack when he first found out about their plans for the ramp. "Christ." Tex looked at him sideways but kept chewing. "A miniature expressway on the front lawn," Mother said.
Tex leaned sideways to get a good look and saw Salamander coming out of the shadows near The Trade Winds. He was wearing his black suit. His beard and moustache were gone. His hair was very short. The only outlandish thing about him was a skinny black ribbon tied around his neck that passed for a necktie. He looked like Maverick or a Doc Holliday anyway.
"Lord," Tex said as Salamander came through the gate. "Sweet Lord Jesus."
"Shut up. You're a fuck-up." Salamander said as he walked past Tex who was standing up to let him by.
"Did you see that" Tex asked Mother. His eyes were glued to the spot in the doorway where Salamander passed.
"Next Faggot comes and we can get this show on the road," Mother said.
Tex settled back in his chair and rolled two cigarettes.
In fifteen minutes Salamander came out on the porch in his yellow corduroys and a yellow T-shirt with pinprick holes in the sleeves. He didn't say anything to anybody but left the porch and walked directly down the stairs. Mushmouth came three seconds behind him, talking and waving his arms and calling to Salamander to wait.
"Where are they going?" Tex asked himself since Motherfucker stopped talking directly to him sometime in the afternoon.
Mushmouth followed Salamander to the empty lot across the street. Tex tried to keep track of them but the grass was so high he lost sight of them.
About 7:30 Faggot's car pulled up in front of the house. The motor stopped and the door opened. A few seconds later a Faggot came out carrying a portfolio under his arm. He walked up the path smoking a cigarette from a new pack sticking out of his shirt pocket.
Mother looked at him expectantly. Faggot waved to Tex and Tex got out of the chair. Faggot sat down and threw the cigarettes to Motherfucker. "I showed them my recommendations." He tapped the folder on his knee. Mother lit a Sportsman and put the cigarettes in his lap. "And I have a lot of experience from where I worked before. I spoke to this agent and he thinks it should just be a matter of time until I hear from them. Then he called up this guy who owns these stereo stores and we went down there and talked to him and then we went over to the store and it looks pretty good. It's salary and commission." Faggot was playing with the edges of his recommendations and shoving them in and out of the folder with his fingers. "This guy Stanley was all right. He plays flute so we had a lot to talk about." He took a drag off his cigarette and looked at the end. "I think I could really like it." He stopped talking and looked around. "Where are the kids?"
Mother pointed to the empty lot across the street. "They're playing over there."
"Go get them and we'll eat." Faggot flipped the butt into the garden. "I'm starved." He went into the house and changed his clothes. He came out wearing his fifty-cent Salvation Army pants that he always said were the best fitting pair of pants he ever had. Faggot stood in the doorway all dressed up for supper and looked at Tex who was sitting down again in the wicker chair. "You're still here," he said. "I thought you might have left."
Motherfucker was standing over Tex's chair. He was animated for the first time all day. He was on his second Sportsman. He was leering at Tex while ashes dropped from his cigarette onto Tex's leopard hat.
Tex smiled at Motherfucker and at Faggot in the doorway. "Yep. Still here. Didn't go nowhere today."
Faggot threw him a store-bought cigarette but Tex shook his head and shut his eyes. "I like the ones I make myself," he said.
Faggot groaned and looked at Tex like he was truly retarded. Motherfucker broke out into one of his rare, brief grins.
Faggot whistled and Mushmouth and Salamander came out of the woods across the street. Mushmouth was straggling behind Salamander who was striding across the street. Motherfucker was already opening the car door. Tex and Faggot walked to the car slowly and then everybody got in. Mother sat with Faggot in the front seat and the kids and Tex were in back. Usually Faggot went through his routine of leaving someone or everybody behind and then picking them up at the corner but tonight he was too hungry and it was too late.
In the car Mother told Faggot about his day. Mushmouth asked Faggot if he should be Leslie Ross. Salamander asked Mother to put the window up and Tex didn't ask anybody anything.
Faggot had the last pay check from his last job. Also, he had holiday pay so he gave Mushmouth back some of the money he had borrowed the night before and took out a new loan for the next day. That way they traded nickels and dimes and never got around to the big debts.
Salamander didn't have any money yet. Tex hoarded his and Mother would never have any to speak of. That meant when they went to a Dairy Queen Faggot bought ice cream for himself and Motherfucker. Mushmouth, who only had enough money for the day but not the evening, relied on Faggot's credit. Tex hung around looking at everybody until Faggot gave him thirty-five cents for a strawberry sundae with vanilla ice cream. Salamander stood off to the side until he couldn't stand it anymore. Then he went to Faggot and shook his head back and forth and looked at the ground and scuffed his feet. Faggot gave him a dollar no questions asked and Salamander said, "Thanks, I'll pay you when…" And Faggot had already waved his hand in the air and turned his back.
That night they went to a Chicken Delight Take-out Diner. Salamander bitched the whole way there and the whole time in the take-out line because he said it was a waste of money to buy over-priced, rip-off mutilated chicken parts. Finally Faggot told him it wasn't his money and to either shut up or go outside.
Faggot and Motherfucker waited for the chicken in the pick-up line and then Faggot drove to Stanley Park for a picnic. Faggot said it was a feast because Tex would be leaving. In the middle of the meal Salamander got jumpy and took off. Mushmouth watched him go but couldn't figure it out. Faggot put Mother out of the car after reaching into the chicken basket and pulling out the largest piece and stuffing it in his mouth. It made Motherfucker think of his dirty razor again and he said, "You know, Faggot, you put me off my dinner." Faggot laughed and waved a chicken part at Mother. Motherfucker ate the rest of his chicken in silent rage and then removed himself to a separate tree to be free from the company.
At this time Faggot took the opportunity of telling Tex point-blank that he would drive him to the road any day next week.
This Tuesday the sun didn't shine into Mother's bedroom through the cracked window by Faggot's collapsible bed. Tex blinked at Salamander's tadpoles poking around in the bottom of their tank. He smiled when he remembered how Mother turned off the pump every night before he went to bed--except for the nights when he was too drunk to even undress himself.
He stared at the ceiling in the darkened hall with a cigarette between his lips. He rested his cheek on his arm and looked across at the Faggot fast asleep in his yellow baby blanket. Faggot said he couldn't wait to get him and Jimmy out so he could move his collapsible bed upstairs.
Tex rolled on his side and raised himself up on one elbow. At the same time he was trying to get away from his cigarette smoke, he reached beside him for his duffel bag. He wanted to be sure he had his favorite pieces of silverware. In the middle of the night he had gotten up and taken them from the kitchen cabinets. His fingers closed around the paring knife he had found lying in the sink. He figured it was 8:00 o'clock. Silently he lowered the bag to the floor. He wanted an early start but then he relaxed. "No use rushing."
He looked across the room again at Faggot. His eyes followed the contours of Faggot's body, half-hidden under the yellow blanket caught around his feet. "Yep, Faggot'll get up soon and then there'll be breakfast and plenty of time." He brushed away the ashes on his chest. He stretched--just as his muscles were beginning to relax, he thought about the weather. He hoped it wouldn't rain.
Tex didn't fall back asleep that morning. For the next two hours he lay on his back and smoked the cigarettes he made for himself in the dark and sorted out his life. Once he heard Motherfucker groan in his sleep and somebody, maybe Salamander, piss in the toilet. When it got lighter, he watched the fish in the aquarium on the window sill nearest Motherfucker's brass bed. Then when Salamander came downstairs for his secret breakfast of Vita-B from his special cabinet, he pretended to sleep.
Around 10:30 Faggot woke himself up and headed straight for the bathroom. He waved a peace sign at Tex but Tex was still pretending to be asleep. Faggot woke up Mushmouth when Motherfucker's razor fell out of his hands. When Tex heard Mushmouth asking Faggot what the fuck was going on, he put on his jeans and started rolling up his sleeping bag.
The only one still asleep was Motherfucker. Faggot fixed that when he came downstairs. "C'mon, boy, haul ass, haul ass. Big Day. BIG DAY. Are you coming or what's the story?"
Tex watched Faggot jerk Motherfucker's blanket out of his hand where it was clutched tightly under his chin. "Hey, what…?"
"Big Day, Motherfucker. Haul Ass."
"What the fuck," Mother said pulling the blanket out of Faggot's hands and sitting up in bed. "What the…?" He caught sight of Tex standing in the living room doorway and he slid out of bed. He stood in the middle of the room for a second rubbing his hand across his mouth.
"C'mon, boy," Faggot said.
Mother said, "Shit," and walked barefoot out of the room. Halfway up the stairs he yelled down to Faggot, "You know you could make a little less noise in the morning."
"Boo," Faggot said. "Tut. Tut."
Mother turned around and bumped into Mushmouth. Motherfucker's arms went out to grab him but Mushmouth escaped.
"Whew," Mushmouth said at the foot of the stairs looking from room to room to see where Faggot was.
"What's the matter with you so early in the morning?" Tex asked.
"Nothing. I just escaped from the meanest motherfucker of them all. I guess nobody's eaten yet, have they?"
"Well, if that Motherfucker nearly killed you for nothing, it means nobody's eaten, right?"
"I guess so," Mushmouth said.
Tex went into the kitchen to start breakfast. He wanted eggs and toast. Mushmouth, who was wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday, followed him to the stove.
Faggot was wandering all over the house looking for his shoe or his sock. He didn't know which. Sometimes he left his shoes or his socks or both of them on the front porch to air out. Now he couldn't find either thing.
"Has anybody seen my other sock?" Faggot asked in his third trip through the kitchen. He stopped at the table and stuck a slice of Wonder Bread in his mouth. "I can't find my other sock." He had one sock on and one shoe on his other bare foot. He was holding the other shoe in his hand. "I can't find my socks," he was saying.
Tex was measuring the eggs and adding salt and pepper. Mushmouth was two inches behind him and getting in his way. Tex liked to make breakfast. He said he made a better breakfast than anybody he knew, including Motherfucker.
"Mushmouth, go out and look for my other sock. Look behind the lilac bush. I can't find my sock," Faggot said.
"I want to stay here," Mushmouth said. "I'm talking to Tex."
"You're not talking to him. You're bugging his ass. Now go out to the lilac bush and find my other sock."
"Oh, gee whiz," Mushmouth said crumbling an egg shell in his hands and throwing it at the garbage pile.
"And if it's not behind the lilac bush," Faggot yelled. "Check in my car. What are you making for breakfast?"
"Mmm," said Faggot sitting on a kitchen chair, crossing his legs and holding his bare foot in his hands.
Mother came into the kitchen doorway with a full report on Mushmouth. "That kid's fiddling around with the car."
" I know," said Faggot. "I sent him."
Tex stood at the stove with his back to everyone. He was making the eggs and sampling them from time to time. When he put the fork in his mouth, Motherfucker burst out of the doorway. "TEX. Don't put that in your mouth. You'll get the food dirty."
"Oh, don't worry about it," Faggot said. "You can't get a venereal disease that way."
"I'm not worried about any venereal disease," Motherfucker said. "I just don't want my eggs ruined."
"But," Faggot said, "if Tex has syphilis, it's so far advanced into his brain it's not contagious."
Tex shut the stove off and put the fry pan on the table. Everyone helped himself. Faggot picked another slice of' Wonder Bread out of the bag and scooped some eggs on top of it and ate them that way. Motherfucker rapped his knife across Tex's knuckles when Tex tried to eat from the pan before he'd chosen what he wanted on his new clean plate. Then Tex picked up the fry pan and started to eat what was left.
"I can't find your fucking sock in no lilac bush. Why can't you keep them in your shoes like everybody else?" Mushmouth shouted coming into the house. "Why do you have to drop them everywhere you go? Jesus Christ." Mushmouth barged into the kitchen holding a sock at arm's length. He threw it at Faggot. "It was in the glove compartment. It has rigor mortis and it smells." It landed on top of the Wonder Bread.
"Feh," said F'aggot pushing it off three exposed pieces of bread. He picked it up by the toe and held it over his nose. He sniffed very cautiously. His nose wrinkled up and he said, "It would have been better if it fell in the lilacs."
"Oh, Jesus Christ," said Mushmouth. "Hey, where's my breakfast? Did you fatasses eat up everything while I was outside digging up dead socks? Hey." He grabbed the fry pan out of Tex's hands. Tex let it go and watched Mushmouth nearly break his neck tripping backwards. Faggot caught him and held him on his lap for a second.
"Just take it easy for a minute, will you," Faggot said. He gave Mushmouth the three slices of bread that touched his sock and whipped the loaf of bread away. He swung it around his head a couple of times until the neck of the bag was twisted up tight and then he tossed it on the counter near Salamander's cabinet. He clapped his hands together twice and said, "Okay, boys and girls. Let's move."
Mushmouth picked at Faggot's leftover eggs with his spoon. Motherfucker was still eating quietly in his corner of the kitchen. Nobody could make him rush his breakfast.
"Do you know where you're going, Tex?" Mushmouth asked, his mouth full of eggs that were scrambling out the sides of his mouth.
"What? What d'you say, boy?" Tex looked at Faggot and moved his head. "For Chrissake, boy, I can't understand you when you've got nothing in your mouth, never mind when you got a mouthful."
"I said," said Mushmouth, "do you know where you're going?" He spoke as clearly as he could with half a slice of Wonder Bread stuffed in his mouth and another ragged half ready to stick in as soon as there was space.
Mother made a three-quarter turn in his corner and cut Mushmouth out of his field of vision.
Mushmouth pushed some egg pieces back in his mouth and looked at Tex while he chewed with his mouth open.
"You mean you're just going to go away? You're just gonna stick out your thumb and go wherever they take you?" Mushmouth asked.
Mushmouth turned to Faggot and said, "He says he doesn't know where he's going. He's just disappearing."
Mother got up and put his dish in the sink. When Salamander wasn't around Mother actually picked up after himself and washed things. Tex started to eat a half slice of toast that Mother left on the table.
"But, Tex, don't you have any idea about where you're going? You can't go nowhere. You don't just disappear. People don't do that. You must have some idea."
"You mean you're just going out to the road and …and…" Mushmouth waved his hands looking for some words to say what he meant.
Mushmouth looked away and then stood up in front of Tex. "Do you know what you're doing?"
Tex began to roll his after breakfast cigarette. "It doesn't matter," he said.
"How can you say it doesn't matter?" Mushmouth was jumping up and down in front of Tex who was pulling his arms closer to his body so he wouldn't spill any of his tobacco.
Mushmouth was angry and excited and genuinely upset that Tex was leaving. It upset the equilibrium. It challenged permanence and it said that people dissolve, that they can melt away into nothing. He didn't want to believe that. He didn't want to believe that even if it was only Tex who was dissolving.
Faggot bent down and put his sock on. "We'll leave in a few minutes, okay?" He went upstairs to the bathroom.
"Sure," said Tex.
"Sure." Faggot mimicked Tex in his Southern cracker drawl. "Sure, boy, we leave directly. You tell 'em in Regina." Then he left the room giggling to himself all the way upstairs. They could hear him laughing in the bathroom until the toilet flushed and blocked him out.
Mushmouth stayed by the table and looked at Tex. "You know, you must have some idea. Some idea about what you're going to do or where you're going to do it or how or…something?"
"Nope." Tex leaned against the stove. "How can I know what I'm going to do until it's time to do it? You know, you don't get to know what's gonna happen to you until it happens." He smiled and went into the other room for his duffel bag.
He came back into the kitchen wearing his crazy hat with the fake leopard skin hatband. Mushmouth was standing by the table looking troubled. He was kicking the table leg with his boot.
"You coming, boy?" Tex asked. "Are you coming for the ride?"
"Sure," Mushmouth said. He brightened up. "Sure."
Tex stood opposite the table shaking his head up and down with his crazy hat on his head. He was smiling at Mushmouth. "Sure," he said. "Sure you'll come." He put his arm around Mushmouth's shoulders and walked him to the kitchen door. "Sure you'll come." Then he laughed and Mushmouth laughed back at him.
Mother came into the kitchen then and saw Tex and Mushmouth laughing at one another. He said, "Holy shit," under his breath and left the room.
Faggot came down the stairs. "Who's ready to go?" he yelled. "Tex, are you ready now?"
Tex walked through the hall that used to be his bedroom and leaned up against the front door six inches away from Faggot. He was carrying his duffel bag in one hand and his sleeping bag was tucked under his other arm. He slipped his thumb under his belt buckle to get a firmer grip on his sleeping bag. "Man, you don't have to yell, you know," he said to Faggot who was standing on the bottom step of the stairs.
"Give me that bag, will you." Faggot snatched Tex's sleeping bag. "Motherfucker, are you coming or what?"
Motherfucker didn't answer but appeared from the living room and automatically went up to Tex and took his duffel bag. At first Tex held on to it but then he let go so Mother could carry it.
"He's coming," said Tex very quietly.
"Then let's get the fuck out of here," said Faggot.
Mushmouth ducked under Motherfucker's arm that was resting on the banister and raced ahead to open the front door and the car doors. Tex sat in back with Mushmouth. Motherfucker, of course, was up front with Faggot. Tex asked Mother to put the window up and he did it without any bitching.
Faggot made two stops. The first time he bought seventy-five cents worth of gas at the Chevron Island station where he usually took fifty cents worth. "I'm going on a long trip today," Faggot said to the attendant who was wearing a wreath of flowers around his neck.
"This is too much," said Tex.
"Yeah, it's far-out," said Motherfucker.
The station was decorated in imitation palm leaves. There were fake grass huts around the gas pumps and leis and flags flying around the "lubrication" sign. Big blue and red letters spelled out "Chevron Island."
"Do you always come here for gas?" Tex asked.
"What do you think?" Faggot answered. "I might win a free trip to Hawaii or five dancing girls or something."
"You couldn't take that trip even if you won it," Mushmouth said.
"Yeah, but he could take the five girls," Motherfucker said.
"Yeah, that's why I come here for gas. I want my fifty cents worth." Faggot rolled down his window and asked the attendant to check the oil. Motherfucker rolled his window down and asked the guy to check the left rear tire and wash the windshield.
Mushmouth asked Faggot for a quarter to buy an ice cream cone in a Peterson's Ice Cream Parlor across the street. Before he left he made Faggot promise he wouldn't leave without him. He said he'd never forgive Faggot if he did that and Faggot said, "Hurry up and get your ass out of here. Nobody's going anywhere." Mushmouth hurried across the street and came back with a double dip cone. Maple walnut on the bottom and chocolate chip brownie fudge on top. Motherfucker, who said he didn't know how anybody could eat ice cream so early in the morning and especially after a breakfast of eggs and toast, was the first one to grab the cone away from Mushmouth. He offered the maple walnut to Faggot. Faggot made a face. "Eech," he said. "I want a beer."
The attendant tried to get away without checking the air in the left rear tire but he thought twice about it when he looked through the windshield at the Mean Motherfucker in the front seat. He squeezed a blob of liquid cleaner over Motherfucker's face and began to scrub as hard as he could.
"Boy, there's a lot of weird things in this world," Tex said. "I don't know how anybody could think my hat is so weird."
"That's because you're wearing it," Motherfucker said through the rearview mirror.
"Now. Now," Faggot said slapping his hands against the steering wheel. "No fighting in the car, children." He looked around the station and moaned, "I want a beer. I want two beers and a new pair of socks."
"Give me a cigarette," Mother said to Tex.
Tex rolled Mother a cigarette at the same time Faggot rolled down his window and handed the attendant two quarters, four nickels and five pennies. He had to brace himself against the seat to get into his pocket for the nickels and the pennies. At first he only had three pennies but he smiled into the face of the attendant and arching his back triumphantly produced two pennies from his back pocket. He dropped the pennies into the attendant's greasy hand. "Thank you very much, Sir," he said in his best radio voice and rolled up the window.
The second time Faggot stopped he parked the car in front of a Chinese confectionary. Usually he made Mushmouth go into the store and buy what he wanted but this time he went in himself. They waited five minutes for him. Mushmouth got restless and wanted to get out to stretch his legs but Mother wouldn't let him. "Oh, let the kid go," Tex said but Motherfucker told him to mind his own business and worry about himself.
"I hope it doesn't rain," Mushmouth said pressing his nose against the window.
"Why don't you open the window, dumbass?" Mother asked.
"Oh, you. What do you know about looking out of windows?" Mushmouth shot back, "You're just a Motherfucker. You think you know everything. Well, you don't. You don't know the first thing about whether or not it's going to rain."
Faggot got back in the car and broke open a new package of Matinees.
"That's the ladies' cigarette," said Motherfucker.
Faggot put down a brown paper bag on the seat beside him. After he inhaled a couple of times, he opened the bag with one hand and threw a package of Hostess Twinkies and two candy bars into the back seat. "Eat 'em later," he said. "That's when you get hungry."
"Thanks a lot, Boss," Tex said.
"I want a Mae West," Mushmouth said.
"You wouldn't know what to do with it," said Motherfucker.
They drove in silence for about fifteen minutes while they got away from the main traffic of the city and approached the highway. Tex smoked and looked easily out the window. Mushmouth sat beside him and wondered what Tex was doing. He stole glances at him whenever he thought nobody was looking. He looked at Tex's duffel bag sitting on the bump on the floor and he felt unbelievably depressed. He didn't understand it himself. He hated Tex.
Mother watched Faggot drive. He leaned forward in his seat and held onto the chrome around the small side window with his hand. He watched the road and the other cars, too.
They drove for another five minutes before they made the turn onto the highway proper.
"I'll drive on a ways so you'll be sure to get a good lift," Faggot said.
"I appreciate it," said Tex.
"You holler whenever you see a good place."
Mushmouth looked out the window, watching for the good place, but his heart wasn't in it.
A couple of miles later, Tex said, "Over there. That's a good spot. There's a curve and some trees in case it rains."
Faggot slowed down and brought the car to a slow stop in the breakdown lane. He got out of the front seat and opened the back door for Tex. He started to help with the bag but Tex already had it under control. Faggot followed Tex over to the side of the road anyway. About the same time Mother arrived with the sleeping bag and put it down on the ground.
Mushmouth didn't know what he wanted to do but he didn't want to stay alone in the car, either. In a very vague way he felt like crying but he knew he wouldn't feel any better if he did. He reminded himself he would feel ten times worse, especially for making an ass out of himself.
Faggot shook Tex's hand. He looked at him and said, "Write if you get work." Tex laughed and nodded. "Sure, Boss. I'll write you first thing."
Mother touched him ever so slightly on the shoulder and went back to the car. Faggot shook Tex's hand again but didn't have anything else to say. His whole body said, "I don't have anything else to say but for Chrissake take care of yourself, etc. etc." Tex looked up at him and nodded his head up and down.
Mushmouth felt he was in a daze when he shook Tex's hand and said, "I hope things work out for you and peace and…" He trailed away shaking his shoulders.
Mushmouth followed Faggot back to the car. Faggot made a U-turn and blew the horn at Tex from the other side of the road. Faggot held a peace sign out his window and when they were almost out of earshot, Mother stuck his head out the window and yelled, "Don't look back." Tex raised his fist and shook it under a tree branch. Mushmouth looked out the back window as long as he could see Tex and then he hung over the front seat until Faggot told him to lean back because his breathing was bothering him.
Nobody spoke on the way back. Mushmouth sat alone in the back seat feeling miserable. It seemed to him that everybody was upset but he had no way of being sure. Motherfucker stared out of his side window and smoked a cigarette he held in his long, thin fingers. The smoke curled against the window and bounced back into the car.
Faggot stopped at an intersection. Carefully he looked to the right and to the left. Slowly he drove the car through the traffic. Slowly the first rain drops hit the windshield. Faggot put on the windshield wipers but only the left one worked.
"I'll have to get that fixed," he said. "Otherwise they'll take the car off the road."
"Tex doesn't have a good jacket," Mushmouth said.
"He'll be all right," Mother said.
There was neither reassurance nor regret in his voice. It was simply a statement of fact.
"Yeah, but he…"
"Don't worry about him. He'll be all right," said Faggot.
The rest of the way home they hardly spoke. Motherfucker told everybody how he hated the rain. Faggot said it was good for sea gulls. Before Faggot drove home he stopped at an Econo-Mart for hamburger and bread. Mother volunteered to make spaghetti for supper and Faggot began to think about him in the role of prospective cook.
When Faggot was parking in front of the house, Mother asked about borrowing the car sometimes to go the drive-in. Faggot said he'd see. Mother had to be satisfied with that.
Salamander's car wasn't parked across the street. He always parked in one place and Faggot in another. They never parked in the same area. Lately Salamander had been coming home for lunch. Either the fan belt split open again or maybe Salamander decided to walk to save money on gas.
Mushmouth was the first to get into the house. He didn't know what he was expecting but he hoped Salamander would be in the kitchen. Before Mushmouth ran upstairs he checked the aquarium in the living room, then the kitchen again. He found the dirty peanut butter knife Salamander left on the edge of the table.
Some Sunday mornings Faggot got himself up early and left the house in less than twenty-five minutes. Salamander couldn't figure out where he was going but then he didn't care to ask. Motherfucker never knew because Sunday for him was a day of rest. Mushmouth thought Faggot had a girlfriend somewhere but Salamander said that was the dumbest thing Mushmouth ever said. First where would a Faggot find a girlfriend and second what girl would be screwy enough to want to see a Faggot at 8:00 o'clock on a Sunday morning. Mushmouth shook his shoulders. "I don't know," he said. "Love's crazy."
Faggot wore his dirty perma-press shirt, the one he'd worn the day before to the Mighty Sound Center. He didn't bother with his socks at all. If he couldn't find them in less than five minutes on a Sunday morning, he went barefoot right up to the last minute on Monday morning when he had to step into his car and drive to work. All weekend he prayed that his car wouldn't break down because on a Monday morning he didn't have money enough for a B.C. Hydro token to take him to his job.
That's because Faggot spent his money on Sunday morning in private, by himself, away from the rest of the people in that house who lived off of and through each other, but principally through the support of Faggot who knew he wasn't supporting anything.
Faggot went away in his beat-up Buick that he'd bought off a Chicago dodger who had left Vancouver for a logging camp in Alaska. Faggot paid for half the car in cash and the other half was waiting for Chicago whenever he made it back. Faggot was betting on never seeing Chicago again and Chicago was gloating because he'd overcharged on the first half anyway. Everybody was happy…
Except Faggot who had to work all week and worried every other minute that his car was falling apart by itself at the curbside in the nighttime. But on Sunday he gave up worrying and drove his car wherever he liked.
First he headed for Stanley Park. He took the inside road that cuts through the interior of the park and dumps you out in the middle of the tennis courts and croquet fields. Faggot parked his car next to all the posh vehicles and walked around the playing fields in his bare feet. Sometimes he sat down on the steps of the tennis buildings and watched couples play doubles or some of the more intense younger girls who still had hopes of becoming another Billie Jean.
He walked around the pedestrian paths and looked at the older people playing croquet with their gaily colored mallets. When a croquet ball left the playing green and rolled onto the pedestrian walk, Faggot, unthinking, put out his foot and stopped it from going off the grass. He looked up and saw a middle-aged man with whiskers who could have been a West Vancouver doctor or lawyer frowning at him. "I'm sorry," Faggot said. He shook his head. He couldn't imagine what was wrong.
He watched the couples strolling about in their freshly starched white outfits and he thought he was in a giant health club. At times it seemed to him that Vancouver was Sydney, Australia. He didn't know why he thought that because he'd never been anywhere outside of California until he came to Vancouver but so far British Columbia reminded him of all the travel shorts he'd seen on TV about Australia. The sun shining all the time, the sunny faces and all the people on the beaches or at tennis courts. "Sex and sports," he sighed as he sat down under a tree and hoped nobody would come and tell him to move away or sit someplace else.
He shut his eyes and listened for the footfalls of people on the paths. It seemed that all the people playing croquet were middle-aged but he knew in his soul he was older than they were. He reassured himself. Once he'd owned a ten-speed bicycle, too, and bicycled all over the place. Probably if he could have anything he wanted, he would ask for a ten-speed bicycle again. But who would he ask and he chuckled to himself under his tree in the middle of Stanley Park in the nicest municipal tennis courts in all of British Columbia. He decided it was the flags on all the bridges that made him think he was in Australia. The B.C. flag with its rising and setting sun on a backdrop of red flames waving at him from every bridge he went over. He crossed two bridges at least three times a day. No wonder he thought he was in Australia. Who else but expatriated British colonials would put a rising-setting sun on all their bridges?
Around 10 o'clock when all the couples broke for coffee Faggot stood up and brushed the neatly cropped grass off his back. The grass in Stanley Park is good grass and more likely to leave grass stains on his perma-press shirt. "Oh, well," he thought shaking his head. "It's just too much. All this is just too incredible."
He went into the Sportsman's Cafe, a luncheon spa on the edge of a chalet-like building that catered to the English appetites of all the tennis players. There were English muffins with jam and scones and dropped eggs. The waitress was a pretty high school
girl who knew Faggot because he came every Sunday morning and ordered hot cakes and maple syrup. If he still had some money left over from what he'd taken from Mushmouth the night before, he had a glass of milk, too. It was his concession to health. He figured a glass of milk once a week couldn't do him any harm. He hated coffee.
He enjoyed his breakfast in the Sportsman's Cafe once a week where he ate barefoot with the special consideration of the high school waitress who thought he was old-man crazy or eccentric, except too young for either one of those things. But he didn't care what anybody thought. He thought British Columbia was a nursing home for the British Commonwealth. Faggot liked eating his pancakes on a clean plate that he didn't have to wash with silverware that was brand-new and sparkling clean and that he didn't have to share with anybody. But most of all he liked the hot cakes that came in uniform size and thickness and were cooked all the way through and tasted like real pancakes. That was worth the outrageous prices that he didn't even think of unless Salamander was at his elbow reminding him all the time about the current rate of interest and the price of this and the price of that.
After breakfast he drove to the other side of the park and lay on a hillside where he could watch the sailing boats. He didn't particularly enjoy being sandwiched in between all the couples who should have stayed home in their beds instead of dragging themselves down to the beachfront to finish what they'd started three hours before. But the sun was nice, even if it shone through a filmy haze of clouds, and the weather was warm. He watched the children's sailing class and he wondered about his daughter. If he didn't keep up child support payments did that mean he couldn't be her father anymore?
He listened to the birds in the trees and he wondered what he was doing in Canadia British Columbia in the first place. Then he remembered how he had a BB gun when he was ten years-old. He was aiming at the birds on the telephone wire. He couldn't see fuck-all out of either one of his eyes and he pulled the trigger. He couldn't believe he'd hit anything but when the bird fell off the wire in a stiff dead heap, he knew he made a hit. He looked at the bird and he looked at the gun and he saw his reflection in the dead birdie eye. Then he knew it all made sense again.
Faggot stayed on the grass until the sun was directly overhead. Even if it was covered with cotton gauze it was still too bright as a shadow ban CGE light bulb he saw advertised everywhere. He pulled himself off the grass and laughed. The "C" stood for "Canadian" General Electric.
It was noon and he drove along the social part of Stanley Park--the ribbon of road that follows the beachfront, squeezed between the edge of the city and the popcorn vendors sitting on folding chairs. "Even popcorn vendors don't have to hustle in this crazy place," Faggot said shaking his head and knowing he was too much American to be able to sell anything sitting down. "But I could learn," he said to himself. "I sure could learn."
Copyright 2017 by Nancy Naglin