What limits people is a lack of character. What limits people is that they don’t have the fucking nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it. Yuk.
—Tom Robbins’ Still Life of a Woodpecker
Emily is aware of Adrian’s shifting weight at the corkboard but has been ignoring his presence. Earlier in the day, he eyed her while reciting poetry at the creative writing class that she was sitting in on; she ducked out during the question and answer portion of the presentation. As Emily was running errands around the university she noticed several of her peers fawning over him, under the guise of getting their copies of his book signed. Adrian had raised his eyebrows eagerly when she’d hurried past, though she pretended not to notice by appearing absorbed in the comments on an essay she’d just gotten back. Emily noted that the swarm of women that surrounded him were of the same caliber detailed in his writing: poking pelvic bones, perky breasts, and (surely) manicured pubic hairs. This was not an industry to which Emily wished to subscribe.
Perhaps that is the appeal for him now, she thinks, and flicks a gob of cinnamon bun residue off the end of her middle finger; it lands on the windshield of the vehicle parked below her table. She’s seen his kind many times before. The attention garnered from her innocent facade can be tiring, for older men are often comparable to teenage boys. It’s the possible consequences of lulling these types that makes her dubious about acknowledging them. If Emily chooses to speak to Adrian then she might have to muster going out with him.
Saturday she curled her hair for work and since hasn’t run a comb through. It now being Monday, she understands that ‘dishevelled’ might be the adjective to best describe her. Emily thinks about the connotations associated with ‘dishevelled;’ she might be considered untidy, uncouth, not appropriately preened to societal standards of feminine beauty. The unfortunate thing about men who thrive on hunting Barbies is that those who are less concerned with their appearance come off as wild game. Now, the vestibule is empty. Emily sighs. He could be perfect fodder for her latest project: The Project. It’s bringing her to complete exhaustion; another one shelved, she supposes. Another stymied.
Adrian enters the patio. His coffee mug overflows in his right hand, his left carries a plate of quiche, and a magazine is tucked between his elbow and torso. He looks left, right, careful not to make eye contact with Emily, and then notices that all the tables are occupied. Emily pushes the chair adjacent to her with a grubby foot.
She nods yes, and offers a closed mouth smile. He struggles with his items, places the mug down first. The table is uneven; coffee overflows, running dangerously close to her papers. She lifts them, and darts into the café for a cloth. As she wipes down the table, his face goes flush, his arms awkward extensions still holding his lunchtime materials.
Emily hangs the dishtowel off the side of the railing that frames the deck and returns to her crossword. The side of her palm and length of her pinky are covered in newsprint. Mouth full of quiche, Adrian attempts to communicate. His opening “you” is accompanied with a spray of crust. Two crumbs land on her puzzle. She laughs.
—Yes? What were you trying to say?
He lifts a finger in front of his face, hurried chews ensue.
—Pardon me. You were in that class today.—I was just sitting in.
Adrian leans back in his seat. She stares at him in defiance.
—Oh. I see.
She nods then picks up her book and places it in front of her nose. It’s his most recent. He squirms. Her wide fingers, with severely cut nails, grip the spine; he finds this sexy for reasons inexplicable.
—What do you think?
Her eyebrows rise above the book. She shrugs.
—Not bad. If you’re into that kind of thing.
She closes the text and sets it in front of her.
—I find it interesting, that you felt the need to include a disclaimer, before your poems.
Her voice is stiff. He knows he’s under scrutiny.
—Seriously though, your introduction?
She leafs through and finds the passage she is seeking.
—‘As a scholar with feminist sympathies, I choose to write in celebration of those who triumph a healthy, sexual relationship between body and mind. It is with this in consideration that one ought to read my poems. I wish to exalt and privilege the female form in order to rectify the tired tradition of objectifying women that has been so prevalent among male writers.’ That’s quite the task you’re taking on. Especially when you describe the gritty details of Aunt Flow coming to town.
Her eyes pierce him; her lips stretch into a scowl. He feels himself getting hard.
—Aunt Flow? You’ve got to be kidding me.
He says this rushed, anxious to see her tangerine bob shake again in disgust.Instead a smile slips from her lips,
—You are seamless in your evasion.
She notices the chestnut scruff above his lips, how it’s spotty below his sideburns. He is older which makes this patchwork all the more endearing. This note of attraction doesn’t appear on her heart shaped face, a furrow is set resolute.
—Well, how would you like me to reply, miss? —Miss? Emily. Emily Boxe. Both Emily and Boxe, with an ‘E.’
—It’s good to get the names of my harsher critics. So... you think I’m full of shit.
Her shoulders lift. She turns her head in a faulty attempt to hide her smirk. She whips her head back at him, puts her hands on the table, fingers spread, elbows up. She leans in, eyes squinting, jaws set: —Prove to me that you aren’t.
The whiskers around Adrian’s lips push out two dimples at the corners of his mouth.
—If you read my academic work, most of my arguments take a feminist stance... Or...
—Or what? With other women it’s never this difficult. There aren’t many questions; in fact, the inquiries he usually deals with are redundant. Why did you decide to become a writer? Did you always feel alienated, even as a child? Let me be here for you. After they screw: let me in Goddamn it! He brushes this aside, deciding to proceed. After all she invited him to sit here. He scratches the scruff on his chin.
—Or, you could let me take you out for drinks. I’ll prepare a presentation on why I have the right to write women’s bodies.
Although this is well articulated, confident even, he finds himself staring at her bare feet. Like her fingers, the nails are clipped too close to her skin. Her toes are chafed and a distinct odour’s wafting up. He looks at her face. She doesn’t seem surprised. He can’t read her. She glares at him. They hold this fix until he looks to see if she’s wearing any jewelry. Emily watches him do this. —When? I mainly work nights.
—That’d be up to you. I’m here, indefinitely right now, staying at a friend’s. Beautiful place, although there are many dead trees that surround it, from the pine beetle fiasco, it adds a macabre... Burnt orange.
He pauses and looks at her hair.
—That’s the best way to describe it. I mean them. Burnt orange.
The smirk reappears on her face. His nervousness is her amusement. Adrian can’t remember the last time he went off like this. —How ‘bout tomorrow night? The piano bar on Sixth Avenue? Her eyes pierce him again, unfaltering. She isn’t afraid or in awe of him.
—Should I pick you up? I’ve managed to borrow a car. Luke, he’s outta town, I’m staying at his place. Oh, right, I said that. Good guy, doesn’t buy my position either, you’d like him I’m sure, he’s a classic Renaissance man.
—I’ll meet you there at eight. I’ve gotta run now. She jams her papers into a bag with amazing speed. Her flip flops are on her feet, and she’s nearing her car in the parking lot below as he gathers his thoughts, finally spitting out hoarsely, after she’s seated, with her window rolled down: —Great! I’ll see you then, then! Emily waves offhandedly as she drives past. Adrian remains drinking cold coffee before he leaves; in his mind, the dialogue they shared plays on repeat. He can’t settle on how to piece together the fragments of emotions that hovered during this encounter. Filled with shame over her biting criticisms, he tries, instead, to focus on seeing her extreme gestures and speech again; excitement overrides that nagging embarrassment over what he’s written; another chance to observe her face nearly obliterates the harsh words that flew from her mouth. Hopefully she’ll drop the subject of his writing. There’s a chance she’s expecting something quite literal, a real presentation of why he’s written what he has, for it’s possible that she might not have agreed to have drinks with him, if he hadn’t said he would. Maybe he ought to have something prepared in his defense. He knows this probably won’t materialize because there’s an unopened bottle at Luke’s, and surround sound in the bedroom. Before Luke left for Vancouver, Adrian hinted that he might like another go at a relationship. Laughing, Luke slapped him on the shoulder, and said:
—Good luck with that, man. You go through women faster than you go through socks.
Adrian knows that Luke has a point. It’s been two years since Annie left him, though the divorce is pending; she’d been itching to have kids. Since then, there’s been a revolving door of women that have come in and out of his bedroom. None have shown even the slightest suggestion that they’re value could compete with Annie’s. Not until now.
For a moment, while he doodles on a napkin, Adrian considers letting Emily in, if she brings up his writing. Honesty could score a lot with a woman like that. How to explain to her why he really portrays women the way that he does... he could overact his past hurt. A role of a lifetime, surely. Anticipating an evening of football, and some soft-core porn on Showcase to coax him to sleep, he figures that these activities will help him find a way to lay down the (partially honest) gauntlet of his emotional baggage to a woman that actually intrigues him. Realizing he’s long due to take Luke’s dog for a walk, Adrian gets up and leaves the café.As the barista is clearing the table he notices a stained napkin that says “Emily Boxe, the Object of my Desire.” Big surprise, thinks Oscar, before jamming it into his pocket.
Emily finds her attention drifting in and out of the task at hand, though less so than before; before she’d just been an extra in her boyfriend’s narratives. Picking up a Cinderella figurine (she had painted purple nipples, and a huge blonde bush overtop of her gown), she remembers how she’d conjured up the idea for their gallery show, Happy Endings: Her Story.
—A call back to Disney, and all that romantic shit that they impress on the minds’ of kids. A set of nudes where Cinderella’s a dominatrix with a broom, and Snow White’s dwarves are her sex slaves! Women’s real happily ever afters, but more in the style of, of, say... a masseuse including a happy ending, for free!
Incredulous, Patrick’s eyes grew wide; he loved the idea, but vetoed the Snow White orgy because that was inappropriate. Alternatively, he came up with the idea of her dressing up as Belle from Beauty and the Beast. All she’d have to do is hike up that country skirt and give a stuffed bear fellatio. She remembers how they’d planned out the details over wine in their basement apartment. This same apartment that now looks as though a monk has moved in. Patrick took most of their furniture.
No. No more of that stupidity. Now she will handle her endeavours alone. Magda, the curator of Happy Endings, quickly became infamous in their small city for exhibiting their show, though of course, Patrick had nearly claimed full credit. Emily realized later that this was stolen artistic and intellectual property.
This echoes, just as her voice, quietly singing, echoes in the home that they had cohabited. Most of their shared objects (except for the bed, she drew the line at that, having paid for it herself), have been moved to his new house, with his current leading lady. After all the jealous rants and the hindered intimacy (because of his trust issues that had nothing to do with her, but with the woman that he’d soon be marrying on paper), the bed seems like small retribution, even though in her mind it is the one item that’s marked her life’s turning point. Finding them on the bed (talk about trust issues!), made her gather an unknown courage to launch Patrick out of her life. Now Emily imagines him being shot out of the roof of her car, from the passenger seat that he’d kept warm for too long.
The afternoon wilts away as she leafs through some of her negatives. She has to hold them up to the window to be able to decipher the differences between men. Sticking the nudes she took of Patrick in a pile she’ll deal with later, she goes through the more recent ones. These were primarily procured by Oscar. Emily dials his number, and then hits the speakerphone button so that she can continue working while chatting. There are two rigid dining room chairs left. The floor, with her yoga mat, is the more obvious choice.
—Hiya Lady! Just going through the checkout here, what’s going on?
Emily hears the expected noise from the supermarket; someone’s getting hoarse because he was overcharged by a dollar for a bag of chips that were meant to be on sale.
—Sounds like there’s some serious stuff going on there...
—Oh, you know, the usual kind of crisis I suppose. Don’t you have anything better to do with your day?
The ruckus in the background grows mute until someone booms: “ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? ” Oscar replies, obviously placating the irate customer,
—No! No! My friend. Emily, don’t you have anything better to do with your day than braid your cat’s hair?
A hearty laugh expels from Emily’s mouth; it is something Oscar hasn’t heard as much since her and Patrick broke-up. Momentarily, she is silent.
—Actually, I don’t have a cat anymore. The bastard took her with him. But, I’m calling to thank you because I’ve gotten some great stuff from that ad you posted.
In an attempt to cheer Emily up, Oscar rallied some friends and got them to pose for her project. Most had ad libbed, either lines they’d gotten themselves or lines they’d used on others. She didn’t particularly want to see Oscar naked, but he’d insisted. It’s been a year since his last heartbreak. He was glad to have the chance to paraphrase the asshole and was looking forward to the recording going public; he was planning on inviting his ex to her gallery show, Sweet Nothings: His Story.
—What did your ad say Oscar? Some of the models had some bizarre references to it, and I was confused at the time.—Oh Honey! It’s great! Photographer seeks nude male models. Those who are existentially sound need not apply.
That laugh he loves again hurls itself from Emily’s throat.
—You gonna give that poet a run for his money, or what? Couldn’t believe that stupid napkin. Does the guy forget where he is?
Emily giggles softly.
—You mean, why isn’t he expecting my spy to pick it up and bring it to me? Come on Oscar!
—Well, he could have played it a bit cooler, don’t you think?—Yes. Of course he could have. I guess...—What lady? Speak!—I guess it’ll make it easier, to go through with it, you know?
—You’re not thinking about backing out are you? This guy’s perfect for your show, and you know that Magda’s falling all over herself to see this thing through. Ran into her last night at a dance, someone told her what you’re working on... And well, she was already a fan of yours because of Happy Endings, she’d never garnered so much publicity for the gallery before that show, well, you just can’t back out on her...
—Someone told her what I’m planning on doing? Was that someone, per chance, drinking double whisky sours last night, dressed as a much more attractive version of Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorshands?—You bet he was! Man I love that movie. Plus that makes you what, a short haired version of Winona Ryder?—Yes, it does. And don’t change the subject by flattering me. Why did you tell her?—Liquid courage, like usual, and I wanted to anchor you into this thing. It’s going to be fantastic. Don’t you worry! Plus, think about how disappointed Magda will be if you back out.
Emily sighs. She knows that he’s right. It would have been possible to drop the project if Magda hadn’t known that she was working on something new.
—Ok fine. Thank you. I’ll get a hold of Magda soon.
Early autumn sun filters into the basement apartment, a triangle resting on Emily’s hairy left leg as she continues to ramble on to Oscar. She is oddly nervous about her evening with Adrian, but refuses to voice this to her friend.
After their talk, Emily eats a salad on the lawn behind the house. The landlady’s cats circle around her smelling of piss. That’s something that she doesn’t miss about Harry. Patrick and his newly monogamous lady (as if she won’t screw around on him again!) are free to enjoy Harry’s lack of personal hygiene. A crow circles overhead. Something is lifting within Emily, and she is reassured. One coat is being shed, another appears, a fine invisible film over her skin.
Against her better judgement, Emily shaves her arm-pits, legs, bikini line. She brushes her orange bob. Coats her eyelids with liquid charcoal. Applies muted cherry lipstick. Her palm flattens her bangs against her forehead. She smirks. Rarely does she wear makeup. This is the ultimate thrill. Emily believes that this look originated from a film, not an Egyptian goddess. She is a tangerine version of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction: “Mrs. Mia Wallace” purrs in her head.
Emily does the twist before turning away from the mirror. The photograph tucked into the corner of her reflection catches her eye, a smiling couple and a child (in a stroller) beside a bridge overlooking a canyon. The image was taken during the last trip that she and Patrick took. What an argument there had been, coaxing him into driving south. She’s not our responsibility anymore, let it go! Usually when she is reminded of this tangible amalgam of her and Patrick, she sees her body as it flies above the happy family, diving into the rapids below. But today she chooses to erase that trope, and instead she replaces this image with one of her in a Wonder Woman suit, circling over the child’s activities, within reach to swoop down and rescue her, if need be.
As she walks to the bar, Emily notices the fluff from the trees settling into the curb of the sidewalk. She has a strange yearning for snow. She lives on Sixth Ave. and is aware that she is late. At the corner of the street, Oscar rounds in his rusty VW. He comes to a lurching stop. Emily gets in.
—You know I’m only going a block right?
—Ya, but don’t you think it’ll be more fun this way? Emily is not certain what he means by this and let’s it slide. She doesn’t feel like admitting that she can’t read his elusiveness. Oscar pulls up across the street from the building, knowing that her date will be able to see her through the darkened windows. As she steps out, he calls for her to come around, and then kisses her quickly on the lips. —Have fun. Call me if you need a bail out. Adrian does notice this exchange, despite the fact that the bartender is babbling his ear off. She wears a navy and white sailor style dress, and a jean jacket is slung over her arm. A sputter from the VW, and the barista from the café is off, leaving the fair maiden waving, her hand above her head, grinning widely, her teeth a blur of white between painted lips. Because he is not paying attention to what the bartender is blathering on about, he keeps nodding yes, and just as Emily walks into the dimly lit room a bottle of wine and a glass appear at the table. —Hello Adrian! Hi Richard! How was Ireland? He realizes that she works here. Emily is exultant, not fazed in the least by her tardiness. Richard’s reaction is not territorial; he noticeably holds himself back until she is one, two, three, four, high heeled steps over. She gives him one of those distanced hugs, body held back, arms embracing. Adrian is comforted by this. Knows he’s got nothing to compete with. —Hello Jay! The piano player gives her a knowing nod and halts abruptly from the song he’s playing, quickly starting into another. —Oh Cohen! You know me too well. Emily clasps her hands together, holds them to her heart. Adrian recognizes the disadvantage of being on her turf. She plops herself down in the seat next to him. —Burrowing Owl! Impressive. Emily is not impressed about this wine, but she does know its price. She’s more interested with Adrian’s choice in footwear. Flip flops, despite linen pants and a dress shirt. He notices her observation, and crosses his legs uncomfortably. —Richard, may I have a wine glass please? Richard darts to the bar behind them. There are no other patrons. She leans forward in her low chair, small breasts swelling into the pointed V of her dress.
—His name’s actually Ricky. I mean that’s what he goes by. But when he works here, he insists on being called Richard. It’s ridiculous. I’d like to say fun to watch, but a whole shift tends to drag on...
It annoys him that she hasn’t apologized for being late, and he thinks that standoffish might be a good card to play. Looking at the delicate frame of her torso, seeing the small curves that are pinched inwards where her panties meet her skin, he chooses to be warm. She shifts back in the chair and appreciates that he didn’t tuck in his shirt, that the buttoned material shows a line of dark hair that sprouts up his taut belly, offsetting his slight tan. —You prepared? He lifts his eyebrows. —I couldn’t. Was too busy.... Thinking of tonight.
—Oh please! I mean, thank you, but puhleeeeeease. For one, you’re visiting town, so how busy could you possibly be, and secondly, isn’t that the kind of rubbish one of your personas might use to capture an impressionable woman?
Her eyes are dark, they are so dark, Adrian can’t begin to describe them. Oh, and they dance, dance me, to the end of love: the tune on the piano has infiltrated. He finds himself laughing. At first nervously, but then on and on he goes, and he sees that snow in Toronto when he first fell in love. He can’t help being reminded of his initial meetings with Annie; he wishes he could control what his perverted nostalgia conjures up. She shifts in her seat a little. Giggles a bit. Understands that this is going to be tougher than she thought. They get into the bottle of wine. There is little hesitancy. The tension is thick, their dual discomfort blatant. Already, the usual exchanges have been generally abandoned. Neither wishes to elaborate on trivial pasts. Thinking at first this a comfortable silence, Adrian second guesses himself. Seems like she’s tired. Of what, he can’t tell. This could be the worst date she’s ever been on. —What were you doing in that class?
—I’m an Arts’ major, an English minor. Each creative writing class I’ve taken, you’ve been on the syllabus. Maybe that’s the token thing a university does for its Alma Mater. Sat in because I wanted to see the womanizer, in the flesh.
It’s a simple cut, clean even. Feminist criticism of how poorly he writes women is usually saved for print.
—My personas are womanizers... Oh. Never mind. What’s your medium then? Art? Fine Art I suppose?
His emphasis on ‘fine’ makes them both grin. Emily doesn’t usually entertain bad jokes.
—Photography mainly, painting here and there.—Really? I’d love to see your work.
Her look is a glare, a size-up. She tries to be even, deliberate, but finds herself drawn to that tiny triangle of lower abdomen skin, the coarse hairs that button down from his navel. She thinks to call Oscar, to bail out, but can’t bring herself to do it just now. Why waste such a good bottle of wine?
—There’s one here, hidden. I insisted he let me put it up, but clearly the boss didn’t deem it worth... prime real estate. You’ll have to check it out before we leave. Before we go.
She tries to catch herself, sees how quickly things could slip. His attractiveness is not unworthy of attention, but she will not come off as the others. Stilted conversation hangs in the air then slides away. She’s withdrawn. Adrian tries not to look at her by shifting his legs. The bottle of wine dissipates, and although Emily has hinted she ought to get going, Adrian is convinced by the bartender, when he gets up for the tab, to try the chardonnay before going on their way. Adrian looks back to their table. Emily appears quite bored; she must be thinking about the poor quality of her date, Adrian’s sure. A fresh bottle certainly won’t hurt.
The wine’s too much. Unable to reciprocate small talk, she knows she’s too far gone. This is further proven when she walks to the bathroom; the furniture seems to leer up from the hardwood floor. She should call Oscar. In the bathroom mirror she stares at her face for quite some time, considering how to proceed.
When she exits the facilities, she finds Adrian at her photograph in a dark corner of the bar. His face is reflected in the grainy image. The sparse hairs on the porous flesh are transposed overtop of his features. Emily watches as he peers into it, trying to sort out what it is. When he figures it out, his mouth spreads into a smile. A long hair sprouts from between his teeth in the reflecting photograph.
—How the hell did some poor bastard let you take a close-up of his balls? One can only imagine...
Emily has turned away from him. Richard watches Adrian stare at her ass.
—Well, it’s past my bedtime.
She says this too loudly, turns unevenly, and starts walking out the door, leaving Adrian to pay the tab. Standing on the balcony outside of the bar, she grips the brick of the building for balance. As bleary as she is from the wine, she recognizes that she no longer has much bearing on what she ought to do.The fresh air brings things back, a little. Adrian walks out; he grabs her hand as they descend the steep stairwell, rambles on about how grateful he is for visiting this shit hole of a town, because if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have met her.
—Will you walk me home then?
A glint of anticipation flicks in his eyes. He crosses one foot over the other ankle, and then reciprocates with his other foot, over the other ankle, all the while holding her arm. —Let’s go. This is the point of no return. She tries to convince herself she’ll get it together before they reach her apartment. It shouldn’t be difficult to withhold more material for him to write about. It’s obvious she can’t trust him; the trouble is she doesn’t trust herself. She negates this by imagining that his bracing her arm gives him the belief of control. They stop in the empty avenue. She faces him. Her left foot crosses her right ankle, she stumbles. It’s seldom that she wears heels.
—So. What has made you so very angry with women?
His smile withers slightly, though the lilt of her tone is reminiscent of Hepburn’s drunken scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This poor girl is probably just looking to belong, like the rest of them. It couldn’t have been nice indefinitely, he thinks. They always want to get in. —For starters, I’m not angry with women. —Oh, really? There seem to be a lot of bitches and cunts in your poems. Adrian visibly cringes when she says ‘cunts.’ He knows she has more right to the word, but it is the usual rejection of this word, by the sorts of women he usually goes for, that makes him ill at ease. All promise seems to shatter. The crisp ‘c’ echoes in his mind; he has an urge to run. They don’t speak. She refuses to procure an answer, and he refuses to give one. He grabs her forearm, and they continue to walk up the avenue. In front of a small house with tall grass, she says: —Would you like to come in? She steps back in her heels unevenly. Mascara has smudged under her right eye. There’s an attempt at a coy grin. His posture is rigid. —Maybe for a bit. Shouldn’t leave Luke’s dog alone too long... Emily is not oblivious; she shouldn’t have taken on his poetry this early. Grabbing his hand, she leads him down the stairs to her suite. The hall is dim. She fumbles in search of a light in the living room. A myriad of coloured glass expels from a Tiffany lamp. There are books strewn, willy-nilly, across the carpet. The mantel above the fire place is warped from bearing the weight of her literature. Prints and paintings hang on all walls but one. Adrian notices that same dark haired barista in a photograph, holding a broken beer bottle beside his head, a trickle of blood culminating in his ear. —Have a seat. Beer? —Sounds good. Settling on one of two dining room chairs, he notices various scribbles on notes and napkins. He tries to read them, but to no avail. Her handwriting is an intricate scrawl. The toilet flushes; the tub tap goes on. Holding her hair back from her face, she first gulps water from the tap, then turns it to hot, and washes her feet with the end of a towel. Those shoes are treacherous to her rancid feet. She’ll project the slide, but is nervous for what will happen before. Besides the poetry (maybe those women deserved it), he really hasn’t proven to be a complete jerk. He did buy all that wine. Still, she knows she must go through with it. But could it be that this act might prove that she is everything she despises, that she is everything she wishes to reject, that she might be everything that he is also... Only time will tell, surely. —Don’t call me Shirley, Patrick used to say.
It’s hard not to miss him when she’s around someone so similar. So similar because he, too, can’t be trusted. It all starts out fun and carefree with free booze and great sex, but how quickly it will be sure to unravel, like it did with Patrick. Recognizing the danger, she tells herself that she will not let Adrian be with her more than once (maybe not at all, maybe not at all!) She’d held Patrick at arm’s length, suspicious he wasn’t over his ex-finance. When he’d insisted she let him in, well, she’d quickly been sorry that she had. Why can’t more men be like Oscar? She is reminded of a postcard, a woman from the 50s’ poses at the beach, a bubble over her head: Where are all the kind, attentive, gentlemen who are also good listeners? They already have boyfriends. Stupidly, she bought it for Oscar. He’d hated it. She could tell by his closed lipped smile.
When she walks out of the bathroom, Adrian’s staring at a contour drawing of Patrick’s eye and earlobe; Adrian glances at her, blushes slightly, then moves on to the next item, treating her place as though it were a gallery. Finally he sits back down on one of the rigid dining room chairs.
—It’s not like I’m trying to degrade women. My poems are mainly honest, with some imaginary bits. But they can all be passed off as fiction. Those women say things to me, like I could be their future husband or something, how or why they do, one can only imagine... Usually it’s downright pathetic.
Emily praises herself momentarily for having the heart to turn on the tape recorder when she walked into the apartment. It rests just beneath his feet (so obvious, under a milk-crate), and is state-of-the-art in recording such prized confessions. She settles down on the other rigid dining room chair, and pulls it closer to his, perhaps too close. He shifts so that he isn’t looking into her face. —Has anyone ever called you on it? He speaks to the blank wall ahead.
—Sort of. But they all came off as irrational and without merit. Hysterical, even. Ridiculous. I get it in some ways. I blow them off pretty quickly. Like you said, I’m seamless in my evasion. Plus, confrontation is difficult when an artist always uses ‘you.’ I never name names, that’s for sure. ‘You’ is safe. There were so many for a go there that ‘you’ could have been half the wait staff in Kitsilano.
His voice is hard, annoyed by these remembrances. Wringing his hands together, he realizes he’s gone too far. She’s beautiful, but like the enemy in a way. Adrian sits, perfect poise, as though he is about to eat Christmas dinner with a family he doesn’t know, but his face reveals something like dejection.
—Why do you do it? I mean, why write them that way? It’s so ugly, seems like there could be more beauty to it all?
Emily has moved in; her body closer to his. Her right knee is resting by his left leg, her whole body turned, and he can’t bring himself to do the same. Yearns to, but won’t. The dangerous territory is no question now. His nose is a pointed silhouette that will not look her directly in the face. He can’t reply. Adrian sits there hoping for an out. Silence. She becomes self-conscious about her position.
—Look. If you don’t want to be here, then don’t be here. I’m not looking for anything. Some decent conversation with someone who will look at me would be alright.
—Is this better? Adrian shifts his weight so that he’s looking at her directly. It’s as though they’re at a wedding reception, two guests who didn’t know each other (in their straight, high-backed chairs), but destined to sit next to each other because of the bride’s intricate seating scheme; a signal of new familiarity is indicated by the slight pivots of their separate chairs. She gets that lifting feeling, the one that made her pursue this in the first place. —Is this what you’re looking for? They’re face to face. She feels herself wanting to recoil immediately. Her neck yo-yos her head up and then down. Yes. Emily feels herself blushing. Longs to escape, but knows that she can’t,
—Look. I’m not after anything here. In fact, I just got out of a huge relationship and the last thing I want is... anything, anything of that sort. And if I gave you the wrong idea, I mean you’re in my apartment and... —What’s the worst that could happen? I could kiss you. And really that’d be up to you... What do you think?
Emily struggles, shifts. This is not how things are meant to be going. He’s looking at her with those brown eyes, and those perfect dimples, smiling because he must be laughing at her discomfort. And does it matter really? Does it really? She takes the gum from her mouth, and sticks it under her chair. Feels the flutter in her stomach, and nods yes. Yes, and yes, and yes, she nods. And before she is done his mouth is on hers, and she’s leaning in, and his body is pressing against hers, and she has soon left the property of her seat, climbing onto his (the bride would be proud, surely), and her legs are wrapped around his torso. Emily can’t help but breathe heavily, can’t help but sigh in the moments when their lips take rest from each other. They move to the floor. And his body is on hers, and she knows he is still married, officially. Adrian’s face hovers over hers. You are so beautiful, you are so beautiful. His mutterings help, but still she is conscious of what he represents. But he is there, with his beautiful brown hair that floods into his eyes. With his whiskers that scratch her face, and the knowing, always the knowing, that this shouldn’t be happening. Against her leg, through thin cotton, she can feel him. She wants to continue to feel that pressing on her inner thigh, that look, that unforgiving look, those unrelenting eyes. Emily pulls back, wondering if he knows. All he can do is grin then fall into the crevice of her collarbone, and breathe there on her breast waiting for more. Pulling his head from her chest by yanking the hair from the back of his skull she says, —This is it. This is all it can be. —What do you mean? He settles his body, to the right of hers, on the floor, and stares into the lap of her dress imploringly. Shimmying up into a sitting position, she allows proximity between him and her crotch; Emily laughs.
—I mean that you won’t be getting in there. I’ve made up a new set of rules for myself, and you are not about to break those.
She won’t move him further from her, deciding that it’s best to let him stare at that pocket of her dress. This she allows, for a few minutes, until he mutters under his breathe: —What I could do to that cunt. What I could do. He lifts her dress with each hand (which turns it into an open peacock-tailed fan in front of her), and stares into the fine folds of her cotton underpants. The bottom of her sailor’s dress blinds her from his inquiring eyes. Oh, what he could do. She knows. She understands. And it has been so long; she is already wet and waiting. —No. Emily pulls the dress down over her legs, stands up, then pulls the chain on the Tiffany lamp; the living room goes dark save for the faint rays of street light.
—I want to show you something. Sit down in your chair and look at that wall.
He does as he’s told not as recompense, but with hope for something better. This is what she, sort of, thinks she will grant him. The blank wall floods with light and a figure. Without a head, it is a woman’s body: neck to knee naked. Adrian realizes that this is her. A gasp escapes his lips; he is partial to her portions. Ribs apparent above the swell of her sides and belly. The fiery fur that lies beneath. Emily stands next to the rigid chair: his front row seat. Adrian grips her wrist. —Why are you doing this? —It’s what you wanted, no? Adrian tries not to appear uncomfortable even though this is the oddest experience he’s ever had with a woman. —I’d rather touch you, be touched. His voice reminds her of a teenager whining. Through the shadows of the apartment he sees a sense of consternation pass over her face. There’s a reservation that’s set. —You’ve seen mine, now let me see yours.
—What? This is fucked. I saw a slide of you, and now you’re expecting me to expose myself? You’re screwed lady.
—Yes. Perhaps. And I’m going to take a picture no less. Inexplicably, her confidence has returned. She is neither ahead nor behind in this game. —Fine. He doesn’t understand why, but he is undressing next to the wall with her image. Fingers expertly undo buttons to reveal a malnourished chest. Quick flick of the fly and his pants are around his ankles, boxers too. Crumpling them into a ball, and kicking them aside he stands in the nude staring at her defiantly. He does as he’s told not for appeasement, but rather for the possible rewards he might gain from this unusual encounter. Lens in hand, she stands a little behind and between their two dining room chairs; they act as a blockade between his nudity and the garments that she wears. His figure is this best she’s seen; his face expressionless. Several shots are acquired. She knows they’ll be worked in perfectly. Emily circles their seating arrangements, and then props her ass awkwardly on the wood that lines the top of a chair; her weight makes it unbalanced. Finding a way to gain stability, she raises the camera once again—just pixels away from that once flawless face. Each pore is exposed, slight razor burn, and several pox scars. Perhaps it reveals too much to her, hesitancy sets back in just as he grabs her wrist, cornering her by standing right in front of the chair. There’s no bashfulness about his erection, as she had expected (past experience has filtered through, Patrick covering his nether regions with a hand as he gets up and heads towards the toilet), and through the lens she sees every blackhead on Adrian’s nose. And then she is crushed by his presence, as he stands on the chair, and she remains there propped on its unreliable wooden crown; she is somewhat worried that they’ll topple over, but this concern is overridden by gratitude for his kisses, and the camera is soon placed on the carpet, and all of her plans are erased by the vibrations of his body. I’d like you to be mine.
Lying naked next to each other, Adrian turns,
—You know what I like about you? He brushes the skin on her shoulder, removing an eyelash.
—It’s like you’re the most honest, the most familiar to me, in a long while. And of course there’s your body. He shivers slightly. —Your body!
Emily shakes her head. She sits with her back perfectly aligned with the wall, her bed, suddenly a confessional booth.
—You only say that because you link bodies and familiarity, I’m sure.
He props himself up on the pillows.
—You’re totally discrediting that I also find you honest. Honesty’s refreshing.
Still sweaty, Emily wipes her brow with the back of her hand.
—You don’t know anything about me. You have no way of knowing I’m honest.
Adrian shrugs, then nestles into her chest.
—It’s just a quality that I feel you want to be.
She shifts her body, forcing him to take his head from that crook in her collar-bone. Curling away from him, into the fetal position, she feels her eyes well. Emily tries not to shake.
—What’s wrong? Don’t you feel this too? There’s something here, this isn’t just animal instincts.
He can’t see her face. It takes her many heartbeats until she’s slowed her breathing to respond.
—Of course I feel it too. But it doesn’t mean I have some great hope or trust in your honesty. I wish you didn’t feel this way about me. I’m bad news. I can be a nightmare of a woman to be with.
Arching an arm over her, Adrian flips her body so that he can look into her eyes.
—You’re right. Of course you are. But I know my intuition. And my intuition is saying... this is it.
Adrian has the good sense to leave after making coffee in her messy kitchen. He sets the mug on the carpet by her bed, and she stirs when she smells it. Emily abruptly sits up, yanking the comforter over her bare torso. Her eyebrows rise as she realizes what she’s done.
—Just thought I’d bring you a cup before I go. Had a really nice time last night. Be great to do that again sometime.
If it hadn’t been for the sleep in her eyes, her ears, her mouth, she’d see how great he looks with his hair tousled. A boyish, near bashful grin. Avoiding eye-contact, she replies:
—Ya, me too. Her sense of dread is written on her drowsy face.
—I’ve left my numbers on the counter if you wanna hang out again. Don’t know too many people here anymore. Lots of free time, as you pointed out. It’d be nice to get to know you more.
Emily’s visibly surprised by this. It’s been three years since she’s slept with someone so quickly, and that time has weighed on her like something fierce. Besides this, she knows she’s become one of them. As she reaches for the mug, she notices the soggy, deflated condom on the carpet, and is grateful for this alone.
—Well, I ought to get going. But really, do. Call. Looking forward to it. Not often do I get to meet intelligent women.
What he means, she knows, is that not often does he sleep with intelligent women. His poetry is drowning in ineptitude, which is even more insulting because his personas condemn these women for lacking sophistication, a specific sort of sophistication that he can supposedly afford, coming from barrels of money, after all, Romps in the Slums was his break-through book. Emily is cognizant of what she is. Yet another conquest. She aches to think that she’ll be described in the same way: her mouth open, yearning. She manages, while realizing the falsity immediately, —Sure. I will,
Three days later, he’s surprised to find her phone number in the book. Actually, it’s under Patrick Sheridan’s name, her ex, the photographer. Adrian learnt about her past relationship when Luke returned, and Adrian had happily relayed that he might have found someone with whom he could pursue something serious. Luke lifts an eyebrow at her name, having been to Happy Endings: Her Story,
—Bad news man. Just another depraved girl. Wish you had seen that show, with her ex, I’m sure she was an unreal lay, from the photos I could tell she’s a vamp. Crazy in bed I’m sure. Sex kiteeeeeeeeeeeeen.
Luke does not receive the reaction he’s seeking. Adrian shoots him a look, as if to say, don’t talk about my woman like that. It is this that shows Luke how serious his friend is. Luke continues nonetheless.
—Listen, I’m sure she’s smart and nice and all that, but she’s really just a girl, no matter what her age. And it’s rumoured that her and Patrick fostered out a girl of their own.
Adrian is unruffled; the same day he leaves a rambling message on her machine. No reply.
Three days pass, and again he calls; this time he hangs up. He waits another three days, and then leaves a dozen red roses on her doorstep. In the afternoon, she finds them, with a note, picks them up, walks across the lawn, and throws them in the middle of Sixth Avenue, nearly hitting a passing car. Three days and again he calls. No answer. Two days, and she arrives home to find a fruit basket and a poem. She keeps the poem, just in case, and then walks across her lawn and disposes of the thing in the middle of the road.The next day he phones. Emily’s message has changed.
You’ve reached Emily. If this is A.M. I’m sorry to be the bearer of this shit news, but I’ve died. Anyone else, leave a message, and I’ll try to get back to you from the afterlife.
For weeks, Emily is shamed by the encounter. It takes days before she yields to Oscar’s curiosities; tortoise like time (for Oscar at least) passes before she dishes the details. He’s glib about it, thinking that it will heighten commercial and public value for her future show. She doesn’t think her friend really gets it; she slipped up with the worst of them. Magda keeps calling, knowing from Oscar that Emily has a complete exhibit. Emily postpones Sweet Nothings: His Story, indefinitely.
Only six months after their ‘familiarity,’ Adrian McMaster has a new collection of poetry published (how he was able to get a press to pump the thing out at such an alarmingly speed, one could only imagine). Besides the obvious poem, the one that the collection has been named after, “th ♥ shaped box(e,” Emily finds herself in nearly all the crannies of these pieces; her pride, her person, her body revealed—though thinly veiled by his assiduous use of ‘you.’ She is drawn out of that long, shame ridden depression. It is the fuel she needs. It could have been the collection as a whole. Or maybe it was the poem that not only described the inside of her apartment, but also a thin caesarian scar, that finally threw Emily over the edge, opting for retaliation.
It’s opening night and the gallery is packed. Since the arts program begun at the small university, there’s been no other that’s managed to gather such a strange reputation. People haven’t forgotten her poses in Happy Endings. The hype is heightened because of McMaster’s publication, th ♥ shaped box(e; the reviews are poor. The faculty’s collective eyebrows are raised because his descriptions of Emily are obvious. Many acquaintances from the feminist community shun her. From the people that praised Emily for her and Patrick’s show, she hears murmurs, sees smirks. Most days she finds it all tiresome; sometimes Emily finds herself oddly reveling in it.
Last time she was in the library, she overhears a couple of her peers whispering about the weakness she’s shown. Emily leaves the cubicle, stalks the few stacks, circling around their gossip, and finally faces them. The two women try not to cower.
—If you’ve something to say to me, say it to my face. One blathers out, —What do you mean, Emily?
—What I mean is… When I saw you leaving Professor Dilbert’s house at dawn, I had the decency to stay silent. And last time I saw you… Emily points at the other. —You were dry humping one of your students at the bar. Again, I had the decency not to open my trap. Think about that before you go off about me again. I’m sure these are tidbits the faculty would love to hear. Oh, and if you’ve the time in your pathetic little lives, my show is on Monday. Here are two tickets.
The pair actually take her up on this, arrive early, and are amazed. Thirteen naked bachelors are thrown onto the white walls, expelled from thirteen separate projectors around the gallery; their voices compete with one another. At each individual piece, his voice spills out a slew of lines, coaxing the viewer to go for a round of sexual exchanges in the sack.
At quarter to the hour the exhibit’s officially set to begin, Emily’s stomach starts to rumble. A couple of her professors are drinking wine outside the main gallery; she sees this through the glass doors that partition the spaces. She notices a group of strong-headed women enter the main doors, scowls set, expectant.
Magda and a fellow in tweed walk up to Emily. Magda paws the man’s jacket and says:
—Emily, Lucas. He works for the Citizen. Would it be alright if he were to ask you a few questions for tomorrow’s paper?
Emily can feel the blood rushing to her head. She has that same feeling she used to get when she had to cut off a drunk at the pub, a feeling that generally preceded an ugly confrontation. —Sure. No problem.
—Let’s start off with some preliminaries from Magda, because she’s facilitated both shows that you’ve been part of. That’s alright?
The women nod their heads in agreement. Lucas turns on his tape recorder.
—Testing. Testing; (pause). We’re at Emily Boxe’s Sweet Nothings: Her Story. Magda Dietrich is also here. Magda facilitated Emily’s first show, Happy Endings, which was a collaboration with her boyfriend Patrick Sheridan. What do you think about Emily’s first solo exhibit, Magda?
—I prefer it to Happy Endings. —Really? Why?
—Emily was very much a sex symbol in that one – don’t get me wrong, the idea was fantastic, but I think the meaning was lost, mainly because of the attention it garnered by the people that came to see it. The men ogled her; the women hated her.
Emily laughs nervously and butts in, forgetting that it’s Magda’s turn to speak.
—That’s a great assessment of how I felt that opening night. It didn’t help that Patrick maneuvered me around the room like his very own blow-up doll. It was a surreal experience. I guess I didn’t realize the implications at the time.
—What are your impressions tonight Emily?
—So far so good, but then again, the show hasn’t really started. None of the early birds have erupted in disgust, so that’s great for me. Some might say that’s the sign of a tame exhibit, but I prefer it to theatricality. Not that I didn’t appreciate that feminist from the university screaming at me at Happy Endings opening night.
Magda and Emily exchange amused glances. Lucas notices this then carries on:
—Sweet Nothings is incredibly different from Happy Endings. You said the inspiration for your collaborative show, with Patrick, was a “reclaiming of women’s own bodies and thus their own fates.” What is the message is here?—I wanted to play with the notion of fairy tale again, but in a very different way. Growing up, I watched those Disney movies, and the meaning, at the end of each narrative, was always the same: The lead female character is saved by the male hero. The reactions from the viewers at mine and Patrick’s show, well, I guess they led me to a sort of epiphany. As a result, Sweet Nothings comes from a more contemporary place, where women’s troubles, a lot of the time, actually originate from men trying to masquerade as Princes or heroes, and I’ve found that this usually happens when men are trying to lure their fair Princesses into bed. The thing that gets me are the lines that guys feed women to get them to go for a tumble in the hay. I think that women need to be their own heroes. This show is about the lies that people tell each other in order to fulfill a basic animal urge, but the message is up to the viewer.
Emily feels that her face is too hot. She clutches one of her wrists, and tries to breathe slower, in order to ease her racing pulse. Would he publish everything she just said?
—Why did you call it Sweet Nothings: Her Story, when there are many men, from the community, in this show who are openly gay?—Well I named the first show Happy Endings, and Patrick chose to add the tagline, Her Story, and I initially liked that because it harkens to feminist criticisms, but afterwards, it dawned on me that that exhibit was actually more concentrated in voyeurism. It wasn’t about celebrating women’s sexuality, but instead appealed to men’s views of women; this didn’t dawn on me at the time, if it had, I wouldn’t have allowed Patrick to take those pictures of me. So adding Her Story, here, was more about my own reclaiming. As for the orientation of some of the men showcased tonight, well, just like I played the sex kitten for Happy Endings, that was a character, in Sweet Nothings these men are also playing characters. Straight characters. The gay men were the most fun to work with because they liked to script the monologues themselves, for their own private reasons, and for political reasons also, and also, I suspect, it could be a way for them to seek vengeance. I can certainly relate to all three of these motives.
Despite raising an eyebrow at Emily mentioning revenge, Lucas continues with his questions:
—Patrick’s image is up there, and it’s the only one without a voice-over. Can you tell me why, Emily?—For the simple reason that I came up with the idea after we’d broken up. He’s very lucky that I didn’t have any documentation of the things that he said to me.—And of course, there’s Adrian McMaster, noted local poet, his voice-over is very interesting...
—Yes. That’s one way of putting it.—Has he talked to you about it? How did you get him to agree to it?
—Well. That’s the one piece in this exhibit that wasn’t staged. And I don’t know that he’s heard about what I’ve done here.
—Emily, I can assure you that he has.—Oh?—I’m a close friend of his. Luke.
A look of recognition passes over Emily’s face. Luke looks back at her and smiles, but remains silent, his recorder imposing, next to her mouth. She continues nervously, at first, then sets in on a hardened tone,
—Then you know what he thinks. I’d be interested to hear what kind of pseudo-feminist bullshit he’d feed the public, in an interview, either highly praising, or completing rejecting his appearance in my show. Actually I’m surprised he’s not here with a scripted speech for all of his adoring fans, but I do understand that’d be taking a risk. Remember, he was playing a role. A role that provides him material for his own creative endeavours. I’m sure you can spin the rest of this interview anyway you want. Thanks for your time Lucas.
—My pleasure Emily.
People mill about the gallery, reading the pamphlet that encourages viewers to participate in the exhibit: imagine how you might feel if this is what your bed-fellow told you. Several acquaintances, creative and academic, come by and shake Emily’s hand. Oscar stands by her, waiting until these people leave. They gossip when no one’s within ear shot. Subtly, Emily points, here and there, drawing Oscar’s attention to people’s reactions of what is being launched out of the still mouths of the ghostly, naked men.
Wives and girlfriends of these apparitions are half stunned, half appreciative, or entirely resentful of how their men are exposed. Several individuals storm out of the gallery, throwing Emily hateful stares. All the world’s a stage. The recordings of half-baked pick-up lines can’t be up for argument, not when the image matches the voice. There’s no blaming the artist when you can hear your man’s voice laying on the grease he initially trapped you with. At one point Oscar exclaims, —It’s performance people! But this doesn’t have any effect on disgruntled individuals headed for the door.A sickness overcomes Emily as she wonders if McMaster will show up. A little crowd of women have gathered in front of his naked image; a few of them are quite young, first years. They giggle.
Adrian enters the gallery; he sees Emily immediately, a flute of champagne in hand, she lowers it so that it is held in front of her midnight blue suit, the pale liquor in the glass quickly changing to a shade of lighter night sky. He’s wearing a grandfatherly golf hat (an attempt at anonymity?) over his chestnut hockey hair. There’s a large dark beer stain on his beige linen shirt. He locks eyes with her. She turns towards Oscar, saying something that makes him launch into laughter. The few women that mill around Adrian’s naked likeness begin to whisper. Despite the echoing male voices, the guests of Sweet Nothings become remarkably hushed. Turning away from her, Lucas now at his side, Adrian pretends to be exceptionally interested in the first bachelor. It’s Patrick. Getting a side profile of Adrian’s face (he can’t turn his back to her and get a good view of this opening piece), Emily notes that he has a distinct look of discomfort when he reads the caption next to Patrick’s image: “I’m impotent and clean. It doesn’t matter baby.”
That swarm of women, around his likeness, parts, allowing Adrian to step toward his portion of the exhibit. He gives his naked projection the elevator eyes. His voice-over continues, mid-stream, “I’m trying to degrade women.” Adrian steps back, unsettled; he mutters,
Emily is watching, anticipating. He glances over at her. She imagines a set of cartoon daggers flying from his eyes; they fall around her midnight suit, her body unharmed. The speech continues: “they all came off as irrational and without merit. Hysterical, even. Ridiculous. I get it in some ways. I blow them off pretty quickly. Like you said, I’m seamless in my evasion. Plus, confrontation is difficult when an artist always uses ‘you.’”
He hears what he said to Emily that night; it registers in a different way for him. Adrian’s face is a shriveled scowl. Talk about reel to reel exposure. Not just the lines, it’s the confessions that bring him grievance. Too many drinks in that night, he’d rambled on to her about why he writes the way that he does: “a defense mechanism for the fucking twats that screwed me over.” Emily walks over, the reflection of his naked body, a mockery in front of him. The two women from the library stand in the middle of the room surveying, whispering behind him. Adrian turns towards them, booming:
—I can HEAR you!
Lifting his arms above his head, Emily is reminded of the swaying of dancers. Her peers react as though he’s a female bear protecting her cubs. They scurry off.He sees the shadow of her suit before seeing her. Had there been anything material to rip down and shred it’d be gone. Instead his mouth opens enormous. His voice is immediately shrill:
—You little fucking cunt. Such bullshit! This is not me. It is not! I don’t know how she did, but she did!
He looks around the gallery at the observers on the periphery of the room. He’s pointing at Emily, and turning towards his audience, convinced in that moment that he will convince them of his innocence.
—There’re plenty of recordings of me! She’s manipulated my voice! I did not say these things, I did not!
Emily walks up to him, places a hand on his forearm, her voice, a sexy murmur, lulling,
—I would not eat her box. I would not eat it with a fox. I did not! I will not! My name is Sam I am, and I did not eat green eggs and ham!
His brown eyes are further angered, darting back and forth around the room, and finally settling once again on her, her midnight suit, her empty champagne flute, her smug, smug face.
—You can’t do this! (He stamps his foot for added effect); You can’t do this! You don’t have my ... you don’t have my ... fucking permission! This is UNLAWFUL!
Adrian glances over at the on-lookers, as if for support. They blink back doleful, either slightly amused, or slightly confused. He turns back to Emily, holds his left arm directly in front of him (an awkward extension), palm flat, fingers pointing directly into her vision, a few inches more and the tips of his fingers will touch her eyes (she assumes this has something to do with his inebriation), he closes with, —I. I will SUE you! He lets his arm fall to his side, juts his chin out, as though to say that he means serious stuff. Luke appears at his side, hovering annoyingly. Emily gives Luke a sympathetic nod, then says,
—Easy there beer breath... Wouldn’t want to ruin a nice little experience with the arts... These pieces are more about personas, might I remind you of what that means?
She takes another step towards him; he smells her, tries not to tip over into more intoxication. Procuring a copy of his latest book, she takes the book mark out, creases the spine and asks him:
—Would you like to reiterate this little ditty, or should I? I know it’s not the most revealing about me, but I’m sure it’d do the trick.
He looks dumbfounded; she continues,
—I can read it myself if you like, but I know how much practice you have, reading to the public, serenading them in your private little perversion of what love ought to be. Here, read.
Emily hands him his text. Adrian sees what her hand offers, and then looks up into her eyes. There is something there that only she can see. Regret. His hands hang limply by his sides. Emily’s voice grows more gentle,
—Maybe Luke could read it? Then we wouldn’t have to have any of this (she lowers her voice so that only he and Luke can hear her) ugliness, be documented by the press?
Adrian’s point of focalization is the floor. His head is so severely bent towards his feet that only the hunch of his shoulders can be seen by the audience behind him. It is the quietest, most feeble voice that says, —Luke. Read it. Hesitantly, Luke takes the folded book from Emily’s hand.
that ♥ shaped box(e
[wish i could eat ur cancer when u turn black]-nirvana
th surroundings, clipp’d, tailor’d
u expect’d u wood let it in b4 u ask’d what i was thinking, post-coitus, i was all— walking th dog after dinner w/u( th reek of th mill’s no matter ) i’ve got me an old lady
that ♥ shaped
ur face that ♥ shaped ur body
that ♥ shaped box(e
an entry, an exit
that ♥ shaped (th object of my desire
that ♥ shaped box(e
th site 4 a final injection
Luke quickly hands the book back to Emily; the audience, lined against the wall that Adrian refuses to face, as a collective whole, hardly looks satiated. Emily booms, for her audience,
—Thanks Luke, beautiful! With that kind of voice, well I’d like to make you mine.
Emily looks into Adrian’s eyes that peer upwards from his still slouched position; he is imploring, that same eager, whining, terrifying look that he gave her when he let that peacock fan of her skirt fall. A pang of guilt. No. —It’s not personal. She says this softly. Oscar walks over and stands beside her. Adrian gathers himself, his shoulders suddenly upright and prepared. His face hardens again. —Yes. It... IS!
Adrian’s vocalized spit sprays Oscar and Emily’s faces. Oscar steps forward, his palm on Adrian’s chest:
—You did it to yourself man. I’ve read your stuff. Something’s gotta happen for being such a horrible shit to women. —I don’t know what you’re talking about! This is ludicrous. You’re all a bunch of … of washed up rednecks, with nothing to do with your time!
Adrian’s closing sermon isn’t believable; his voice, though still loud, has completely deflated. The audience, many of McMaster’s fans and colleagues included, glance over, though less interested than before; Adrian waves his arms about, talking almost incoherently from that short distance away. Talk about ape-shit, Emily thinks, as his upper limbs gesticulate wildly, but nothing that resembles English comes out. Luke steps in and guides Adrian out of the room, through the hall and out of the gallery. Oscar gives her a glance, as if to say, ‘Honey, you dodged a bullet by letting him go.’ Emily considers this. Did she really? Tonight the daggers have fallen around her, but that was something that she had worked hard for. Honest, familiar, your body. This took longer to shake out of her head. Out of her heart. For an instant, she pities him.
The rest of the evening unfolds in a fairly unremarkable way. Picking up the last of the paper napkins, Magda urges Emily to stop helping out.
—Seriously. I’ve called you a cab. Go outside, see that full moon, wait for your ride to arrive. Take a few moments of silence after tonight’s gong show.
—Thanks Magda. Emily steps out. There’s a shuffle in the bushes. Adrian props himself up against the brick building. —Jesus. You scared the shit out of me. His eyes are bloodshot. —Why did you do this to me?
—I can’t believe you’re really asking me that.—What about our talk that night?—As you got to see here, there was a lot of talk that night.—You know what I mean. After we, after we made love.
—Made love, really? Since when do you say that?—I don’t. But I really thought, I do think, that you could be the one.
Emily looks at him, amazed. She pauses, lights the wrong end of her cigarette. Exhaling the filter, then dropping the ruined smoke, affords her some time to think.
—The one what? The one to put up with all your bullshit, about what women should be? What women are meant to be? That role’s retired from my repertoire. My new philosophy is that douche-bags are like buses, it’s only a matter of time before another one comes along.
He peers up at her, sullen.
—I know you think I’m bullshit, but the fact that you went to such great heights to tarnish me, it shows me something. If I actually thought you were like all the rest, do you think I would have gotten those poems published?
Adrian looks over at her; she does not turn her face to his. Her nose and lips are profiled in a side-long silhouette. The cab pulls up. He knows he’s out of time.
—Seriously. I showed tonight, and you got what you were seeking, no? Just like I got mine?
Grinning up at her, still shaken, he hopes that she’ll recognize his potential. —Want to share my cab with me? Adrian nods. He gets up from his place among the perennials. Emily holds his arm and gets him into the cab. She sits next to him in the middle seat, and then tells the driver where she wants to go.
—I’m thinking about going as Wonder Woman for Halloween. What do you think?
—I think you’ll look hot.—Flying really would be my more preferred means of travel.
Carly Stewart originally from Prince George, B.C., now calls Quebec home. She is currently working on her creative thesis (long distance) through the University of Northern B.C. Recently, Crazy Old Birds (a short story), was shortlisted for the Matrix LitPop Award.
September 15th, 2009
Jon Paul Fiorentino awarded 2009 Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry
August 1st, 2009
Amatoritsero Ede publishes much anticipated book