The Calgary cityscape is itself a mountain, jutting out of the Alberta flatlands into an almost always blue sky. From here, there is no urban sprawl. Only the sharp and sudden uprising of oil-fed sky scrapers. Behind this, in the distance, the sun reflects a squat row of irregular triangles that are too far gone, too far distant, too far and away to be mountains. Picked out as they are by the sun’s light from the impenetrable blue of the early morning sky, they are translucent -- implied rather than present. From here, the Rockies are tromp d’art, an aesthetic prop used to break the unbearable infinity of the prairie sky.
Shane’s voice was hollow and tinny in the first voicemail message. “Hey. It’s Shane. You’re not there or not answering.” There was a pause filled with background noise. “I’m outside Calgary. I think you know I’m coming today. I emailed. I was hoping to come by and grab a shower and see you. Yeah.” The sound of a transport truck passing filled the pause. “So you are probably still sleeping. I guess, it’s kind of early. I’ll call you back in a bit.”
In the second message, Shane’s voice was clear and crisp. “Hey, you still aren’t answering. We went for breakfast and it’s still too early to pick-up the trailer. So, I think we will come by your place. Hopefully, you are there and will be up by then. See you soon.”
Desmond hung up the phone and looked at the mess in his living room. Cardboard boxes, open and unopened, were scattered everywhere. He shrugged, went to the bedroom, and put on shorts and a T-shirt that he took from a mound of clothing on the floor. He returned to the living room and took a cigarette from a crumpled pack that was sitting on a steel filing cabinet. Then, he moved to the room’s large sliding window, opened it, and stepped out onto the narrow balcony, closing the screen door behind him.
The wood above the window’s frame had a crack in it and a small colony of wasps nested there. Desmond moved away from the colony, towards the other end of the balcony. He lit his cigarette with a green disposable lighter and inhaled deeply, watching the wasps slip in and out of the crack.
A large van pulled into the apartment’s parking lot and Desmond recognized Shane at the wheel. There was no room to park and the van reversed back onto the street. With the engine running, Shane hopped out and checked how far he was from the curb. He didn’t see Desmond watching and Desmond didn’t call out. Shane got back into the van, adjusted its position on the street, turned off the engine, re-inspected the distance to the curb, and motioned for his two companions to come with him.
A moment later Desmond heard the buzzer. He took another drag, tossed the cigarette in the butt-can, exhaled before entering his apartment, and moved quickly to the intercom by the door. It buzzed a second time before Desmond pressed the talk-button.
“Hello.” He released the talk-button and pressed the listen-button.
Within the static, Desmond heard Shane’s voice. “Hey, it’s Shane.”
Desmond quickly switched buttons. “Come on up.” He pressed the door-release button. A different kind of buzz sounded. Desmond pressed the button again. He heard the main door open and close. Voices and footsteps echoed up the stairwell. The fire-door on his floor opened and the voices came closer. There was a pause and then a knock. Desmond stepped to the door and looked through the peep hole.
He didn’t recognise the girl but he recognised Shane’s friend, Gord. Desmond had met him once briefly at a pub in Waterloo and remembered him as cloud of words, dramatic and exaggerated gestures, and animated eyes. Desmond undid the chain and unlocked the door.
“Come on in.” Desmond looked at each of them quickly and then turned and entered the living room. “Sorry about not answering your calls earlier but I was still sleeping.”
“No problem, I figured that.” Shane pointed to Gord. “You remember, Gord, eh?”
“Yeah.” Desmond gave him a short wave. “How’s it going?”
Gord waved back. “Pretty good, pretty good. A little dazed and confused from the massive cross-country trek.” His hands moved quickly, helping to fill in the details. “But pretty good. Didn’t get a whole lot of sleep though.”
Shane indicated the girl. “And this is Faith. We picked her up on the way and gave her a lift. She was hitching”
“Hello.” She stood still, perfectly at ease. Her hair was in pigtails, falling slightly below her shoulders. She wore a tank top, cut-offs, sandals, and was noticeably unwashed. Her eyes were an unwavering, confident, and beautiful blue.
Desmond motioned towards the room’s two chairs and grabbed a couple of phone books. Shane moved to the old-fashion gold recliner, Gord sat on a modern black desk chair, and Desmond offered Faith the phone books.
“If you stack them, they work alright.”
Faith took the books and stacked them against a large box, before sitting. “Did you move in recently?”
Desmond hesitated. “Sadly, no. I moved in almost two months ago. May 15th to be exact. I’ve been a little slow to unpack.”
Gord drummed his fingers on a box. “Not exactly settling in are you.”
“No.” Desmond nodded and looked around. “Not by the looks of it.” He looked at Shane. “How was the trip?”
“Not bad.” Shane leaned forward on his chair. He had a hole in his bright red sock. “We made pretty good time though.” Shane looked at Gord. “I think we left yesterday morning, right?”
“It wasn’t yesterday morning.” Gord shook his head dramatically. “It was the morning before that.”
“What? Was it?” Shane put his hand to his chin and looked at the ceiling. “I guess it must have been. I don’t know anymore. I don’t think I’ve had more than a few hours sleep since we left Ottawa.”
“It’s a long way to come.” Desmond sat in a clear spot next to the hallway. “I guess you drove straight through.”
Shane nodded. “We took turns driving but I don’t sleep well in cars.”
“You must have had a lot of coffee.”
“Yeah, a lot of coffee.” Shane’s eyes widened. “And we had some good road tunes, too. Gord and I made a tape special for the occasion”
“Lots of good stuff on it. Faith thought so, too.”
Faith looked over her shoulder towards Shane and nodded.
“So what’s the rush anyway.” Desmond leaned back on his hands and his shoulders pushed up towards his ears. “You weren’t very clear in your email.”
“A film company is paying me to drive out here, get some kind of light aircraft thingy, and then tow it straight back to Chicoutimi in Quebec.” Shane motioned at Desmond. “You were there last summer right?”
“Yeah. For a French immersion program.”
“Yeah, well, they need the thing as soon as possible. To start shooting. Gord’s along for the ride.”
Gord shrugged and smiled. “Nothing better to do.”
“The best part is they might need crew when I get there. I think this will help me get on set.”
“Wicked.” Desmond noticed Faith flipping through a copy of The Great Gatsby she had found on the floor. “All in all, this pretty much sounds like your kind of work.”
“Yeah, for sure.” Shane nodded. “What have you been up to?”
“Recently, not a whole lot.” Desmond shrugged his shoulders. “Working on my thesis. Reading. Writing. That sort of thing. There is a cool coffee shop near here where I go a lot. Maybe sit in a park.” Desmond pointed over his shoulder, in the direction of his front door. “Just over there. There’s a river. I’ve been working out too. Trying to stay focussed, I guess. Regrouping.”
Faith looked up from the book. “Regrouping?”
“I broke up with my girlfriend. That’s why I moved in here.”
She put the book down. “You lived together?”
“Yeah.” Desmond shrugged. “It didn’t end very well. It’s complicated, I guess.”
Shane leaned forward on his chair. “Are you guys still talking?”
“No.” Desmond shook his head. “Like I said, it’s complicated.”
“You can never be friends after you break up.” Gord crossed his arms and leaned back into his chair. “It never works.”
“You know, everyone says that but it sounds like an excuse to me. A stupid fucking excuse to be shitty to each other at the end. That’s all.” Desmond looked at the carpet’s different coloured threads. “If you were friends before, what the fuck’s changed now? It’s bullshit.”
Faith nodded. “It is. But it doesn’t change the fact that it always happens.”
“Just because it always happens doesn’t mean it always has to happen.” Desmond shook his head and sighed. “Anyways, you guys wanted showers, right?”
Shane slapped his knees and stood up quickly “Is that ok?”
“Of course.” Desmond stretched into an apologetic pose. “I don’t have any spare towels, though.”
“That’s ok, I’ve got one in my bag.”
*Faith motioned with her head to the windows. “It’s too bad you don’t have blinds or something.” The shower started noisily in the bathroom. “Like curtains.”
“Yeah, I know.” Desmond shook his head. “The landlord promised to have them up by the time I moved in and I’ve been harassing him every week since I got here and still nothing.” He rubbed the hair on the back of his head. “It’s annoying because at night the people over there can see right in. It’s like I’m in a movie or something.” He motioned at the overturned box in front of the gold recliner. “And when you use an overturned box for a dining table, you don’t really want people to see in all the time.”
“Did she make that for you?” Faith pointed at a grey homemade bookshelf with multicoloured butterflies stencilled on it. “Your ex girlfriend?”
“No. Actually, it was my girlfriend before this last one that made it for me.”
“It’s nice.” Faith pointed at the paintings on the wall across from the windows. “Those are cool, too”
“Yeah, the two long ones were done by a friend of mine back in Waterloo. Well, I guess he’s in Toronto now but we did our undergraduate together in Waterloo.” Desmond pointed at the other painting. “That one was done by the same ex girlfriend that made the bookcase.”
“What are the words on it?”
“It’s a poem I wrote.”
“For the ex?”
Faith laughed and shook her head.
“Do you still love her?”
“The ex before the ex.”
“No.” Desmond shook his head. “Well, I mean, I don’t love-her love her but I still care about her of course.”
“The break-up was complicated you say?”
Faith smiled. “It always is, isn’t it?”
*“You got to be fucking kidding me.” Desmond leaned forward towards Shane. “You guys picked her up on the road yesterday and they’re in there showering together, right now. What the fuck?”
Shane threw his hands up in defence. “He’s got a way with women that honestly makes me envious.” He motioned towards the bathroom. “I’m afraid to bring my girlfriends around him sometimes.”
Desmond shook his head. “He’s not even that good looking.”
“It’s all about attitude, I guess.” Shane snapped his fingers. “And the law of averages. He’s always hitting on some woman somewhere all the time.”
“Fuck man, are you serious?” Desmond let his head fall back in disappointment. “I’d never do that.”
“Me, neither.” Shane shrugged. “But it seems to work.”
“Man, I really hope it isn’t that easy.”
Shane cocked head. “What do you mean?”
Desmond crossed his legs. “You know, if it is actually that easy, I will be so pissed off at myself.”
“For not getting laid as much as I would have had I known any better.”
“Whatever.” Shane pointed at Desmond. “When all is said and done, you’ve done alright for yourself.”
Desmond pushed air sharply through his teeth and lips. “I’m not sure it counts, if I always end up feeling like shit at the end of it.”
“Either you got laid or you didn’t?” Shane shook his head and shrugged. “What’s the problem?”
“Ok fine.” Desmond raised his hands in concession. “What I’m trying to say is I’m sick of always feeling like shit because of girls.” He shook his head and released a long breath though his nose. “I want to figure out why it keeps happening?”
“You and every other monkey in the school yard.”
“Yeah, well, I’m actually going to so something about it.”
“Oh yeah?” Shane leaned back into his chair, arching his right eyebrow. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know.” Desmond shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Run away to a foreign country, make all the same mistakes again, and write a self indulgent semi-autobiographical novel about it. Isn’t that what overeducated navel-gazers are supposed to do to sort this kind of thing out?”
“Great.” Shane smirked and shook his head. “Like the world needs another book about boys and girls and the problems between them.”
“Tell me about it.” Desmond gaze dropped to the carpet. “That’s why I’m thinking maybe I should try writing something different. Something completely different. Like science fiction or something. To avoid the cliché.”
“Let me guess.” Shane smiled broadly. “Young man travels to the end of the universe looking for love in all the wrong places.”
“I’m being serious here.” Desmond looked up and shook his open hands at Shane. “What do you think?”
“Oh, we’re being serious are we? I didn’t realize we did that.” Shane twisted up his lips in thought and then shrugged. “I’d go with the cliché. Yeah, sure, it’s a cliché but maybe it’s a cliché for a reason.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah.” Shane looked at the ceiling. “There must be some reason why so many people write that kind of book first and I’m sure that reason is as good for you as anyone.”
“Really?” Desmond shook his head and looked away. “To be honest, I was kind of hoping you’d tell me to write the science fiction.”
“Ok, fine. Write the science fiction then” Shane shrugged. “That could be cool, too.”
“No, you’re right.” Desmond sighed and shook his head. “Man, I hate the thought of being derivative but I really think it’s what I need to do.”
“Cool.” Shane leaned forward on his chair, smiling. “Just be sure to put lots of sex in it, otherwise, it won’t sell.”
Get the ebook!