I was quite drunk. Even by my own high tolerance standards. Stacy had just run off late to work, and as her sad lovely image receded into the night and the vague whispers of an all too familiar nostalgia mixed with an unnamed loneliness began to fill the chilly night air like the sifting plumes of smoke from the embers of a dying flame, I found my mind reeling, rushing to think of how to spend my last few hours in town, the last of the summer, as it were. What exactly did I still need to do? It didn’t take long to remember the first thing, and I turned, rounded the corner of The Pub, past the Bus Depot, and made the short strut down the block to the loft located above the fitness center.
Once inside, having climbed the long winding creaky staircase, I was met with the familiar faces of Mike and Booney, who had wandered up there earlier from The Pub and were lounging in the living room with beers and some unknown program running on the small screen across from them. They were making little jokey comments between the action while Frank sat in his big relaxing chair holding court in his calm, stoic manner. There was also another guy there with them. I only vaguely recognized him at first but then very quickly, as my scattered mind began working the pieces of the past back together, realized it was an old friend from pre-high school days, a guitar player who I had played in some early bands with. Someone who I hadn’t seen or so much as spoken to in years, I was momentarily stupefied, having only briefly, in recent times, thought back to that period while writing the introduction to a short retrospective story before hitting the road in late June. Now here he was. We chatted briefly in the kind of excited, summarizing way that is customary for people long out of contact, as if trying to construct bridges over the ever-expanding waterways of time.
This went on for a while and I became so could up in it that I almost forgot my original intention for going over there. And so when the program ended and the beers were finished and everybody was getting up to leave, I took Frank aside and in grave, earnest tones reiterated my regret over an episode that had taken place back on the night of his birthday when, in a moment of indecisiveness had allowed an unwelcome guest to crash his party, briefly, and make a whole big drunken scene. He coolly reassured me though that all was forgiven, laughing the whole thing off, along with the gravity I brought to the matter, and at that moment I had the palpable sense of a great weight being lifted. The rest of us made our way down to the street where I said my goodbyes to and continued my journey through the night.
From there I stopped off at home, trying in stumbling, bumbling disorganized fashion to get the last of my things in order, until, noticing the lateness of the hour and my promise made earlier on to Raven to go over and make personal—in person that is—goodbyes to her before I left. How could I not?
So back downtown I went.
When I got to her house the place was dark and quiet. She was somewhere in the front of the house listening to music, waiting for my eventual arrival. I apologized for the lateness of my getting there and she seemed to silently forgive the jumpy, boozy state I was in, inviting me to partake in a late night vaporizer bag session. Once flopped out on the her way-too-comfortable couch in the patio, enjoying a couple clean, calming tokes and relaxed talk it didn’t take long for the adrenaline, the ceaseless energy I had been running on all day and the day before preparing everything in anticipation of my imminent departure, to give out, and within minutes, seemingly in mid-conversation, mid-sentence, I was out cold—
The next thing I remember is waking on her leather couch in the living room, not knowing how I got there, a blanket spread out overtop me, and the sounds of random noises, movements, coming from the kitchen followed by the sound of Dino’s distinct drawl—which is not exactly the first thing you want to hear upon waking any day of the week, and only slightly less annoying then the distorted blare of my old junk alarm clock. I let out a groan, turned over on my side and thought for a moment of continuing on with my slumber. Then suddenly the reality of the day and the long journey I was to embark on dawned on me, and all at once I pulled my half-conscious carcass off the couch and made the first gestures towards making the day.
It was as I was grimacing at the harried, beat mask glaring at me from the mirror next to the couch that Dino and his goofy hangdog mug appeared. I turned to face him with a sleepy, wearied grin.
“I was hoping I’d catch you here,” he said. “Since you’re leaving today I came over before work just to check and see if you were still around so I could smoke you up before you left.”
“Yeah, sure thing,” I said before retreating to the kitchen to pour out a tall glass of hang-over water to guzzle.
On my way back to meet him in the patio I popped my head into Raven’s bedroom, having assumed she was still up after letting him in, only to discover she was back asleep, or at least half-asleep, and tried to delicately but insistently remind her that I’d be going soon and she should come join us for a last going away toke. She mumbled something like “Yeah, I’ll be right out,” and I slipped back to the patio where Dino already had a bag inflating. A few minutes passed and then a few more and Raven still hadn’t showed, and Dino finally decided to go ahead and start smoking without her. While he did this I glanced at my watch, thinking, in how many hours can I make it to Canmore? My concern over time given to the fact that I was informed by the proprietor of the Motel at which I had booked in advance (having been unable to find a single free room during the earlier drive out and forced to sleep outside in a park somewhere on the edge of Kamloops) was a 10 or 11 o’clock cut off time, with my chances of claiming my room any time after that substantially diminished. In other words, the sooner you get there the better.
The bag is almost finished off by both of us by the time Raven had finally dragged herself into the room, all bundled up in blankets and heavy, downcast features. An argument of sorts unfolded over whose decision it was to not wait for Raven before smoking, with Dino saying over and over, “It was mutual. Come on. It was decided between the two of us,” and repeatedly nudging me with, “Hey back me up on this.” Incredulous, hurried and generally exhausted with the whole scene taking place before me, I stole away to the kitchen to start putting a big breakfast-on-the-fly together: eggs, toast, coffee, juice, the whole bit.
It’s after cracking off a couple eggs in the frying pan with a crackling sizzle that there came a knock at the door. With a sudden jolt of surprise I nervously and uncertainly turned in the direction of the sound. Before long Raven was there informing me that it was her landlord come over for a check up of sorts and that I should go back and join Dino in the patio while she handles it. “But I’m cooking my eggs,” I said, holding the shells in my hand helplessly.
“I don’t care,” she said. “Get back there. Now.”
So I did, abandoning my half-cooked eggs in the process. Meanwhile, back at the patio, Dino was rushing around packaging up the vaporizer, brushing ash off everything, and conspicuously concealing all ashtrays from sight. “We’re not supposed to be smoking anything,” he said. “Pot or cigarettes.”
I anxiously paced around the small patio, occasionally stretching myself out against the door to peer through the high small window to see if I could gauge the situation. About ten minutes later, after I’d settled down and it became clear he was not going to be coming in to do a survey of the house or whatever it is that landlord’s do when they “pop over,” Raven came back to tell us coast was clear. Back in the kitchen my eggs were burnt black and so I went about frying up a couple fresh ones.
“Raven says sorry for ruining your eggs,” said Dino as he re-entered the kitchen.
“Its fine,” I said, “I don’t really carry. I just don’t get why it’s such a big deal that other people were here. Since when is having friends over to visit a crime?”
He shrugged, put a cigarette between his lips and shuffled out of the room.
When breakfast was all made up I went back to join them in the patio and ate hurriedly.
“I got to go use your shower before I go to work,” said Dino.
“There’s no hot water at my place,” Dino continued, “and I figured I could just as easily use your one downstairs. What’s the big deal?”
Raven let out an exasperated sigh and relented.
“You know,” I said once he had left, “if you don’t cut ties and make a clean break he’s always going to be around like this, always finding a reason, some excuse for stopping by.”
“I know that,” she said, “but he, he’s so persistent. He refuses to take no for an answer. I tell him it’s over. I tell him over and over that he’s not getting anything more out of me, that there’s nothing left here, between us, but he just stares at me unbelieving. Like, ‘Kay, whatever.’ He just doesn’t get it.”
She turned her head to one side looking out the window at something, perhaps at a low-flying bird, wings outspread, gliding by majestically, or perhaps at nothing, at something only she herself could see, and took a drag of her cigarette, serene, composed, as if it were a kind of meditative act from which she was able to gain a newfound mental resolve, strength.
I didn’t know what else to say. There was nothing more to say. The time was up. The summer was over. The only thing left to do was hit the road and make my way back west. Weigh the gains against the losses, brood over the results, begin from scratch, rebuild, start all over again.
While the shower ran downstairs, we said our goodbyes. Outside, in the bright light of day, I adjusted my eyes, turned with sad sullen smile and took one last look at her standing in the doorway at the far end of the hall, still clutching the blanket she had draped over her slender shoulders. And as I pulled the door shut and it snapped closed, her figure all but disappeared, vanished, and through the reflection in the glass I was left with only my weather-whipped face staring back at me.